Owning and driving a vehicle can be hugely liberating, particularly if there are few alternative means of transport in your area available to you. However, while cars are incredibly useful, they come with their own set of risks and responsibilities. Even if your vehicle is in perfect condition, there are a plethora of dangers out in the world that drivers need to be aware of, from the problems that come with poor weather conditions to the hazards represented by the abilities of other drivers (or lack thereof).
With these thoughts in mind, we decided to find out which parts of the United States of America are the most dangerous to drive in. To do this, we collected a variety of statistics by which we could rank the fifty states, including:
- Average driver skill
- Rate of car theft
- Level of driver aggression
- Average driver speed
- Average speed limit
- Road & bridge quality
- Level of congestion
- Weather conditions
You can find the state rankings of each of these factors below, as well as a final ranking of all fifty states. We chose to streamline each individual category’s table by only listing their top ten rankings.
First, we endeavored to rank the states by the average skill level of their resident drivers. The data is based on various statistics including:
- Driver fatality rate
- Pedestrian and cyclist fatality rate
- Percentage of fatalities that were speed-related
- Level of drunk driving
- Level of failure to obey vehicle-related laws (this refers to actions like failing to wear a seat belt and driving without a valid license)
The state with the worst average driver skill turned out to be Montana. The state ranked in the top ten of every factor (except for pedestrian/cyclist fatality rate) – they even ranked as the state with the highest rate of traffic law disobedience.
Louisiana is found to be the 2nd worst driving state, despite having a low percentage of speed-related fatalities. Meanwhile, Arizona came 3rd and, although it isn’t as consistently high ranking as Montana, it still manages to rank within the top twenty in every factor studied in this section.
Ranking the states by rate of vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents showed some interesting results. The state with the highest theft rate is Alaska, with 575.6. This is closely followed by New Mexico with a rate of 563.8. Interestingly, Albuquerque New Mexico actually had a far higher number of vehicle thefts than Anchorage Alaska in 2017 – the former had 9,989 thefts while the latter had 3,274.
These two states have by far and away the highest rates – 3rd place belongs to Nevada, with a far lower rate of 427.3.
The state with the most frequent rate of aggressive driving events (i.e. speeding, hard braking, and accelerating) is California with an average of 6.6 minutes per journey. Contrary to what one might expect considering this result, Californian traffic law is stricter than many states and even treats aggressive driving as an automobile crime.
Wyoming is the state with the highest average driver speed, which isn’t too surprising considering that nearly 500 miles of its interstate highway have a speed limit of 80mph. The only state with a limit higher than this is Texas, where a toll road between Austin and San Antonio has an 85mph limit. In spite of this, the Lone Star state doesn’t make it into the top ten for average driver speed.
Texas may not have ranked highly for average driver speed, but it definitely makes up for it by having the highest average speed limit, thanks in part to the aforementioned toll road. 2nd place belongs to Idaho, while 3rd place is tied between Maine and Wyoming (making its second high ranking appearance).
Road quality is inevitably going to come up with regards to the dangers of driving. If a road is in poor condition, it’s more likely to cause damage to your vehicle or to endanger you. The state with the highest percentage of roads and bridges in poor condition is Rhode Island, ranking 1st in both categories. 2nd and 3rd place goes to Pennsylvania and Mississippi respectively.
To Rhode Island’s credit, the state is currently working to improve its questionable status – a $5 billion plan was passed in 2016, centered around an extensive refurbishment of its infrastructure.
Studying the proportion of vehicles versus miles of road showed that Hawaii had by far the highest level of congestion, with over 280 vehicles for every mile of road on the island state. California came in at a distant 2nd – not particularly surprising considering there are nearly 30 million cars registered to the state.
Driving in poor weather conditions like rain, snow and low temperatures is never ideal – the control you have over your car is noticeably reduced due to factors like decreased visibility and increased stopping distance. The state in which each of these conditions are most common is Vermont, which ranked highly for low temperatures and snowfall levels. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the top ten are northern states, like Maine, Alaska, and Michigan.
After studying the data, we decided to mark the data points against each other in order to create an overarching score for each state, enabling us to find out which US state is the most dangerous for drivers. We standardized each data point using minmax normalization to get a score out of 10 for each factor. Below is the exact formula:
Result = (x-min(x))/(max(x)-min(x))
We added the results together to get a danger score for each state. The final overall ranking displays the results of the full fifty states.
Compiling all of the above data into a final results table proved very intriguing.
Topping the rankings as the most dangerous state in the USA for drivers is New Mexico. As previously mentioned, it had a far larger number of vehicle thefts in Albuquerque than Alaska did in Anchorage despite placing 2nd for car theft rate. It also had a particularly high average driver speed and speed limit. New Mexico’s saving graces are very low levels of congestion and the 3rd best weather conditions in the USA, as well as below average levels of driver aggression.
The 2nd most dangerous state is Louisiana. While it has a normal rate of auto theft, proportion of vehicles to roads and level of driver aggression, the state suffers due to having a particularly poor average driver skill, road quality, and a high average speed limit. To make matters worse, in Louisiana it isn’t against the law for teenagers and adults to not wear a seatbelt like it is in most states. Not only has wearing your seatbelt has been found to reduce one’s risk of injury by 50% but, should you not wear it, the added movement made by your body during a crash can lead to further injuries for other people as well as yourself.
Oklahoma gains the dubious accolade of being the 3rd most dangerous driving state in America. Although it doesn’t rank in any specific statistics quite as badly as Louisiana and New Mexico, the state has high levels of aggressive driving occurrences, poor road quality, and high average driver speed & speed limits. Oklahoma also has an above average level of teen driver crashes – the national percentage is 13%, while Oklahoma’s is 14%.
Now let’s take a look at the other end of the rankings. The least dangerous state for drivers in America is in fact Vermont. The state has the lowest rate of car theft in the US, as well as a particularly low average speed limit, low average driver speed, low levels of aggression and high average driver skill. That said, the state is by no means entirely safe. The number of deaths caused by crashes has been increasing since 2014 and, in 2017, 69 people were killed over the year.
Minnesota is the 2nd least dangerous state due to its low congestion and theft rate, as well as a high average driver skill and road quality. The state maintains great consistency throughout, placing in the bottom half of every statistic ranking. Hopefully, Minnesota maintains this level of safety – however, 2017 saw a 23% rise in distracted driving, e.g. using your phone while at the wheel. If this rise continues, the state may start to become a far less safe place in which to drive.
Minnesota is followed by Georgia. Although the Peach State has a high level of aggressive driving events, it manages to do well in most other stats. It has the highest road quality in the USA and a very low level of congestion, as well as a fairly low average speed limit.
In this study, we delved into the data around the factors that we thought were most significant and relevant to the dangers of driving across the USA. If you want to see the full rankings of each data point as well as the sources of the information in this piece, click here.