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states with the worst drivers

Most drivers probably have a few candidates in mind when they picture the worst drivers in the country. Often it’s drivers from a neighboring state invading their lane, but some states carry a nationwide bad-driving reputation. So while it is perhaps fun to joke about the bad road etiquette of certain motorists, bad accidents and negligent driving are no laughing matter. From serious injury to car repairs draining savings accounts, living somewhere with bad drivers can have a serious negative impact on your life.

Below we rank the states with the worst drivers. To do this, we look at a total of four metrics. We look at the percent of drivers with insurance, number of DUIs per driver, average number of deaths per miles driven and how often residents google terms like traffic ticket or speeding ticket. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together to create the final ranking.

This is SmartAsset’s second annual study on the states with the worst drivers. See the 2017 edition of the study here.

Key Findings

  • The South speeds ahead – Five of the top 10 states with the worst drivers are in the South. These states tended to have the highest fatality rates and lowest auto insurance rates.
  • Fatality rates are falling nationwide – According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatalities and fatality rates are falling. In 1994 around 40,700 people were killed in auto accidents compared to 37,500 in 2016. Meanwhile the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles has fallen by 32% over that same time period. Every state saw a decline in their fatality rates from 1994 to 2016. However, some states like Arizona saw their 2016 fatality rate (per 100 million vehicle miles traveled) surpass their 2015 rate.

states with the worst drivers

1. Mississippi

Mississippi takes the top spot as the state with the worst drivers. According to our data, this state has the second-most deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Roughly 1.7 people die for every 100 million miles driven. Insurance rates in Mississippi are also fairly low, which raises the chance that an accident will lead to someone paying for repairs out of pocket. Those high, unexpected costs can really take a toll on the checking accounts of Mississippi drivers. Google Trends data also suggests quite a few drivers run afoul of the law. Mississippi has the 11th highest search volume for ticket offenses.

2. Tennessee

Another Southern state comes in second. Like Mississippi, Tennessee has low coverage rates for auto insurance. It also has elevated rates of DUIs and fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Tennessee ranks fifth for percent of uninsured drivers, 19th for DUIs per thousand drivers and 16th for people killed per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In fact, Tennessee ranks in the top 20 in every metric. But it is only the lack of top 10 scores that drops Tennessee to second.

3. (tie) California

The Golden State comes in third. The biggest metro areas here are known for their bumper-to-bumper traffic, which makes life behind the wheel frustrating. According to our data, there is more to worry about than just the traffic. California ranks 12th for DUIs per thousand drivers and 11th for percent of uninsured drivers. One piece of good news is the relatively low fatality rate. California ranks 32nd for number of people killed per 100 million miles driven.

3. (tie) Missouri

The Show-Me State ties with California for third. Missouri ranks 10th for rate of googling traffic tickets or speeding tickets, an indication that residents are getting tickets more than in other states. Many drivers here also forgo insurance, meaning accidents can get costly. The death rate per 100 million driven miles is also high in Missouri. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 1.28 people die for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled in Missouri. That figure is up from 1.21 in 2015.

5. (tie) New Mexico

Driving around New Mexico could be dangerous for your wallet. According to our research, only 79% of drivers have auto insurance. That means there is more than a 20% chance that if you are in an accident, the other driver won’t have insurance. New Mexico also has the 11th highest rate of DUIs and the 12th highest fatality rate per 100 million miles driven.

5. (tie) Texas

To get around the Lone Star State you usually need four wheels. Unfortunately for residents, and for those looking to move to Texas, the drivers have room to improve their driving skills. For example, some of our data suggests that Texas drivers often break the law. The state googles the term “speeding ticket” at the ninth-highest rate. The fatality rate per 100 million driven miles is also higher than average. There were 1.39 deaths per 100 million miles driven in Texas in 2016. That’s roughly the same rate as in 2015.

7. Alabama

Alabama has three top-10 scores. Residents in the state google traffic or speeding tickets at the fourth-highest rate in the country. At best, this is a sign that people are interested in learning about local traffic violations. At worst, this Google Trends data shows that large numbers of drivers are breaking the law. More alarming than the traffic ticket searches is the fatality rate. About 1.5 people die for every 100 million vehicle miles driven in Alabama. That is the eighth-highest rate in the country.

8. Florida

Florida dropped to eighth this year after coming in first last year. However, the state still has the lowest rate of insured drivers in the country at 73%. To go along with the drivers forgoing insurance, Florida has very high fatality rates. Florida comes in right behind Alabama with 1.47 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. Fortunately for Florida residents, that fatality rate has fallen by a third since 1994. That year, Florida had a fatality rate of 2.2 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. In total, Florida had nearly 3,200 fatalities in 2016.

9. (tie) Alaska

Alaska ranks in the top 10 for three out of four metrics. If not for the lowest rate of googling traffic tickets and parking tickets, Alaska would likely rank higher. Alaska has the sixth-highest DUI rate in our study and the fourth-highest fatality rate. If we ranked states just by these two metrics, Alaska would rank number one in our study.

9. (tie) Arizona

Our list of states with the worst drivers ends in Arizona. The state scores in the top half for all four of our metrics, which explains its spot in the top 10. The state’s worst score comes in fatality rate per 100 million miles driven. According to the 2016 data from NHTSA, Arizona had 962 fatalities. That’s 1.46 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. Fortunately, that figure is trending down. Since 1994, the fatality rate per miles driven has fallen 37%.

worst drivers

Data and Methodology

In order to find the states with the worst drivers, we looked at data on all 50 states. Specifically, we looked at data on the following four metrics:

  • Fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Data comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is from 2016.
  • Arrests for driving under the influence per 1,000 drivers. Data on DUI arrests comes from the FBI and data on number of drivers comes from the Department of Transportation. Data is from 2015.
  • Percent of drivers who are insured. Data comes from the Insurance Research Council and is from 2017.
  • Google Trends on driving tickets. This is how often residents in each state google speeding tickets and traffic tickets. To control for the number of drivers in each state, we compared speeding ticket and traffic ticket Google Trends data to gasoline Google Trends data. Data was pulled for the period between June 2017 and June 2018.

First, we ranked each state in each of the four metrics. Then we found each state’s average ranking, giving each metric equal weighting. We used the average rankings to create our final score. The state with the best average ranking received a score of 100 while the state with the worst average ranking received a score of 0.

Tips for Maximizing Your Savings

  • Use the right savings account – Open a high-yield savings account. This kind of account allows you to save money and earn over 15x the national average in interest, depending on your balance and contributions. Check out the American Express National Bank Personal Savings Account. Grow your savings with no fees/minimum balance and 24/7 access. Learn more. Sponsored
  • Build an emergency fund – No matter how prepared you are, accidents happen, even if you don’t live in one of the states with the worst drivers. If you need to make a last-minute repair on your car or pay some medical costs out of pocket, an emergency fund can save you money. By keeping some money on the side that you can access when the unexpected happens, you can avoid taking on costly credit card debt or other short-term loans.
  • Get expert help – No matter how savvy you are with your money, it never hurts to get a second opinion. Indeed, a financial advisor can help you decide how to use your savings, whether that’s investing for retirement, homeownership or future education. So if you’re not sure where to get the best advice, check out SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool. It will match you with up to three local financial advisors who fit your specific needs.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/nd3000

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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