The 10 Most Dangerous Cities for Driving (and 10 Where Streets Are Safest)

traffic accident
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on Outdoorsy.

Driving is one of the most common activities in everyday life, but it’s also one of the riskiest. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic crashes in 2019 injured more than 2.7 million people and killed more than 36,000. The latter figure makes motor vehicle accidents one of the most significant causes of death in the U.S., especially for young people.

And while drivers have been spending less time on the roads over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary data from the NHTSA suggests that 2020 saw an uptick in traffic fatalities. Over the first nine months of 2020, vehicle miles traveled were down 14.5 percent year-over-year in the United States, but fatalities reported were up 4.6 percent—to over 28,000—over the same span.

Fortunately, the overall trend in recent decades has been a reduction in fatalities, thanks to better vehicle safety and changes in public policy. Manufacturers have made vehicles safer with features like electronic stability control and automatic braking systems, which decrease the number of crashes, and improved airbags and collision technology, which make crashes less likely to be fatal. Meanwhile, states have sought to improve motorist safety with stricter laws on matters like seatbelts and the use of mobile devices while driving. Collectively, these changes have helped push the total number of motor vehicle fatalities down by more than 15 percent since 2005. When calculated relative to the U.S. population, motor fatalities are down 25 percent over the same span.

Efforts to improve safety laws have not been consistent across states, however, which has somewhat limited the progress that states have made in reducing fatalities. One major example is state law around drunken driving. The lenience of DUI laws varies from state to state, and in general, research shows that states with more lenient laws also tend to see higher rates of fatalities on the roads. In 2019, more than 9,000 fatal accidents involved a drunken driver, which accounted for 27.8 percent of fatalities that year.

Another contributing factor to vehicle fatalities is the nature and safety of the roads people drive on. For example, rural roads tend to be narrower and less well-lit than their urban counterparts, which, among other factors, creates riskier driving conditions. As a result, rural roads accounted for the majority of vehicle fatalities up until 2015, and in more recent years, they still produce nearly half of all fatal crashes—while only representing around 30 percent of vehicle traffic. Traffic itself may also be a risk factor, as the lower number of drivers on rural roads produces a false sense of security, thereby increasing the incidence of unsafe behaviors like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt.

The Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities for Driving

Money Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Given the variety of factors that can play into vehicle fatality rates, it should be no surprise that risks on the road vary by geography. To identify the locations where the risks are highest and lowest, researchers from Outdoorsy created a composite index of traffic safety indicators. These indicators include the collision likelihood for each location relative to the U.S. average, the total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people, and the percentage of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver.

Keep reading to see the cities with the most and least dangerous drivers. Up first are the cities that are most dangerous for driving.

1. Dallas, TX

Dallas Texas
Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 88.48
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.2
  • Relative collision likelihood: +46.5%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 14.3
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 42.4%
  • Population: 1,343,565

2. Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
C.M. White / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 85.60
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 6.8
  • Relative collision likelihood: +55.1%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 21.9
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 27.7%
  • Population: 220,248

3. San Bernardino, CA

San Bernardino, California
Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 83.02
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.5
  • Relative collision likelihood: +41.8%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 17.9
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 30.4%
  • Population: 215,780

4. New Orleans, LA

New Orleans Louisiana
Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 80.84
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.1
  • Relative collision likelihood: +49.1%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 11.1
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 36.4%
  • Population: 390,144

5. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta at night.
cate_89 / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 77.90
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.1
  • Relative collision likelihood: +49.5%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 13.5
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 27.2%
  • Population: 506,804

6. Fort Worth, TX

Fort Worth Texas
Barbara Smyers / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 77.84
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 8.2
  • Relative collision likelihood: +29.7%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 11.5
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 43.3%
  • Population: 913,656

7. Detroit, MI

Detroit Michigan
Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 76.78
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 8.6
  • Relative collision likelihood: +22.9%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 16.1
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 37.1%
  • Population: 670,052

8. Houston, TX

Houston, Texas skyline
Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 76.20
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.7
  • Relative collision likelihood: +38.1%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 10.1
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 40.4%
  • Population: 2,316,797

9. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati Ohio
Bryan Busovicki / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 75.52
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 7.2
  • Relative collision likelihood: +47.6%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 8.7
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 37.5%
  • Population: 303,954

10. Cleveland, OH

Cleveland Ohio
Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 73.04
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 8.9
  • Relative collision likelihood: +19.0%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 12.3
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 42.1%
  • Population: 380,989

The Top 10 Safest Cities for Driving

Happy driver
AshTproductions / Shutterstock.com

Meanwhile, the following 10 cities have some of the safest streets in the country.

1. Cary, NC

Cary North Carolina
Ian Brundige / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 4.54
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 12.0
  • Relative collision likelihood: -12.0%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.8
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 22.2%
  • Population: 171,143

2. Overland Park, KS

Overland Park Kansas
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 6.12
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 12.4
  • Relative collision likelihood: -15.0%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 3.5
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 15.8%
  • Population: 195,483

3. Gilbert, AZ

Gilbert Arizona
Cavan-Images / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 12.26
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 10.8
  • Relative collision likelihood: -1.6%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 3.1
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 21.7%
  • Population: 254,115

4. Olathe, KS

Olathe Kansas
SevenMaps / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 12.64
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 12.7
  • Relative collision likelihood: -16.5%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 3.6
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 26.7%
  • Population: 140,557

5. Oxnard, CA

Oxnard, California
Liliya67 / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 12.74
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 10.1
  • Relative collision likelihood: +4.3%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.9
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 5.9%
  • Population: 208,875

6. Boise, ID

Boise, Idaho
Charles Knowles / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 13.86
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 13.7
  • Relative collision likelihood: -22.6%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 6.0
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 22.2%
  • Population: 228,965

7. Naperville, IL

Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 14.72
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 9.8
  • Relative collision likelihood: +8.5%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 1.8
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 0.0%
  • Population: 149,640

8. Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin
Ian M Johnson / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 15.24
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 12.2
  • Relative collision likelihood: -13.2%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 3.0
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 30.0%
  • Population: 259,673

9. Lincoln, NE

Lincoln, Nebraska
Victor Wong / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 22.30
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 11.5
  • Relative collision likelihood: -7.7%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 4.2
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 31.4%
  • Population: 289,096

10. Chandler, AZ

Chandler, Arizona
Mark Skalny / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite index: 24.48
  • Average number of years between a driver’s collisions: 11.2
  • Relative collision likelihood: -5.7%
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 people: 6.1
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunken driver: 26.7%
  • Population: 261,149

Detailed Findings & Methodology

Oakland California traffic
Aaron Kohr / Shutterstock.com

The data used in this analysis is from Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report 2019, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. To determine the cities with the most and least dangerous drivers, researchers created a composite index based on the following factors:

  • Relative collision likelihood (40% weight)
  • Total motor vehicle fatalities per capita (40% weight)
  • Share of fatal collisions involving a drunk drinker (20% weight)

In the event of a tie, the city with the greatest average number of years between collisions was ranked higher. Only the largest American cities with available data from all three data sources were included in the analysis.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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