The chart below shows the 15 states that led the nation in the number of rural non-interstate traffic deaths in 2012.
State -- Number of deaths
• Texas -- 1,509
• California -- 1,042
• North Carolina -- 844
• Florida -- 841
• South Carolina -- 637
• Pennsylvania -- 636
• Ohio -- 587
• New York -- 569
• Kentucky -- 535
• Georgia -- 524
• Tennessee -- 521
• Indiana -- 463
• Alabama -- 462
• Missouri -- 441
• Oklahoma -- 420
The chart below shows the 10 states with the highest rate of rural non-interstate traffic fatalities per 100 million miles of travel in 2012.
State -- Rate
• South Carolina -- 3.99
• Florida -- 3.35
• West Virginia -- 2.80
• Texas -- 2.76
• Arkansas -- 2.71
• Tennessee -- 2.68
• Arizona -- 2.66
• Kentucky -- 2.64
• California -- 2.61
• Pennsylvania -- 2.60
Source: Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland
A study of America's non-interstate rural roads ranks Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama among the top 15 states for fatal accidents and suggests a major overhaul of the states' rural transportation systems.
The connecting routes in rural Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama -- and other states -- sometimes are winding, often shoulderless stretches of blacktop lacking modern safety features such as turn lanes, highly reflective pavement markings and rumble strips at the centerline and edges of the road, according to the study, Rural Connections: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland.
The study, released last week by the Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group TRIP, looks at the condition, use and safety of the rural transportation system in the face of federal highway funding that is "expected to be cut by almost 100 percent from the current investment level" for fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2014, if more revenue is not approved by Congress.
For the Chattanooga region's three states, the number of traffic deaths in 2012 for Georgia was 524, Tennessee had 521 and Alabama had 462.
Of the three states, Tennessee is the only one to rank in the top 20 in the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Tennessee ranks sixth behind South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Texas and Arkansas, the study shows.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. John Harmon, a veteran trooper in the state's 12-county Chattanooga District, says rural road deaths in the region are indeed up, and not just in the rural counties, but in Hamilton and Bradley counties, too.
While road safety features may be contributors, Harmon said other major players in rural road deaths are seat-belt use and speed.
As of Monday, Bradley County tallied seven fatal accidents for the year, three of them on rural roads, Hamilton has had four fatalities, three of those on rural roads, and of six fatal crashes in Marion and Sequatchie counties, four were on rural roads, records show.
The study suggests three different approaches to improved safety, noting funding is critical to success.
First, study authors suggest low-cost safety improvements like edge and centerline rumble strips, better signs and markings, street lighting, removal or shielding of roadside objects, alignment markings for curves, skid-resistant pavement surfaces and guardrails.
Moderate-cost improvements could include adding turn lanes at intersections, median barriers and resurfacing pavements.
Moderate-to-high-cost fixes could include roadway alignment, reduced curve angles, wider lanes and adding or paving shoulders, the study says.
The study also points to a National Cooperative Highway Research Program report that found the construction of an added 30,000 lane miles of limited-access highways, largely along existing travel corridors, is needed to address the country's need for rural connectivity and to lighten the travel burden on rural roads.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.