The Top 5 Deadliest States for Drivers

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Traffic fatalities may finally be on the decline across the nation, but that doesn’t mean all the problems of the roadway have been solved.

There are still a number of issues that make driving a potentially dangerous venture—and every state handles them differently. That’s why security company SafeWise took to the books, using data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, to determine the deadliest states to drive in.

The final ranking is based on an area’s total number of roadway deaths per capita, but SafeWise also drilled deeper, examining why those statistics piled especially high in particular places and how each state’s laws attempt—or don’t—to mitigate the myriad risks of the road.

Specifically, the study found speed to be a huge factor in determining total roadway fatality rates. States with lower speed limits routinely clocked in with less traffic fatalities—even when more drivers were spending more time on the road. The reverse was also true: higher speed limits lead to more deadly crashes.

States with lower speed limits routinely clocked in with less traffic fatalities—even when more drivers were spending more time on the road.

Slow and steady, it seems, really does win the race.

How DUIs are regulated is another contributing factor, with states deemed “more lenient” on drunk drivers generally—though not always—reporting more roadway deaths.

Distracted driving, too, reared its ugly head as a huge factor in roadway fatalities.

Interestingly, whether or not a state had laws banning the practice of texting and driving had little effect on how many distracted driving fatalities the area recorded. But the report found a different correlation between regional factors and reports of distracted driving: the median age of drivers on the road.

Teens have long been considered the most at-risk for distracted driving behaviors—and deaths. And areas with younger motorists, as well as those with the highest birthrates, likewise routinely found themselves logging more roadway fatalities.

The news wasn’t all bad, though. SafeWise also determined the 5 least deadly states for drivers, which includes—in order—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Washington.

Keep reading to see more about the 5 deadliest states for drivers last year, and which factors made them particularly dangerous.



The Cowboy State is as rugged as its nickname suggests, with plenty of factors that may prove difficult or dangerous for drivers to deal with, including its wild weather and rocky terrain.

Still, a number of man-made factors also contributed to the state’s ranking—and its fatality rate of 0.178 deaths for every 1,000 drivers on the road.

Wyoming, which has an average speed limit of 75 MPH, had the most speeding fatalities in the nation last year. And though it’s not considered particularly “lenient” for DUI enforcement, the state also clocked in the most drunk driving fatalities in the country last year, with 0.090 incidents of death and 12.21 DUIs recorded for every 1,000 residents.


The southern state recorded the 4th-most fatalities per capita, with a final tally last year of 0.184 for every 1,000 residents.

Mississippi also ranked 4th in the nation for the most drunk driving fatalities, clocking in with 0.069 deaths for every 1,000 residents and 3.89 DUIs reported by the same measure.

The Magnolia State also has one of the country’s youngest driving ages, with residents there able to earn their learner’s permit at 15. The state didn’t pop on SafeWise’s chart for most distracted driving deaths, however.



With 0.186 roadway fatalities for every 1,000 residents, Montana ranks the 3rd-highest in the country for traffic-related deaths.

The scenic state may also suffer for its beauty, with the mountains roads and unpredictable weather that make it so appealing also leading to more dangerous incidents on the streets.

But the Big Sky State also has an average speed limit of 70 MPH—and recorded the 5th most speeding fatalities in the country last year.

Montana also ranked 3rd for drunk driving-related deaths, with 0.083 fatalities and 4.1 incidents of DUI counted for every 1,000 residents.

2—New Mexico

Drivers in the Land of Enchantment hit a trifecta of dangerous behavior: hitting the road fast, drunk, and distracted.

New Mexico clocked the 4th-most speeding-related fatalities in the nation, with 0.062 deaths for every 1,000 citizens—and an average speed limit of 68 MPH.

The state was also fifth in the country for most drunk driving fatalities, seeing 0.069 deaths and 4.67 cases of drunk driving for every 1,000 residents.

And it took the cake for distracted driving, with 0.038 deaths recorded for every 1,000 residents—more than any other state.

All told, the grisly statistics landed New Mexico at number 2 in the country for the most deaths on the road per capita, at 0.203 drivers dying for every 1,000 residents.

1—North Dakota

North Dakota Capitol

With a total of 0.256 deaths on the road for every 1,000 residents, the Roughrider State lives up to its nickname, and took home the crown for most traffic fatalities last year.

Contributing to the tally was North Dakota’s average speed limit of 71 MPH—and its correlating number 2 ranking for speeding fatalities—which came out to 0.066 for every 1,000 residents.

The state also had the 2nd-most drunk driving deaths, with a total of 0.087 deaths and 5.29 DUIs recorded for every 1,000 citizens.

But it’s not just drivers of cars and light trucks who struggled on North Dakota roads this year.

For some time, the state has also been leading the nation in the number of commercial driver deaths. In 2016, 8.8% of its total roadway fatalities were professional truck drivers, who have to deal with serious weather—from black ice to whiteouts—and other dangerous conditions related to the area’s booming oil industry.

When taking to the streets in the Roughrider State—or anywhere else—it’s best to proceed with caution.

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