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Rural Counties Remain Killing Ground for Traffic Deaths; Watauga in Top Five for Chance of Being in a Collision

By Rebecca Gitlen

Aug. 9, 2012. Rural counties were the killing grounds for traffic deaths in North Carolina last year with the top five counties accounting for 61 fatal crashes. The counties with the highest chance of being in any kind of collision were Watauga, Pitt, New Hanover, Person and Cumberland counties. All five also appeared on the list in 2010. 

At the top of the state list for 2011 traffic deaths per mile traveled were Clay, Graham, Hyde, Robeson and Hertford counties. It was the third consecutive year that rural counties were the most dangerous roads in North Carolina based on the ratio of traffic deaths to the miles traveled, according analysis by AAA Carolinas.

Nationally, two-thirds of fatal crashes occur along rural roads.

“Rural counties have roads that are generally narrower, with more curves, lower shoulders, faded or non-existent road markings and less police presence than major highways,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, in a press release on Aug. 9. “These roads are notorious for single-vehicle accidents involving speeding, drinking and younger drivers.”

AAA Carolinas bases its classification of the most hazardous counties on the chances of a certain type of crash based on the total miles driven.


Mountainous counties top the NC charts as the most dangerous for motorcyclists. 

Graham County, located in the North Carolina Mountains on the Tennessee border, continued to be the most deadly county for motorcycles, topping the chart for collisions, injury and fatal crashes. The sparsely populated county is home to “the tail of the dragon,” a scenic mountain road popular with motorcyclists that includes 11 miles of 318 curves.

The other counties ranked most likely for fatal motorcycle accidents were Alleghany, Clay, Pamlico and Pender. 


North Carolina’s most dangerous counties for tractor-trailer collisions in 2011 were Anson, Bladen, Polk, Lee and Wayne counties. Except for Polk County, all counties are located in central-eastern NC, which has a relatively high tractor-trailer traffic.

The top counties for fatal crashes with tractor-trailers are Ashe, Hyde, Richmond, Yadkin and Northampton. 


Mecklenburg County had the highest number of fatal crashes, with 67 fatal crashes in 2011. That’s 21 more than Mecklenburg’s total for 2010.

The overall total of traffic fatalities in North Carolina dropped 8 percent from 1,328 in 2010 to 1,217 in 2011. In 2009, the total was 1,344 and in 2008 it was 1,452. This steady decrease is attributed to more intense traffic enforcement on crash-prone roads by local and state law enforcement, a drop in miles driven and increased safety features in new cars, such as traction control.

“It is gratifying to see the decrease in fatalities but dismaying to note that more than three people still die every day on North Carolina roads,” Parsons said.

The overall number of collisions has also decreased.

The total number of crashes in North Carolina in 2011 was 208,545, down from 213,739 in 2010. Although vehicle miles traveled was also down from 2010, the relative number of crashes dropped from 208.9 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010 to 205.7 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2011.

AAA Carolinas’ annual Dangerous County analysis, started in 1995, is one of several compilations of traffic hazard data. This type of report is released to remind motorists of the need for safe and defensive driving, especially in counties with above-average traffic collisions, injuries and deaths.

AAA Carolinas receives state traffic statistics from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and conducts its own analysis to determine the most dangerous counties based on vehicle miles traveled ratios.

To see a full NC Dangerous Roads Chart, click here.