Dividing the country into separate states was a brilliant and elegant solution by the forefathers.
It not only allowed for a built-in check against a strong federal government and offered enough local rule for regions to develop the best lawful practices for their people—it gave us all an excuse to fight over who has the best drivers.
The time-tested debate can be heard in all corners of the country—and particularly inside the cabins of cars crammed onto the highways. (One questionable move by an out-of-town license plate is usually enough to do the trick.)
But those who love a good argument may have to take pause: experts have officially weighed in on the matter.
Car insurance researchers at Autoinsurance.org recently released a definitive list of the country’s best drivers by state, including the District of Colombia. The rankings are based on a number of factors, including:
- Traffic fatality rates, determined by the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
- Failure to obey, which was calculated by the percentage of roadway fatalities in cases where drivers were not wearing a seat belt, failed to obey a traffic signal, or were driving without a valid license.
- Drunk driving fatalities.
- Fatalities caused by speeding incidents.
- Careless driving, which accounts for the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed per every 100,000 residents.
All statistics were pulled from the most recent reports available through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and tabulated to produce the final order of the rankings.
And some entrants in the top five may come as a surprise.
Fourth Place (Tie): New Jersey
The Garden State is often maligned for its poor driving behavior, with riders there typically commenting on the fast and aggressive style adopted by New Jerseyans.
(It’s easy to see why it could seem intimidating. The country’s most densely populated state is little more than a glorified thoroughfare connecting New York City and Philadelphia, and is covered in both cars and major highways.)
But the numbers reveal a much different story: New Jersey is tied for fourth place in producing the country’s best drivers.
Particularly helpful for boosting the Garden State’s rank is its drivers’ diligence for following traffic laws—another surprising turn for a state known for getting mouthy on the road. New Jersey ranked third in the “failure to obey” category, meaning more of its drivers were buckled up, stopping when asked, and driving legally.
The state also boasted an impressive traffic fatality rate, ranking fifth overall—though New Jerseyans may want to start thinking more about who they share the road with.
The state came in 39th for careless driving, with 170 pedestrians and 18 cyclists killed, according to the latest NHTSA data.
Fourth Place (Tie): Ohio
Tying New Jersey in the fourth place slot is the Buckeye State, where drivers tackle roadway conditions ranging from rural highways to busy city streets.
Ohio may be known as the birthplace of aviation, but its drivers aren’t as prone to flying on the roads. The state ranked 8th for speeding-induced deaths, its highest overall ranking in any category.
Still, residents in the site of the nation’s first traffic signal did a poor job obeying them. Ohio ranked 18th for “failure to obey,” according to the statistics. And the state fared even worse for overall fatality rate, ranking 19th, with a rate of 0.98 people killed for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
But if there were an award from “Most Improved,” Ohio would certainly be in contention. The state came in 45th place overall in Autoinsurance.org’s 2016 rankings, proving what a difference a year can make.
Third Place: Virginia
The state may be for lovers, but it’s not for lovers of speed. Virginia ranked second place when it came to fatalities related to speeding incidents—beaten out only by Florida.
The Old Dominion State also managed decent overall traffic fatalities and careless driving numbers, ranking 11th for each.
Still, those bright spots may have saved its overall ranking. When it comes to alcohol, the state isn’t as responsible.
Virginia was the 32nd-worst state for drunk driving deaths, according to the data, with over 27% of all roadway fatalities reported there last year occurring when a driver had a BAC of .08 or higher.
Yet, just like Ohio, Virginia rose through the ranks—dramatically—coming up from a 49th place finish overall last year.
Second Place: Minnesota
The North Star State is certainly one others should look up to, with an overall second place ranking.
Particularly helpful for Minnesota was its overall fatality rate, with the state ranking fourth overall. It also broke the top 10 for careless driving, coming in 6th, with 39 pedestrians and 10 bikers killed in the latest data reported by the NHTSA. Yet, like Virginia, Minnesota ran into trouble when it came to drunk driving.
The state ranked 36th in the category, with 115 of its 411 total roadway fatalities involving legally drunk drivers. Its 11th-place finishes for both failure to obey and speeding helped bring up its overall score.
First Place: Iowa
The Hawkeye State is home to plenty of eagle-eyed drivers, looking out for traffic signals, traffic laws, and others on the road to make Iowa the safest state for motorists.
The state tied New Jersey for third place in failure to obey, counting just two fatal incidents when a seat belt was not used and 10 that occurred when a driver was not licensed.
It also cracked the top 10 for speeding and careless driving, ranking 5th and 8th respectively. The latest NHTSA data showed just 49 incidents of speeding-related deaths in Iowa, 25 pedestrian deaths, and 5 cyclist fatalities.
The Hawkeye State also ranked 10th for drunk driving, with 24% of all fatalities involving an inebriated driver.
It may be known for its rolling hills and cornfields, but the state can now add another claim to fame: it produces the country’s best drivers. Everyone else will have to wait until next year’s rankings to see where they rate in the debate.