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Fresno County’s Deadliest State Routes

— May 23, 2022

Human error takes the lion’s share of the blame when it comes to attributing fault in a car accident.

The city of Fresno is known for its affordability, agriculture, red wines, and uncharacteristically gloomy weather (for California, at least!). However, Fresno County is also home to some of the California’s most dangerous state routes to drive on. Particularly during rush hours, highway traffic can quickly get congested, claustrophobic, and sometimes even dangerous. 

In fact, State Route 99, which passes through Fresno County, was deemed the most dangerous highway in the entire United States in 2019. Is driving on Highway 99 still risky in 2022? Let’s look at the data.

Fresno County’s Most Dangerous State Routes: Quick Facts

Using 2021 California crash data accessed through the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), we rank how dangerous each state route running through Fresno County is. For this study, we graded each highway on its overall number of collisions, how many traffic related deaths occurred, and how many victims suffered injuries on the route. 

These statistics are drawn specifically from within Fresno County lines, and do not include all incidents running the entire length of a route. Crash data for State Route 201 has not yet been finalized, but the other routes within Fresno County have been included. Without further ado, the area’s routes from deadliest to safest in 2021:

The area’s routes from deadliest to safest in 2021; chart courtesy of author.
The area’s routes from deadliest to safest in 2021; chart courtesy of author.

Ranking notes: We chose to rank State Route 33 as the 6th-most dangerous Fresno County highway, despite 4x as many fatalities occurring than on the 5th-ranked route. This decision was made because 9 of highway 33’s 12 deaths occurred in a single traffic collision, when an over-capacity 2007 Ford was hit by a 2013 Dodge. The driver of the Dodge and all 8 occupants of the Ford, which is only meant to safely seat 5 passengers, perished. 

Fresno County’s 3 Most Dangerous State Routes by Crash Severity

Having ranked all of Fresno County’s state routes in terms of how safe (or not) they were to travel on in 2021, we wanted to take a closer look at the most dangerous highways running through the area. For the remainder of the study, we focus on routes 99, 180, and 41. We begin by tracking the overall number of crashes by injuries caused. State Route 99 led the three highways in the overall numbers of severe and fatal crashes, along with accidents where at least one victim complained of pain. 

What Primary Crash Factors Cause the Majority of Fresno County Collisions?

A primary crash factor (PCF) is a behavior or practice that has a heightened risk of causing a car crash. PCFs can range from unsafe driving under present road conditions to driving impaired. We determined how many Fresno county freeway crashes were caused by each main PCF violation in the chart below.

Notable findings:

  • State Route 180 had more than 3x as many crashes caused by failure to observe a motor vehicle’s right of way as the other two highways combined
  • Unsafe speed led to over 50% of all reported collisions on the three routes (50.2%)
  • More than one in ten crashes involved an impaired driver or bicyclist
Collisions by PCF; chart courtesy of author.
Collisions by PCF; chart courtesy of author.

Measuring the Impact of Fresno County Highway Crashes

One of the most important metrics for measuring the severity of a collision is the impact on its victims. Serious injuries can require “emergency services, surgeries, hospitalizations, doctor appointments, physical therapy,” and other long-term medical necessities. Even a seemingly minor crash can take a mental toll on a victim’s health, while potentially also causing lingering injuries that can last for years or even a lifetime.

In the following graph, we track the number of victims by injuries reported during a crash. Routes 99 and 180 both had 12 fatalities through 2021, but the 99 had slightly more serious injuries over the year. Route 41 had the fewest injuries reported in all categories except crashes where there were possible injuries, where it had 6 more cases than Route 180. 

Number of Victims by Injury Degree, 2021; graph courtesy of author.
Number of Victims by Injury Degree, 2021; graph courtesy of author.

Did the Victim’s Air Bag Deploy During the Crash?

Wearing a seat belt and riding in a vehicle with a properly-deploying airbag can save your life in a violent car crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a frontal airbag is designed to open in a moderate to severe crash. Usually, this occurs during an impact with a fixed barrier at anywhere from eight miles per hour or higher. We were curious – how many car accidents on Fresno highways necessitated an airbag deployment? Using TIMS data, we were able to discover the number of crashes in which the collision victim’s airbag deployed.  

Did the Car's Airbag Deploy? Graph courtesy of author.
Did the Car’s Airbag Deploy? Graph courtesy of author.

Final Takeaways

Human error takes the lion’s share of the blame when it comes to attributing fault in a car accident. In reality, every crash is a complex incident comprised of multiple factors, many of which are hard to distinguish without a professional investigation. Poorly designed roads, dangerous weather conditions, mechanical failures, and other outside influences can make a collision more likely. To best protect yourself and your loved ones on the highways of Fresno, always stay aware of your surroundings and your car’s limitations. 

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