Most Americans rely on cars to get around, as “87 percent of daily trips take place in personal vehicles,” according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, fear of public transportation has led to more reliance on personal vehicles than usual, and car sales increased 9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to last year.
While driving offers a more isolated commute, it is often a major hassle and expense. Drivers annually spend an average of more than 310 hours on the road. That’s nearly 13 days. Add the costs of wasted time and fuel due to traffic congestions, and our collective tab comes to about $1,400 per driver each year.
Road quality is another big factor in how pleasant one’s driving experience is. America’s highways and bridges are underfunded overall, with a backlog of hundreds of billions of dollars in repairs needed, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The World Economic forum ranks U.S. roads at 17th in quality out of 141 economically developed nations, too. It’s clear there’s room for improvement.
Some cities are better for those behind the wheel, though. To determine those places, WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities across 30 key indicators of driver-friendliness. Our data set ranges from average gas prices to annual hours in traffic congestion per auto commuter to auto-repair shops per capita.
Best & Worst Cities to Drive in
|Overall Rank||City||Total Score||Cost of Ownership & Maintenance||Traffic & Infrastructure||Safety||Access to Vehicles & Maintenance|
|5||Corpus Christi, TX||64.31||13||5||28||81|
|18||El Paso, TX||59.98||61||21||3||76|
|19||Virginia Beach, VA||59.69||17||77||14||78|
|24||San Antonio, TX||58.87||29||35||52||22|
|26||St. Petersburg, FL||58.77||14||48||61||41|
|32||Fort Worth, TX||57.99||49||49||30||21|
|39||Fort Wayne, IN||56.13||26||64||55||64|
|40||Las Vegas, NV||56.12||76||3||60||8|
|41||Kansas City, MO||56.09||15||18||92||73|
|45||Oklahoma City, OK||54.99||53||60||46||47|
|48||St. Paul, MN||54.42||40||78||44||61|
|56||Colorado Springs, CO||53.24||48||72||53||65|
|60||Baton Rouge, LA||52.67||63||42||84||20|
|61||Chula Vista, CA||52.55||98||12||5||36|
|64||St. Louis, MO||52.12||23||55||100||5|
|73||Santa Ana, CA||50.40||94||46||19||7|
|75||Long Beach, CA||49.89||86||44||34||11|
|76||Jersey City, NJ||49.80||68||98||22||37|
|79||San Diego, CA||49.02||97||29||20||13|
|83||North Las Vegas, NV||47.07||95||15||64||71|
|84||New Orleans, LA||46.64||69||76||77||95|
|90||San Jose, CA||44.81||89||68||38||87|
|91||San Bernardino, CA||44.23||90||39||82||99|
|94||Los Angeles, CA||41.35||96||89||40||32|
|96||New York, NY||40.69||92||100||8||53|
|98||San Francisco, CA||36.11||99||93||65||72|
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that city, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
Ask the Experts
With cost, safety and environmental impact ranking among the top concerns for the auto industry, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:
- What money saving tips do you have for drivers, as gas prices have been on an upward trend over the last few months?
- When do you think there will be more self-driving than human-driven cars?
- Considering all potential consequences, do you think that automated vehicles will be a net benefit or net negative for society?
- When evaluating the best cities for drivers, what are the top five indicators?
- What can local authorities do to reduce traffic and improve safety?
- How will the COVID-19 pandemic change traffic levels and the way Americans commute?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst cities for drivers, WalletHub compared a sample of the 100 most populated U.S. cities across four key dimensions: 1) Cost of Ownership & Maintenance, 2) Traffic & Infrastructure, 3) Safety and 4) Access to Vehicles & Maintenance. Our sample considers only the city proper in each case and excludes cities in the surrounding metro area.
We evaluated those dimensions using 30 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for drivers. Data for metrics marked with an asterisk (*) were available at the state level only. For metrics marked with two asterisks (**), the square root of the population was used to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities.
Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Cost of Ownership & Maintenance – Total Points: 30
- Cost of New Car: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
- Average Gas Prices: Double Weight (~8.57 Points)
- Average Monthly Car Insurance Premium: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
- Auto Maintenance Costs: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
- Total Extra Vehicle Operating Costs per Driver: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
Note: Additional vehicle operating costs (VOC) are the “result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor,” according to transportation research firm TRIP.
- Average Parking Rate: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
Traffic & Infrastructure – Total Points: 30
- Annual Hours Spent in Congestion per Auto Commuter: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Number of Days with Precipitation: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Number of Cold Days: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Note: This metric specifically measures the average number of days with a minimum temperature of 32 degrees F or lower.
- Average Commute Time by Car (in Minutes): Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Number of Alternative-Fuel Stations per Capita: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Quality of Roads: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Quality of Bridges: Quarter* Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Roadway Miles per 1,000 Persons: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Waze Driver Satisfaction Rating: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
Safety – Total Points: 30
- Accident Likelihood in City vs. National Average: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Traffic Fatality Rate per 100,000 Population: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Share of Adults Who Always or Nearly Always Wear a Seatbelt: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Number of Hard-Braking Events per 1,000 Miles: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
Note: Hard-braking data is based on customers voluntarily enrolled in Allstate’s Drivewise® telematics program from 2015-2016.
- Share of Uninsured Drivers: Full* Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Rate of Car Thefts: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Rate of Larceny: Full Weight (~3.53 Points)
- Strictness of DUI Punishment: Half* Weight (~1.76 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Strictest & Most Lenient States on DUI” ranking.
- Punitiveness of High-Risk Driver’s Insurance: Half* Weight (~1.76 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States with the Highest & Lowest Insurance Premium Penalties for High-Risk Drivers” ranking.
- Driving Laws Rating: Half* Weight (~1.76 Points)
Access to Vehicles & Maintenance – Total Points: 10
- Car Dealerships per Capita**: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Auto-Repair Shops per Capita**: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Car Washes per Capita**: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Gas Stations per Capita**: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
- Parking Lots and Garages per Capita: Full Weight (~2.00 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Council for Community and Economic Research, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, INRIX, National Centers for Environmental Information, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Automobile Association, The Road Information Program, Federal Highway Administration, Waze Mobile, Allstate Insurance Company, U.S. Department of Energy, QuinStreet Insurance Agency, Yelp, TrueCar, Insurance Information Institute and WalletHub research.