Although every crash is a tragedy, New Hampshire roads have proven to be comparatively safe

Monitor staff
Published: 6/26/2019 2:10:58 PM

The horrifying news about New Hampshire traffic fatalities over the past week, which saw 12 people die in multiple accidents including the seven motorcyclists killed by a pickup truck in Randolph, has led some readers to ask us why New Hampshire roads are so dangerous.

It’s certainly true that roads can become deadly in an instant. It’s also true that statistics are no consolation to bereaved families and friends of people who have been killed or injured in accidents.

However, a look at national crash data shows that on average, roads in the Granite State are among the safest in the country. 

In 2017, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Hampshire roads were the sixth-safest in the country when measuring road fatalities per person and were the third-safest when measuring road fatalities per mile driven, behind only Minnesota and Massachusetts. 

State comparisons are not yet available for 2018 but New Hampshire probably won’t fare as well. The number of fatalities on state roads rose sharply in 2018 while national road fatalities edged downward by about one percent. Despite the jump in deaths, New Hampshire roadways are likely to remain statistically safer than the roads in the majority of states. 

Perhaps surprisingly, despite the rash of fatal accidents this month the state has actually seen fewer road fatalities this year than last year. As of Monday, according to New Hampshire State Police, 39 people have died on New Hampshire roads in 2019, compared to 49 at this time in 2018. This year’s tally may have been kept down partly by the string of cold, rainy weekends in the spring. Bad weather cuts down on the number of cars on the road, which also cuts down on crashes.

All this also applies to motorcycles, an important factor since New Hampshire has one of the nation’s highest rates of motorcycle ownership. In 2017, motorcycles were involved in about one-seventh of fatalities in the state, the same percentage as the nation as a whole, and so far this year despite the horrible accident in Randolph the same number of people have died in motorcycle operators – a total of 10 – as at this point in 2018.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to make things better, such as the state’s “Driving Toward Zero” program aiming to eliminate fatal crashes. The safety data shows an easy way to improve things: Buckle up.

New Hampshire has far by the lowest rate of seat belt usage of any state and far more of our fatalities occur to people not wearing seat belts than any other state. A full 73 percent of people who died in accidents in 2017 were “unrestrained,” in official terminology, compared to the national rate of 43 percent.  

Cutting down on drunk driving would help as well, although perhaps not as strikingly. In 2017, 24% of New Hampshire crash fatalities involved a person with blood-alcohol content above .08, the usual limit for driving. 

While distressing, that figure is quite low compared to other states: Only five others had a lower percentage of fatalities involving DUI – although it should be noted that 18 states do not measure blood-alcohol content for all serious crashes and so are not counted in the comparison. 

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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