Top 5 States with the Safest & Most Dangerous Commutes

By: Bridget Clerkin February 6, 2019
Long commutes take a toll on a driver’s body—and create more opportunities for dangerous situations.
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What’s in a drive?

If it’s a drive to work, quite a lot.

Too much time behind the wheel in general can take an epic toll on your physicality and mental state; add in the stressors of rush-hour traffic and the uncomfortable concept of inching ever closer to the office, and the inherently harmful impacts of driving are only compounded.

One 2001 study on the subject found that daily commuters were twice as likely to experience regular symptoms like exhaustion, dizziness, pain, and severe sleep deprivation compared to those who don’t travel to work. And the longer the drives, the worse-off the drivers—31% of men and 37% of women considered “long-distance” commuters in the study “clearly in need of treatment” from a medical point of view, according to the study’s author.

Longer hours in the car also leave drivers more susceptible to the perils of the road, including the unfortunate number of fatal accidents that have helped lead to a historically high roadway death toll in the past few years.

Still, some states fare better than others in this regard.

To help calculate the safest—and most dangerous—areas to hit the road on a daily quest to the office, career website Zippia compiled each state’s individual vehicle fatality rate by looking at the roadway death toll per every 100,000 licensed drivers in 2016—the latest year for which data are available—using that number to rank the nation.

And of course, there are plenty of factors that ultimately lead to that statistic, including natural terrain, speed limits, and the sheer number of vehicles on the road.

Keep reading to see where some of the country’s most care-free commutes take place—and where workers could probably use a few more anti-stress tips while en route to the office.

Safest States

According to Zippia’s calculations, these are the places where drivers have the highest probability of surviving their commute. If you’re pressed for reading time, suffice it to say, you’re going to want to stay in the Northeast.

5—New Jersey

Yes, that’s right.

Garden State motorists may be notoriously ruthless on the road, but it seems that omni-aggression helps keep everyone on their toes—and driving more safely.

Overall, New Jersey had a vehicle fatality rate of just 9.63 for every 100,000 licensed drivers in 2016, an especially impressive statistic considering it’s long been the country’s most densely populated state.

The large amount of public transit commuters in New Jersey may help alleviate the roadway issues—though the availability of alternative modes of travel has certainly not done anything to alleviate stress in the area.

4—Washington State

Roadway into the city of Seattle.

Even with a population of nearly 7.3 million, the Evergreen State recorded a comparatively tiny 9.53 roadway casualties for every 100,000 licensed drivers.

A driving force behind the safer commutes may be the lack of drivers in general, with the state’s most populous city, Seattle, making a recent push to expand its mass transit options.

Those still left on the road have also been subjected to stricter safety laws, including the 2017 DUI-E bill, which prohibits motorists from “driving under the influence of electronics.”

3—New York

The rent may be too damn high, but the driving fatalities were low overall in New York: The state counted just 8 vehicle fatalities for every 100,000 licensed drivers in 2016.

The Empire State has long been a leader in beefing up roadway safety, moving to increase cell phone-related penalties behind the wheel as far back as 2013.

Still, the statistic may be a bit deceiving, as a sizable portion of the population in New York City walk to work—and the area undoubtedly struggles with a high number of pedestrian deaths.

2—Massachusetts

roadway into the city of Boston

Scoring yet more safety points for the Eastern Seaboard, Massachusetts saw a vehicle fatality rate of 7 deaths for every 100,000 licensed driversin 2016.

With its population center, Boston, consistently ranking among the country’s most walkable cities and upwards of 1.4 million trips taken daily on the city’s transit systems, it seems not too many workers there have to pahk their cah in Havard Yahd.

1—Rhode Island

Wrapping up the near-perfect Northeastern sweep for safest commutes is the country’s smallest state.

Incidentally, Rhode Island also had the smallest roadway fatality rate in 2016, recording 6.77 deadly incidents for every 100,000 licensed drivers.

The state has led its own safety renaissance of sorts recently, passing a strict handheld device ban behind the wheel.

But the fortunate number may also just come from the luck of geography, with even the longest intra-Rhode Island commute topping out at 48 miles.

Most Dangerous States

Daily workforce drivers on these roads may have more to worry about than how to ask their boss for that big promotion.

5—Wyoming

It may be the Cowboy State, but that cavalier attitude can be dangerous behind the wheel.

Wyoming counted the 5th-worst roadway death rate in the country in 2016, at a rate of 26.6 deaths for every 100,000 licensed drivers.

The state’s rugged terrain and really wild wildlife likely played a role in the outsized number, but residents certainly had control over at least one big contributing factor: 62% of people who died on the road there in 2017 were not wearing a seatbelt.

4—South Carolina

Roadway into the city of Columbia, South Carolina.

The Southern state must face a sobering truth: 33% of its total vehicle fatalities in 2016 were caused by drunk driving incidents.

That same year, South Carolina recorded an overall roadway death rate of 27.09 causalities for every 100,000 drivers.

While hopefully most of those boozy accidents weren’t happening during work hours, the state doesn’t do itself any favors, with some calling its texting-while-driving ban “weak and unenforceable.”

3—Oklahoma

For its total population of more than 3.9 million, Oklahoma saw 27.34 vehicle fatalities for every 100,000 licensed drivers in 2016.

As the state’s famous eponymous song explains, the winds go whipping down the plains there, and extreme weather phenomena may play a role in the issue.

But the Sooner State has also been battling an increase of drugs on the road, with crashes related to impaired driving shooting up by 120% between 2014 and 2016.

2—Kentucky

It may be the Bluegrass State, but many commuters there are just singing the blues thanks to Kentucky’s high vehicle fatality rate, which reached an average of 27.51 for every 100,000 licensed drivers in 2016.

Possibly propelling the statistic is the state’s hands-off approach to cell phone usage behind the wheel.

While motorists under the age of 18 or those using permits and intermediate and operator’s licenses are banned from using the personal communication devices, anyone else remains free to talk on the phone while they drive.

Kentucky also allows drivers to send texts from behind the wheel, as long as the vehicle is stopped at the time.

1—Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi at dusk.

The Magnolia State counts just about 2.9 million residents, but a vehicle fatality rate of 34.18 deaths for every 100,000 licensed drivers. And behind the disproportionately-high number are an even higher number of factors.

The state’s long stretches of rural road may be beautiful, but they can also be deadly, fostering high speeds and illegal behavior behind the wheel—far from the gaze of the closest county sheriff.

Their remote nature also means the routes are further away from helpful hospitals, leading to an unfortunate number of possibly preventable deaths.

And a number of lax laws—regarding everything from child seats to texting while driving to the lack of restrictions on younger drivers—allow for even more collateral damage.

All told, residents heading to work are advised to keep their heads up along the drive.

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