According to Federal Highway Administration estimates, Americans have traveled an average of 234.9 billion vehicle miles per month in 2012. Whether it’s the decrease in gas prices or the unusually warm temperatures, we’ve been traveling a lot! Are there some states that have more dangerous highways than others?
With this study, we’ve done the homework for you and collected data from these four authorities (see the extensive list of all sources used in this study at the bottom of the article):
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- US Census Bureau
- Federal Highway Administration
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
As it turns out, not all highways were created equal!
Instead of throwing together table after table for you to decipher, we ranked all fifty continental states in each metric, 50 being the worst rank. We then combined all the different rankings and ranked each state by their total score.
While you should always make it a point to drive carefully on any highway (no texting!), there are a few states where you should probably be extra careful!
Who made the top 10 for states with the most dangerous highways? You might be surprised! Here’s the list, starting with number 10 (The complete rankings table is at the bottom of the page):
Best Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (11th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Highway Deaths per 1000 Highway Miles Traveled (45th)
The interstates in Idaho were ranked much more on the safer side, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the highways there. Idaho ranks 45th in Highway Deaths per 1000 Highway Miles Driven, and fared worse than average in 3 of the remaining 4 categories. Even though it’s the 5th least populated state, more room on the road doesn’t necessarily mean more safety!
Best Ranking Factor: Highway Bridges Rated Obsolete or Deficient (16th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (42nd)
Tennessee’s highway bridges ranked fairly well at 16, and that may have hurt them in that they didn’t receive a lot from the Highway Trust Fund. That doesn’t give them any excuses for their poor performance in the other ranking criteria. There’s no excuse for not wearing seat belts, and a consistently high annual IIHS Death Rate landed Tennessee in the 9 spot.
Best Ranking Factor: Highway Bridges Rated Obsolete or Deficient (4th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Interstate Speeding Fatalities per Mile of Interstate (46th)
Arizona landed in the bottom 7 in three categories: Interstate Speeding Fatalities per Mile of Interstate, Highway Deaths per 1000 Highway Miles Driven, and Federal Funding. Evidently, some of the most up-to-date bridges do not mean better safety ratings overall.
Best Ranking Factor: Interstate Speeding Fatalities per Mile of Interstate (15th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Percent of Drivers without Seat Belts (45th)
Kentucky drivers may be taking their safe interstates for granted, as they’re 45th in the nation when it comes to the easiest category to improve in: wearing seat belts. Perhaps this has something to do with their consistently high IIHS Death Rates, since “Wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50%.”
Best Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (2nd)
Worst Ranking Factor: IIHS Death Rates (50th)
If you’ve ever driven in Wyoming, you’ve most likely seen the incredible wide open spaces and breathtaking mountains. Maybe the mountains are a little too distracting, because Wyoming ranked 50th for average IIHS Death Rates, and 49th for Highway Deaths per 1000 Highway Miles Driven. You’d think this might encourage Wyoming drivers to use their seatbelts more, and hopefully they will improve on their rank of 46 in that category in the future.
Best Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (18th)
Worst Ranking Factor: IIHS Death Rates (49th)
Wyoming residents can comfort themselves knowing that drivers in #5 Mississippi actually use their seatbelts even less than they do. Mississippi lands right in the middle of the pack for our middle 3 categories, but the high speeding fatalities on their interstates and #49 rank in the IIHS Death Rate averages (2nd only to their Wyoming friends) mean Mississippi is right in the middle of the “best of the worst”.
Best Ranking Factor: Interstate Speeding Fatalities per Mile of Interstate (18th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Highway Deaths per 1000 Miles Traveled & IIHS Death Rates (41st in both)
Louisiana is is another one on our list with relatively safe interstates and more dangerous smaller highways, but drivers from the Pelican state just are not measuring up well when it comes to wearing seatbelts! Being in the bottom 10 of 3 categories is enough to push Louisiana up to #4.
Best Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (14th)
Worst Ranking Factor: IIHS Death Rates (47th)
Continuing the Southern trend of our top 5, Alabama is #40 in Interstate Speeding Fatalities per Mile of Interstate. That’s not the worst category for Alabama though. They were #47 overall for IIHS Death Rate averages, not to mention bottom 15 in bridge ratings and highway deaths.
Best Ranking Factor: Highway Bridges Rated Obsolete or Deficient (5th)
Worst Ranking Factor: Federal Funding (49th)
Florida was really hurt by the lack of federal funding here (#49), but the other rankings were not so spectacular either. Only four other states (New Mexico, Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana) ranked worse for Highway Deaths per 1000 Highway Miles Driven. Even with some of the best-rated bridges in the nation, dangerous highways are a major concern for Florida.
1. South Carolina
Best Ranking Factor: Highway Bridges Rated Obsolete or Deficient (33rd)
Worst Ranking Factor: IIHS Death Rate (46th)
The dubious honor of “State with the Most Dangerous Highways” goes to South Carolina, the only state in our top ten to rank in the bottom half of every single category. It wasn’t even close! South Carolina finished a full 37 points ahead of 2nd place Florida in Total Score! Could South Carolina’s lack of cell phone bans while driving be to blame?
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Here are some points of interest from the study:
Most States Can be Proud of at Least One Category
Even Florida and Arizona, both in ranked among the worst ten states, have some of the best highway bridges in the nation! Minnesota and Iowa, the two safest states, rank in the safest ten across three categories! Even so, there’s always room for improvement.
The Worst States Tend to Ignore their Seat Belts, Regardless of the Laws
The best ranking of any of the top 10 in the seat belt category is Arizona coming it at number 20, even though tickets can be issued solely for driving without a seat belt in 7 of those states. Seat belts save lives, and everyone in the car should be buckled in.
The 5 Most Dangerous States are in the South
We have nothing against southern states, but a number of them ranked high in our previous “Worst Drivers” study. As stated earlier, you’re still allowed to text and drive in South Carolina (even young drivers), and Florida highways, with similarly loose restrictions, come in ranked 2nd most dangerous. What about the safest 5? They’re all relatively close together in the upper midwest
Here is an interactive map from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for more information on handheld and cell phone laws across the United States.
- To sort table by category, click on header columns.
Protecting Yourself With Car Insurance
Even if you’re in Iowa driving on the safest highways in the country, you still should protect yourself with the right amount of car insurance coverage for your vehicle. Use our ZIP code search tool below to make sure you’re getting the best price in your area today!
Interstate Speeding Fatalies per Mile of Interstate: 2000-2009
Percent of Drivers w/o Seatbelts: Averages of Surveys from 2003-2010
Highway Bridges Rated Obsolete or Deficient: 2011 Ratings
Highway Deaths per 1000 Miles Traveled (on Highways): Totals from 2000-2009
Highway Miles Driven
Federal Funding: 2009 Highway Trust Fund
IIHS Death Rates: Averages from 2005-2010
Explanation of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete highway bridges