The safest places to drive in the USA are Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. Among the most dangerous: Montana, Wyoming, Louisiana and Mississippi. Those conclusions are based on federal data of traffic fatalities per 100,000 population and per 100 million miles driven.
The primary reason for the difference: Urban roads are safer than rural roads.
Even in states with low overall road death rates, rural areas often have rates twice as high as urban ones. That's because urban areas usually have roads with lower speed limits, more safety engineering features such as divided highways and faster access to emergency medical care than rural routes. Many rural deaths occur when vehicles leave the road and crash into trees or other obstructions.
That being said, Boston drivers, if you don't know the unwritten rules, such as left turn on red, are pretty damn crazy.
What I really think drives perception of driving is how confusing the road system is to the driver. I'm familiar with both D.C. and Boston roads, and driving in both cities, even in places where the roads are narrow, not well marked, and so on doesn't bother me. Meanwhile, New York City scares the hell out me, but friends who don't mind driving in New York City are terrified of Boston.
Nonetheless, we're the second safest, with NY being the third safest. Go urban hellholes!
After moving from Oregon to Worcester, I think what surprises me the most isn't the terrifying driving: it's the insistence by all the drivers on the road that how they act is normal. Very few of my friends at school will admit that, for example, sitting in a car with them is significantly scarier than sitting in an NYC taxi cab.
Even in states with low overall road death rates, rural areas often have rates twice as high as urban ones. That's because urban areas usually have roads with lower speed limits, more safety engineering features such as divided highways and faster access to emergency medical care than rural routes.
Of these, by far the faster access to emergency medical care makes the difference.
Back when I lived in New Jersey, over 20 years ago, they were the safest state (and, if they didn't make it their motto, they sure advertised it a lot).
Even then I'd retort, "Well, yeah. That's because it's so crowded you can't get up to killing speed."
Except for the Parkway.
@Orac: I'm sure that faster access to emergency medical care helps, but I wouldn't discount the importance of minimizing the risk of head-on collisions between vehicles moving at relative speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Some states routinely post speed limits as high as 70 on two-lane (meaning one each direction) rural highways; Montana is one of those states. At that speed there is no such thing as a minor accident. That Boston is relatively safe by this statistic is no surprise: it's hard to maintain a high enough speed, especially during rush hour, to do serious damage.
@Erin: I've noticed that there are different kinds of crazy on the roads in different parts of the country, and it takes time and experience to adapt to a particular local flavor of crazy. After mumble years living in New England, I have adapted to Boston crazy. I've been to San Francisco and Seattle enough times to know what kind of crazy to expect on those roads, but I'm still terrified of driving around LA or DC (it doesn't help that drivers in those places are notoriously unable to cope with rain and snow, respectively). Being familiar with the road layout helps: my European colleagues have no difficulties with Boston, which is laid out like a European city, but Americans from other parts of the country (like you) tend to have trouble with Boston.
I've noticed that there are different kinds of crazy on the roads in different parts of the country, and it takes time and experience to adapt to a particular local flavor of crazy.
I really don't mind Boston drivers; I don't even mind bad Boston drivers -- because you know what kind of idiocy they're likely to pull.
I also don't mind California bad drivers, Georgia bad drivers, Texas bad drivers ...
On the other hand, Arizona bad drivers terrify me because you don't know if they're from California, Massachusetts, Georgia, Alberta, etc. And therefore there's no freaking way to put a bound on the excitement they'll bring to your day.
I used to think that Texas bad drivers were the worst. However, having lived here for nearly three years, I have yet to be involved in a collision with one. Even though they seem to believe that their intentions vis-a-vis lane changes and movements through an intersection can be relayed telepathically to all nearby drivers. The odd part is that this behavior has caused me to no longer trust motorists that do use their signals...
Let me recommend Tom Vanderbilt Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). It was an extremely enjoyable and eye-opening read. Quite simply, the rules for safe or efficient driving are not what you think they are.
The major thumb's down I give for the book is the complete lack of illustrative diagrams. And the treatment of Braess' paradox was way too cursory.
When stationed in Germany in the '70s I found my first excursions on the Autobahn nerve-wracking. Then I realized that, hey, all these people around me knew how to drive. Unlike among American drivers signal use was universal; if somebody was coming over into your lane they signaled, you modulated your speed to accommodate them and traffic flowed unhindered by left lane bandits or drooling goobers trolling the slow lane for parallel parking opportunities. And no speed limits for long stretches...really a perfect learning environment for a young driver honing his skills.
Then I came home, and one of the central facts of my existence for the last forty years has been my complete inability to comply with horse-shit speed limits on so called freeways and parkways and turnpikes that were not designed with dawdling in mind. I liken it to being required
to watch a familiar movie in slow-mo, watch it attentively,over and over. Consequently, there are wheel-men for bank robbers who have fewer points on their licences than I do.
I've negotiated more plea bargains with small town magistrates (who for some reason seem to be the recipients of fines incurred on most four-lanes) than an active public
The problem is two-fold: we absolutely refuse to mandate competence in motor-vehicle operation as a requisite for a license, instead instilling a brake-in-all-circumstances dogma, a kind of lobotomizing of the average driver. And, again, those small towns rake in the revenue.
It takes a year or more for Germans to earn a license, and yes, you actually have to go out and drive in high-speed bumper to bumper traffic in busy metro areas. And their safety record on all highways is superior to ours.
Drive slow, drive stupid, drive dangerous: American Exceptionalism.
we absolutely refuse to mandate competence in motor-vehicle operation as a requisite for a license
Yes. As I have sometimes said, in this country any idiot can get a driver's license, and most of them do. And that is why we have to have speed limits on our motorways.
One of my personal pet peeves on road trips is the utter lack of lane discipline. "Drive right, pass left" applies just as well to six lane highways as four lane highways, yet I encounter any number of yahoos who hang out in the middle lane when the right lane is clear, even in areas where exits are several miles apart. That leaves an opening for an even faster yahoo to go zooming by in the right lane because he can. I prefer having the faster traffic on my left, especially trucks (which in many states are barred from the left lane when they have at least two other lanes available).