09.27.10

The Worst Drivers In America

Which state has the deadliest, least-skilled motorists on the road? The Daily Beast crunches new crash data, ranking all 50—and discovers a huge gap between how Republicans and Democrats drive. Plus, America's 75 Worst Commutes.

Does who you vote for correlate with the type of driver you are? That’s one of the strange correlations that came out of The Daily Beast analysis of nationwide accident records, designed to answer the common question: Which state has the worst drivers?

Gallery: Ranking the States With the Worst Drivers

Past bragging rights, the ramifications are deadly: There were more than 30,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. last year, including more than 5,000 deaths just from “distracted driving,” such as cellphone use, according to data released last week. In trying to get some definitive answers, The Daily Beast used crash data—because accidents provide an objective way to define someone as a bad driver, or not—and focused on fatal crashes, using the most recent available data (2009) since those are uniformly reported state-by-state. From there, we specifically measured fatal crashes where driver mistake was a key factor: DUI, blowing through stop signs, careless or inattentive driving and the like.

To ensure that tiny Rhode Island and mighty California were measured evenly, we averaged these driver-caused fatal crashes by the number of total number of drivers licenses issued in each state. And to make sure that we weren’t penalizing states where the average motorist  drives more—and thus gets into more accidents—we also factored in how many miles each driver in the state logs, and how much time they spend in their car, adjusting the numbers accordingly. 

Within those rankings, some correlations were not shocking—18- to 20-year-olds are the largest menace to roadways in almost every region and state.  

What was more surprising: how the breakdown between states with more dangerous drivers and safer drivers fell almost completely along the lines of the 2008 McCain-Obama election, with the Republicans again coming up on the short end. Nine of the 10 worst-performing states went for McCain, while nine of the 10 best performers voted for Obama. (Delaware and Mississippi were the respective outliers.)

While this ranking won’t singlehandedly end the stereotypes about “California drivers” or “New York drivers,” it should help: “Louisiana driver” or “Kentucky driver” would be a more apt critique. And who’s the worst of all? CLICK HERE.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Rhode Island was the outlier in the 10 best-performing states that voted for Obama. The state was Mississippi.

Research by Clark Merrefield