As Lt. Paul Cosper of the Georgia State Patrol cruises the highways, he sees back roads where yellow lines are faded and sharp curves that are missing guard rails.
That's a recipe for disaster, he said.
"You have the propensity for an accident," said Lt. Cosper, the Georgia State Patrol spokesman.
Law enforcement officers in Georgia and Tennessee see more fatal accidents on back roads in rural areas than on urban roads or main highways, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics from 2008.
Nationwide, almost 21,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on rural roads last year in comparison with about 16,000 fatalities on urban roads, according to administration data.
In Georgia, 700 fatal accidents happened on rural roads compared to 687 on urban roads, records show. In Tennessee, 607 fatal accidents were on rural roads and only 428 on urban roads.
"(We) do seem to have a lot of accidents on back roads, and speed has a lot to do with it," said Amy Maxwell, Hamilton County EMS spokeswoman.
Speeding often is a factor in fatal accidents, she said, and when drivers speed on narrow back roads, accidents are more likely to happen.
In general, people just don't pay attention when they are driving, Lt. Cosper said. Add the four-way stops, flashing red lights and sharp curves prevalent on rural roads with drivers distracted while texting, eating or talking on the cell phone, and you get tragedies, he said.
But highway officials in both states attribute many fatalities on rural roads to seat belt usage.
In rural areas of Tennessee, about 60 percent to 65 percent of drivers use seat belts, compared with 85 percent of drivers in urban areas, said Kendall Poole, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.
People tend to not buckle up on back road because they're on roads "they've been driving their entire life," Mr. Poole said.
Wearing a seat belt drastically increases a person's chance of survival if involved in an accident, he said.
The Governor's Office of Highway Safety is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to educate drivers about seat belt usage and is painting yellow stripes and putting cable around sharp curves, Mr. Poole said.
"Our job ... is to try to change behaviors," he said.
But highway officials and law enforcers can only do so much, Lt. Cosper said, and drivers need to be more cautious when operating a vehicle.
"At some point, you have to be responsible for yourself," he said.