Everyone hates being stuck in traffic. It makes you late, and causes many people’s tempers to flare up. But it’s also quite bad for your wallet – in fact, congestion cost U.S. drivers $88 billion in 2019, as well as an average of 99 hours of their time. The U.S. also has five out of the world’s 25 worst cities for traffic, and 19 of the worst 25 in North America. Due to COVID-19, though, 2020’s traffic congestion numbers are likely to be lower overall. As of October 2020, cumulative travel on roads in 2020 was over 380 billion vehicle miles fewer than the same period in 2019, a reduction of 13.9%.
Congestion isn’t the only concern on the road, though. People want to know that they will be driving on safe, well-maintained roads before heading out. The U.S. has a fairly good track record in these regards, but certainly doesn’t top the list. For example, the World Economics Forum only places the U.S. at rank 17 of 141 when it comes to road quality.
Road conditions naturally aren’t consistent across the entire country. To identify the states with the most positive driving experiences, WalletHub compared all 50 states across 31 key indicators of a positive commute. Our data set ranges from average gas prices to rush-hour traffic congestion to road quality.
Best & Worst Driving States
Cost of Ownership & Maintenance
Traffic & Infrastructure
Access to Vehicles & Maintenance
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric.
Future improvements to the safety, condition and congestion of roads rely on cooperation between drivers, lawmakers and private industry. With that in mind, we asked the following key questions to a panel of experts. Click on the profiles below to read the experts’ bios and see their answers.
- What tips do you have for keeping car ownership costs low?
- Should states offer tax or other incentives to encourage people to purchase electric vehicles? What else can states do to support the use of low-emissions vehicles (e.g. building charging stations for electric vehicles)?
- In your opinion, when will self-driving cars be readily available? What are the regulatory or policy issues?
- How can states reduce the number of traffic fatalities?
- Which are some efficient steps that state authorities can take to improve the quality of roads and bridges?
- What are your predictions for the automotive industry? Will home-based work and online shopping lead to a decline in car ownership? Or, will safety precautions in the process of reopening prompt a rise in the prolonged use of personal vehicles, instead of public transportation?
Ask the Experts
To help drivers identify the states that provide the best commuting conditions, WalletHub compared the 50 states across four key dimensions: 1) Cost of Ownership & Maintenance, 2) Traffic & Infrastructure, 3) Safety and 4) Access to Vehicles & Maintenance.
We evaluated those dimensions using 31 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 best for drivers.
Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the following scores to rank-order the states.
For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), the square root of the population was used to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across states.
Cost of Ownership & Maintenance – Total Points: 30
- Average Gas Prices: Triple Weight (~12.86 Points)
- Average Annual Car Insurance Premium: Full Weight (~4.29 Points)
- Auto-Maintenance Costs: Double Weight (~8.57 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.
Traffic & Infrastructure – Total Points: 30
- Share of Rush-Hour Traffic Congestion: Double Weight (~6.00 Points)
Note: This metric refers to the share of urban interstates experiencing congestion during peak hours.
- Increase in Vehicle Travel on Highways (2018 vs. 2000): Half Weight (~1.50 Points)
- Number of Days with Precipitation: Full Weight (~3.00 Points)
- Number of Icy Days: Full Weight (~3.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the mean number of days with a minimum temperature of 32 degrees F or lower.
- Number of Strong Wind & Hail Storms Reports: Full Weight (~3.00 Points)
- Average Commute Time by Car (in Minutes): Double Weight (~6.00 Points)
- Road Quality: Full Weight (~3.00 Points)
- Bridge Quality: Half Weight (~1.50 Points)
- Roadway Miles per 1,000 Persons: Full Weight (~3.00 Points)
Safety – Total Points: 30
- Traffic Indiscipline: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
Note: This is a composite metric that measures incidents due to poor behavior: phone use, speeding, aggressive acceleration, harsh braking, and poor turning.
- Share of Adults Who Always or Nearly Always Wear a Seatbelt: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Traffic Fatality Rate: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Change in Traffic Fatality Rate (2018 vs. 2017): Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Car Theft Rate: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Larceny Rate: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Strictness of DUI Punishment: Half Weight (~1.36 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Strictest & Most Lenient States on DUI” ranking.
- Strictness of High-Risk Driving: Full Weight (~2.73 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 (~1.36 Points)
- Share of Uninsured Drivers: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Likelihood of Collision with Animals: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Animal Loss Claims per Total Number of Drivers: Full Weight (~2.73 Points)
Access to Vehicles & Maintenance – Total Points: 10
- Car Dealerships per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Auto-Repair Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Car Washes per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Gas Stations per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Alternative Fuel Stations per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Parking Lots and Garages per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.67 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Energy, Council for Community and Economic Research, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Insurance Research Council, National Insurance Crime Bureau, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, National Centers for Environmental Information, Storm Prediction Center, American Automobile Association, The Road Information Program, Federal Highway Administration, QuinStreet Insurance Agency, EverQuote, State Farm and WalletHub research.