Worst Cities to Drive

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Detailed Findings & Methodology

Traffic delays and congestion are among the most frustrating aspects of driving. In metro areas across the United States, motorists waste entire days sitting in traffic over the course of a year. In the Baltimore, Maryland metro area, for example, one of the worst in the country for drivers, commuters lose an average of 65 hours annually to traffic delays — several times the hours lost in most metro areas.

Idling in traffic is not only a waste of time, but also a waste of fuel. In the majority of U.S. metro areas, the average commuter wastes over 7 gallons of fuel per year to traffic. In the cities on this list, the waste is often far greater. In the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for example, the average commuter loses about 71 gallons of fuel per year sitting in traffic — the most of any metro area.

Wasted fuel can take a heavy toll on drivers’ pocket books. Though gas prices are significantly lower at the pump nationwide since the global slump in oil prices, in some cities, motorists are spending big on gasoline. In the vast majority of metro areas, the average cost of a gallon of gas is lower than $2.25. In many cities, a gallon of gas costs less than $2.00. At the other end of the spectrum, in a number of U.S. metro areas, particularly in California, gas prices are nearly $3.00 per gallon.

Fuel and other operating costs aside, a car will be one of the most expensive purchases many Americans will ever make. Unfortunately, their value makes vehicles prime targets for theft. Nationwide, there were about 103 vehicle thefts for every 100,000 people in 2016. In many of the cities on this list, motor vehicle theft is far more common. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, there are 1,114 car thefts for every 100,000 people, more than 10 times the U.S. rate.

Theft is not the only danger car owners face. For many Americans, getting behind the wheel is the most dangerous thing they do on a regular basis. Some 35,000 Americans were killed in car accidents in 2015. Adjusting for population, there is considerable variance in road traffic fatalities from one city to another. Cities with higher rates of traffic deaths were penalized as being less safe for drivers.

To identify the worst metro areas in which to drive, 24/7 Wall St. created an index that consists of road fatalities, average commute time, car theft rate, average annual gallons of gas wasted due to traffic, average annual hours wasted due to traffic, and the average cost of a gallon of gas. Data on average wasted fuel per driver and the hours of delay spent per auto commuter in traffic in 2014 came from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and was aggregated from the urban area level to metropolitan statistical areas using geographic definitions from the Census Bureau. The average price of gasoline for the period from second quarter 2016 to second quarter 2017 came from the Council for Community and Economic Research, and was also aggregated from urban areas to MSAs using Census Bureau definitions. The car theft rate is measured per 100,000 metro area residents and came from the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s “Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report” that covers the rate of car theft for 2016. Roadway fatalities per 100,000 residents came from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and are for 2016. The data was aggregated at a county level to a metropolitan level.

East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and California-Lexington Park, Maryland were excluded from the ranking due to insufficient data. There were 28 counties that had insufficient data for traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents and were not aggregated into the metro statistical area level.