For those of us who have to deal regularly with traffic congestion on the streets and highways of Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas, we may often dream of the easier commutes in smaller cities and quaint towns. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, metropolitan areas like Los Angeles are actually far safer in terms of transportation-related fatalities when compared to less urbanized areas.
As seen above, when reviewing the 21 most recent years of available data, the largest metropolitan counties in California have the fewest accidental transportation deaths per capita whereas rural counties fare the worst. In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, the risk of death from a transportation-related accident was nearly twice as high in rural areas as it was in the state’s large cities. This pattern goes deeper, as transportation-related deaths increase in relation to population as the community decreases in size.
Although the difference between large cities and suburbs becomes less stark, this link also emerges when analyzing non-automobile related accidental deaths. The above graph tracks deaths from falls, accidental discharge of firearms, accidental drownings and submersions, accidental exposure to smoke, fire and flames, and accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances among other causes. In 2020, rural areas experienced a 75% higher likelihood of accidental death than those in large cities and nearly double what Los Angeles saw that same year.
The overall lesson seems to be that the more urban your surroundings, the safer you are – at least in terms of avoiding a fatal accident. This is so opposite from conventional wisdom that it’s worth discussing potential causes.
The reasons for this correlation vary widely, but accidents of any type in more densely populated urban areas may be more likely to be witnessed by bystanders able to help, and accident victims are likely geographically closer to lifesaving medical care than their less-urbanized counterparts. Another possible factor comes from the type of work that can be done in each type of county. Californians, many of whom live in larger metropolitan areas, are increasingly able to work from home, lowering their risk for many types of accidents. Conversely, many jobs in smaller cities and rural communities simply cannot be done remotely, increasing their citizens’ exposure to additional risk factors.
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