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Motorists in Massachusetts and Washington DC can breathe easier on their afternoon commutes today. Their chances of dying in a traffic accident are the lowest in the nation. Drivers in West Virginia, South Carolina and North Dakota, on the other hand, may want to be especially vigilant. They're collectively navigating some of the deadliest roads in the United States.

Your odds of dying in a traffic accident depend a lot on where you live. Michael Sivak, a researcher at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, has analyzed federal traffic data, and found a wide disparity in the fatality rates across individual US states and the District of Columbia.

Washington D.C. and Massachusetts ranked first and second in both lists of the safest states.

The data can be parsed two ways, either by measuring deaths per distance driven or the number of deaths measured relative to state population.

Measuring in terms of vehicle miles traveled, West Virginia has the highest fatality rate in the nation. It has a rate of 17.63 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled, more than four times the rate of deaths found in the District of Columbia, where there are only 4.2 deaths per billion vehicle miles traveled. The national average is 11.3 fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled.

Measuring in terms of death per population, there's even more of a disparity between the safest and most dangerous states. Washington DC has a fatality rate of 2.37 per 100,000 people. Residents in the worst state, North Dakota, are more than 10 times more likely to die, with a per-100,000-population rate of 24.3. (By population, the national average is 10.69 deaths per 100,000).

Overall, residents of the Northern Plains states and South have the worst fatality rates. Washington DC and Massachusetts ranked first and second in both lists of the safest states, and Minnesota, Connecticut, Washington, New Jersey and California all were among the top 10 on both lists. Among the most dangerous states, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia, South Carolina and Montana all ranked in the bottom 10 on both lists.

There are differences between the two lists, but the general results are similar: the safest states rank high on either list, and the more dangerous states fall toward the bottom in both cases.

Several factors shape the fatality rates, though Sivak cautions he has not attempted to discern their influences in this study. Generally speaking, "you can look at what speed limits are there, what kind of topography," he said. "What is the proportion of urban versus rural? What are the alcohol-enforcement policies? What is the age distribution of drivers? It goes on and on."

Dangers posed by rural roads can be especially acute. The consequence of a collision at high speeds, of course, are much greater than at lower city speeds, and factors like alcohol use, reduced visibility and drowsy driving can differ along urban-rural lines. Response time from emergency workers can also be longer.

Though there are many less vehicle miles traveled overall on rural roads, which are defined by specific population and density standards set by the Federal Highway Administration, they were home to 54 percent of traffic deaths in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.

Where does your state rank? Click through to see.
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Fatality rates per billion vehicle miles traveled
(Source: Michael Sivak, University of Michigan)
1. Washington D.C. 4.20
2. Massachusetts 6.24
3. Minnesota 6.93
4. Connecticut 7.55
5. Washington 7.82
6. New Jersey 7.94
7. Utah 8.18
8. Rhode Island 8.20
9. New Hampshire 8.38
10. California 8.76
11. Maryland 8.94
12. New York 9.11
13. Illinois 9.14
14. Virginia 9.60
15. Indiana 9.87
16. Michigan 9.92
17. Ohio 9.96
18. Colorado 10.09
19. Oregon 10.13
20. Wisconsin 10.41
21. Vermont 10.67
22. Nevada 10.68
23. Nebraska 11.00
24. Georgia 11.09
25. Idaho 11.28
26. Maine 11.55
27. Iowa 11.55
28. Missouri 12.06
29. North Carolina 12.31
30. Alaska 12.31
31. Delaware 12.41
32. Hawaii 12.54
33. Florida 12.67
34. Kansas 13.25
35. Pennsylvania 13.25
36. Wyoming 13.27
37. Alabama 13.32
38. Arizona 13.72
39. Tennessee 14.25
40. New Mexico 14.28
41. Texas 14.29
42. South Dakota 14.59
43. Oklahoma 14.79
44. Mississippi 15.05
45. Louisiana 15.40
46. Kentucky 15.76
47. Arkansas 16.47
48. North Dakota 16.86
49. Montana 17.25
50. South Carolina 17.60
51. West Virginia 17.63

Fatality rates per 100,000 population in individual states

1. Washington D.C. 2.37
2. Massachusetts 5.25
3. New York 5.97
4. Rhode Island 6.09
5. Washington 6.44
6. Connecticut 6.57
7. New Jersey 6.64
8. Minnesota 7.34
9. Illinois 7.43
10. California 7.51
11. Utah 7.60
12. Alaska 8.07
13. New Hampshire 8.18
14. Maryland 8.58
15. Oregon 8.62
16. Hawaii 9.05
17. Colorado 9.10
18. Nevada 9.35
19. Virginia 9.49
20. Michigan 9.49
21. Ohio 9.73
22. Pennsylvania 10.26
23. Wisconsin 10.74
24. Nebraska 11.43
25. Idaho 11.53
26. Iowa 11.87
27. Indiana 11.92
28. Georgia 12.02
29. Vermont 12.30
30. Maine 12.34
31. Delaware 12.43
32. Florida 12.55
33. Arizona 12.59
34. Texas 13.04
35. North Carolina 13.25
36. Missouri 13.72
37. Kansas 14.03
38. Louisiana 15.69
39. Tennessee 15.71
40. South Dakota 15.96
41. Kentucky 17.03
42. New Mexico 17.50
43. Alabama 17.94
44. South Carolina 18.27
45. West Virginia 18.27
46. Oklahoma 18.56
47. Arkansas 18.72
48. Mississippi 19.50
49. Montana 20.40
50. Wyoming 21.34
51. North Dakota 24.30

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 10 Months Ago
      It's hard to die in a car crash here in D.C. where you're lucky if you can get up to 20 mph anywhere inside the beltway.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Given that higher death rates are occurring in some lower density states, other factors to be considered are response time, availability of airborne medevac, and quality of trauma care; not just factors concerning the vehicle and driver.
      Casey Jensen
      • 10 Months Ago
      The death rate is so low in DC because there are virtually no interstates inside the district, and it is very difficult to get above 30mph.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Ah yes, more troll bait. Before long, it'll just be another political circle jerk of 300 or more participants.
      Larry Litmanen
      • 10 Months Ago
      The article brushed on it, i live in NYC and when on the highway you almost never go above 50 MPH because of all the traffic. Someone living in a state with less traffic driving at say 70 MPH will have a far higher chance of dying. As simple as that. In city driving you can almost never go faster than 30-35.
      Smooth Motor
      • 10 Months Ago
      Its really a question of urban verses rural driving. Rural death rates are always higher because the speed averages are higher.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Population densities also dictate the likelihood of mobile triage and emergency room triage availability. Massachusetts is a small densely populated state with lots of hospitals and well equipped & trained ambulance services. These factors also contribute to lower fatality rates. If it takes a N. Dakota ambulance 20 mins to arrive and 30 mins to transport, your survival odds are not so hot.
      • 10 Months Ago
      I wonder how average car age factors in? Many of the top states tend to be "wealthy" and the drivers there probably have younger cars that should be safer. Places like West Virginia are much poorer and I'd bet more people buy older used cars that aren't as safe.
      Michael Scoffield
      • 10 Months Ago
      Rural states also have older cars, which are much, much worse at safety in case of a crash.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Oooh! New commenting system! Not surprised that rural areas suffer from more extreme accidents. More miles traveled per residence and at higher speeds must translate to higher deaths per capita.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Suprising as you take your life in your hands on the Mass. Pike.
      MTU 5.0
      • 10 Months Ago
      The article brought up valid differences in topography, speed, alocohol, type of roads etc, but was seatbelt usage in those states also compared with fatality rates.
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