The Southeast's many tree-lined rural roads may be why the region has the highest number of vehicle deaths in the country, according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology.
More than a quarter of the nation's vehicle deaths between 1996 and 2000 happened in just eight Southeast states - Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee. That's the largest proportion of deaths of any region in the country, the study said.
Sixty-four percent of the fatal crashes occurred on rural roads, which the Southeast has a higher number of than other parts of the country.
The problem is that the roads often have hazards such as trees that are too close to the road or unpaved shoulders, said Karen Dixon, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech.
"The most frequent crashes in the Southeast occurred on rural roads in wooded areas where people ran off the road and hit a tree,'' Dixon said.
Most of the accidents happened late at night and involved drivers who were either tired or drunk. The wrecks happened mainly on weekends and involved mostly young male drivers between 16 and 25 years old.
There were more than 55,000 fatal crashes in the Southeast out of nearly 186,600 fatalities on the road in the United States during the time period of the study.
Dixon said there's a lack of funding for road maintenance in rural areas. The roads should have paved shoulders with a buffer area or barrier away from trees.
Rumble strips - which make a loud noise when a car leaves the roadway - might also prevent drivers from accidentally driving off the side of the road.
The study also found that drivers rarely wore seat belts. In some cases, such as for pickup drivers in Georgia, they were exempt from wearing them.
The study, funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, began after Georgia Tech students doing homework for a lesson in statistics discovered that the South had far more crashes than anywhere else.