Detailed Findings & Methodology
Each state has one metropolitan area that stands out as the worst place to drive, but conditions vary substantially from one state to the next. California’s San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area is the worst place to drive in the state due to long commutes and high gas prices. Sioux Falls ranks as the worst city to drive in South Dakota, but it is much better for commuters than San Francisco. Commute times in Sioux Falls average 18.2 minutes, nearly half of San Francisco’s 33.6 minutes. Gas only averaged $2.15 in Sioux Falls in 2017, 82 cents less than it did in San Francisco.
In less populous states, even the worst places to drive often have much more pleasant commutes than the average drive in more populated states. In 9 of the 10 least populous states, the worst city to drive actually has better driving conditions than the majority of U.S. metro areas.
In contrast, California, Illinois, Florida, and Texas are four of the five most populous states. In each of those four states, at least one city ranks as one of the 11 worst places to drive in the entire country.
Different factors in each city contribute to a particularly aggravating drive for commuters. Albuquerque, New Mexico leads the nation in car theft, with 1,114.0 per 100,000 cars stolen a year. That is well over 10 times the national rate and far surpasses the next highest rate in the metro area of Pueblo, Colorado.
Gadsden ranks as the worst place to drive in Alabama, largely due to the high rate of traffic fatalities in the city. A reported 28.3 people are killed each year in traffic accidents per 100,000 residents in Gadsden, one of the highest rates in the country.
Alabama and the rest of the Southeastern U.S. are much more likely to have metro areas with high traffic fatality rates. Of the cities with more than 20 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, the majority are in Southern states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
While incidents like car theft and traffic accidents are devastating, they are also relatively rare. A much more common experience for drivers in cities on this list is a long, unpleasant commute. Congestion can be a relatively minor annoyance, but the minutes lost stuck in traffic each day can accumulate over the weeks and months. The average U.S. commuter spends close to two days a year stuck in traffic.
While traffic jams can happen in every city, the worst gridlocks are experienced by those commuters living in the Northeast and the West coast. There are 20 different cities in which the average commute lasts half an hour or longer. Nine of those cities are in Northeastern states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the notoriously congested Washington, D.C. area. Seven more of those cities are on the West Coast in either California or Washington state. The longest average commute is in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, at an agonizing 39.4 minutes each commute.
Though the Midwest is often mocked as a collection of “flyover states,” they are much easier to drive through. Many of the quickest average commutes take place in North Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota.
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.