The Effect of Geography and Citizen Behavior on Motor Vehicle Deaths in the United States

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Death due to motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) remains a leading cause of death in the US and alcohol plays a prominent role in a large proportion of these fatalities nationwide. Rates for these incidents vary widely among states and over time. Here, we explore the extent to which driving volume, alcohol consumption, legislation, political ideology, and geographical factors influence MVC deaths across states and time. We specify structural equation models for extracting associations between the factors and outcomes for MVC deaths and compute correlation functions of states’ relative geographic and political positions to elucidate the relative contribution of these factors. We find evidence that state-level variation in MVC deaths is associated with time-varying driving volume, alcohol consumption, and legislation. These relationships are modulated by state spatial proximity, whereby neighboring states are found to share similar MVC death rates over the thirty-year observation period. These results support the hypothesis that neighboring states exhibit similar risk and protective characteristics, despite differences in political ideology.