Contrary to what out-of-state relatives might say around the dinner table during the holidays, Rhode Island does NOT have the worst drivers in the country. In fact, motorists from Little Rhody didn’t even crack the top 10 on the list – at least according to the 2017 Worst Drivers by State Report released by CarInsuranceComparison.com.
However, there should be no celebration, since Rhode Island actually ranked as the worst state in the country in terms of the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers (per capita), and was ranked as the 14th worst driving state in the nation overall.
The study encompassed all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, and examined the total number of traffic-related fatalities as the most weighted factor for a grade regarding bad driving. It further broke fatalities down into categories regarding deaths caused by drunk driving, deaths that were contributed to by a failure to obey to traffic laws or seatbelts, deaths involving excessive speeding and deaths caused to pedestrians.
The results for Rhode Island – perhaps due to its size – fluctuate significantly across the board.
For example, while Rhode Island had far and away the highest percentage of driving fatalities which involved an intoxicated driver (19 of 45 fatalities for 42.2 percent, with Connecticut coming in next at 38.72 percent), the state actually ranked as the second safest state to drive in per 100 million miles traveled (0.57 fatalities per 100 million miles in Rhode Island; 0.52 in Massachusetts).
Out of those aforementioned 45 fatalities in the state in 2015, 20 of them involved excessive speeding (44.44 percent), which earned Rhode Island the #3 spot in terms of worst offenders of speeding-related fatalities in the country.
There were only 8 pedestrians killed in Rhode Island in 2015, making Rhode Island the third safest state for pedestrians. However Rhode Island ranked as the 5th worst state for failing to obey traffic and safety laws in incidents, which led to fatal crashes, which includes not wearing a seatbelt.
As a result, Rhode Island ranked as the 14th worst driving state in the country. Massachusetts ranked 45th, making it one of the top 10 safest ranked states. Iowa ranked as the safest state, and Montana earned the dreaded worst ranking.
The study prefaced its data by sharing nationwide facts about traffic fatalities, citing data that 35,092 people died in vehicular crashes in 2015, costing about $242 billion in damages. This represents a 7.2 percent increase from 2014 and is the highest number of deaths since 2008.
Unfortunately, the situation has worsened dramatically in Rhode Island even just since 2015, according to Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety.
Assumpico reported that 83 people had been killed in traffic incidents in Rhode Island as of Dec. 28, 2017. This is a five-year high for the state and nearly doubles the 45 fatalities in 2015, and is also much higher than last year’s total of 51. Additionally, 21 pedestrians (2 on bicycles) were killed in the state this year, as opposed to just 8 in 2015.
Assumpico said that these deaths were caused by the usual factors, like drunk driving, excessive speeding and not wearing a seatbelt (which accounted for nearly half of the deaths, she said). However, Assumpico said that distracted driving has become an increasingly troubling factor in traffic collisions.
“I feel there is a definite connection with distracted driving also, which has really changed things on the road and in this country for the past, I would say, 10 years,” Assumpico said, adding that a NHTSA study recently revealed an alarming one out of three people aged 18-64 admitted to reading on their phones – sending emails or text messages – while behind the wheel.
“Unless you change the way people think, they still aren’t making good decisions behind the wheel,” she said.
Proving that distracted driving caused a fatality is not always a simple task. It could have been an argument with a passenger in the car, which leaves no evidence. A phone they were using could have been destroyed, and sometimes something as simple as looking away from the road to adjust the radio could cause an accident.
“These cases take a while and sometimes you really never find out, but there’s a connection no doubt,” Assumpico said.
It could not be confirmed if the number of drunk driving-related fatalities had increased significantly over the past couple of years, as that data has not been fully gathered and released yet due to the need to wait for the results of toxicology tests in fatal accidents.
Assumpico said that, while the message has stayed the same, it’s important for people to relay it to their friends and family members – don’t drink and drive, don’t use your cell phone while behind the wheel and pay attention to the road.
Assumpico is hopeful that a new law, which will make holding a cellphone while driving illegal and goes into effect this summer, might help deter people from being tempted to utilize their devices while driving.
“It’s hard to understand why people are getting behind that wheel and still making the same mistakes. But as you know, this isn’t anything that’s new – it’s been happening for a long time,” she said, adding that all drivers should practice more defensive driving to prevent from becoming a victim of someone else’s mistake. “Because we’ve all seen people on the other side of the road come into other lanes.”
Data involving traffic fatalities referenced in this study was gathered from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) records, which are released 12-18 months after the conclusion of the year. As such, data used to assemble the CarInsuranceComparison.com study comes from 2015.