Montana drivers have a lot of ground to cover. The Big Sky State has more people die on its highways, per capita, than much more densely populated states.
This is explained, in part, by the fact that Montana is so rural. Most of the states with high per capita traffic fatalities are rural — Arkansas, West Virginia and Wyoming are on the top five list. Oklahoma is among a group of states in the second-highest category, with 1.26-1.44 fatalities per 100 million miles driven.
States with high rates of traffic deaths share some commonalities, such as low rates of seat belt use, a high number of speeders and a high percentage of deaths caused by drunken drivers. “Only 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but 55 percent of all road fatalities happened in the country,” reports stateline.org. Officials with AAA say people tend to drive faster in rural areas. Head-on collisions are more common. Emergency responders are spread thin; hospitals can be a long way from accident sites. These all contribute to a higher death toll.
Oklahoma's traffic fatalities fell from 803 in 2005 to 668 in 2010. The number bumped back up to 696 in 2011. Alcohol and unsafe speeds continue to play a significant role. Electronic devices play a part, too, which is all the more reason to regulate them. The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office says 13 of the fatal accidents in 2011 involved such devices. The number has remained in that range the past several years.
Oklahoma lawmakers have consistently rejected efforts to ban text-messaging at the wheel. They did so again this legislative session. They should reconsider. Whether it's done in rural or urban areas, texting while driving is dangerous for those drivers and for others on the road. A ban would help drive down the traffic fatality rate.