Safest and Most Dangerous States for Drivers

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Do drivers in your state cross the line and go over the limit? SafeWise investigates.

Safest States for Drivers

Safest States for Drivers
Fatality rate per 1,000 drivers
1. Massachusetts.048
2. Rhode Island.049
3. New York.052
4. New Jersey.062
5. Washington.064
6. Minnesota.066
7. Hawaii.066
8. Connecticut .069
9. Vermont.070
10. New Hampshire.071

Most Dangerous States for Drivers

Most Dangerous States for Drivers
Fatality rate per 1,000 drivers
1. Louisiana.158
42. South Dakota.158
43. South Carolina.168
44. Alabama.169
45. Oklahoma .171
46. Wyoming.178
47. Mississippi.184
48. Montana .186
49. New Mexico.203
50. North Dakota.256

Your security on the road depends on many factors. Seat belts, road conditions, and, perhaps most alarmingly, other drivers. Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for people under fifty in America, and over 37,000 people die yearly in motor vehicle incidents1. When it comes to driver safety, however, there may be another important factor to consider: where you live.

Because protecting your family doesn’t end at home, SafeWise is also committed to keeping you safe on the road. We researched driving trends across America, aggregating data on motor vehicle fatalities to determine the safest place to drive.

Our conclusion? The northeastern United States, where the old salts in New England manage to keep the rubber on the road, is your safest bet. Despite a reputation for aggressive driving (and some rather unsavory nicknames), Massachusetts’s drivers earn top marks, followed by their neighbors in Rhode Island.

Planning a road trip? Take caution on some of the northwestern cross-country routes that cover scenic areas in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. These mostly rural regions hit road blocks as some of the most dangerous states for driving in America. 

Looking for more specifics on your state’s safety record? Let’s compare numbers to see a few other correlations in the data on driving trends across America.

Fast is fatal

Despite having longer average commute times,2 states with lower speed limits have fewer fatalities.3 The data shows that while you might spend more time on the road, chances are you’ll get there safely when traveling at slower speeds.

Fewest Speeding Fatalities

Average Commute Time (minutes)
Average Highway Speed Limit (mph)
Speeding Fatalities Per 1,000 Residents
New Jersey30.4620.0111
Rhode Island23.6580.0114

Most Speeding Fatalities

Average Commute Time (minutes)
Average Highway Speed Limit (mph)
Speeding Fatalities Per 1,000 Residents
North Dakota16.9710.0661
South Carolina23.5650.0623
New Mexico21.6680.0619

And while there’s plenty of controversy surrounding the argument that stricter blood alcohol thresholds mean less DUIs,5 there is evidence that higher blood alcohol content (BAC) levels in general mean more fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that in 70% of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities,6 at least one driver had a BAC of .15 or higher, nearly twice the legal limit in every state. Conversely, states with higher average speed limits see more fatalities. But it’s worth noting that many of the states listed as the most dangerous for speeding are also northern or southern states that have major cross-country interstate highways. What the fatality data may show instead is the result of higher speeds, more congestion, and heavier vehicles.

If you’re just passing through Wyoming or North Dakota, maybe don’t keep the pedal to the metal.

More lenient laws mean more DUIs. Except when they don't.

Three of the states that see the most fatalities from drunk driving are also considered more lenient on DUIs, according to WalletHub.4 But that’s not the end of the story. Two states from the safest category also make the most lenient list, so we’ll have to refrain from speculation because the data here is a mixed bag.

Fewest Drunk Driving Fatalities

DUIs Per 1,000 Residents
Drunk Driving Fatalities per 1,000 Residents
Rhode Island26.30.0180
New York1.270.0191

Most Drunk Driving Fatalities

DUIs Per 1,000 Residents
Drunk Driving Fatalities per 1,000 Residents
North Dakota5.290.0872
New Mexico4.670.0691

At SafeWise, we wondered if Uber or Lyft helped cut down on drunk driving in states where ridesharing is more popular, but studies have indicated that’s not the case.

Age is only a number, but it's also a factor in distracted driving.

Think keeping both hands on the wheel is your ticket to safety? It’s certainly important, but it doesn’t seem to be the defining factor in fatalities associated with careless driving. Only one of the safest states with the fewest distracted drivers bans handheld phone use.7

Fewest Distracted Driving Fatalities

Does the state ban handheld cellphone use?
Distracted Driving Fatalities per 1,000 Residents

Most Distracted Driving Fatalities

Does the state ban handheld cellphone use?
Distracted Driving Fatalities per 1,000 Residents
New Mexico(only bans in state vehicles)0.0379
Louisiana(drivers with permit or intermediate license)0.0250

What does appear to be a factor? A state’s median age. At least one of the most dangerous states for distracted driving is in the top ten lowest median ages in the US, and two of the states with less distracted drivers have the highest median age in the United States.8 It’s likely that younger, inexperienced drivers just can’t handle distractions of any sort.

There’s another interesting correlation between distracted driving and the age of your vehicle’s occupants. States considered the worst in America for distracted driving also have higher than average birthrates.8 As you might imagine, those with babies on board may be more concerned about what’s going on in the back seat than what’s happening on the road ahead.

Our Methodology

SafeWise’s methodology in this study on the Safest and Most Dangerous States for Driving is based on data from the Insurance Institution for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute on driving fatalities in each state. The team then sorted by causation and supported correlations with additional resources where indicated.

Buckle up and share this map with the ones you love before taking the wheel in your state.  

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Kaz Weida
Written by
Kaz Weida
Kaz is a journalist who covers home security, parenting, and community and child safety. Her work and product testing in the security and safety field spans the past four years. You can find Kaz in HuffPost, SheKnows, Lifehack, and much more. Her degree in education and her background as a teacher and a parent make her uniquely suited to offer practical advice on creating safe environments for your family.

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