The 10 Worst (and Best) States for Traffic [2018 Study]
Looking for the worst and best states for traffic? Washington D.C has the worst traffic congestion. North Dakota has the least trafficked roads in the U.S. and is an ideal state to drive in.
UPDATED: Jan 21, 2021
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- Traffic congestion in America has been on a steady rise for years
- Many states don’t have enough roads to support all of their drivers
- Some U.S. commuters are spending 250 hours a year stuck in traffic
- The states with the least traffic have only 6-7 drivers for every road
- The states without traffic have drugs and drunk driving to focus on
Does it feel like you spend days, weeks, even months sitting in your car stuck in traffic wasting your life away? Turns out, you likely are.
Not only is traffic a serious problem in the U.S., but it’s rapidly getting worse.
Americans who commute to and from an urban workplace spend 42 hours sitting in traffic every year.
Now think about that over the span of 35 years. That’s 61 days of your life stuck in traffic!
In 2000, traffic stole 37 hours a year for that same commute. In 1982, it was only 18 hours.
We like to get the bad news out of the way first, so let’s get started with the areas of the U.S. with the most traffic.
Here’s what you’ll find below:
- The Cause of Traffic Visualized
- Bottleneck Overview
- Top 50 Cities: Hours Spent in Congestion
- Top 50 Cities: Driving Time Spent in Congestion (%)
- Licensed Drivers, Population, and Registered Vehicles by State
- The 10 states with the most traffic
- The 10 states with the least traffic
- Full methodology for our rankings
- Media Inquiries
The Cause of Traffic Visualized
Sometimes it just helps to see things visualized:
Licensed Drivers, Population, and Registered Vehicles by State
The 10 State with the Most Traffic
Let’s face it, some states are much worse than others when it comes to traffic. Some even have their reputation ruined simply because of how bad their traffic is. Other states have cities with the worst traffic in the world, which of course negatively affects the state as a whole.
Read on to learn exactly which states are home to the worst traffic in America.
#10 – Delaware
Total Population: 952,065
Licensed Drivers: 756,328
Registered Vehicles: 1,003,840
Total Public Roads: 6,427
Congestion Index: 117.68
Delaware has 51,775 more registered cars than it has residents (of any age!) and 247,512 more cars than drivers. Since those cars aren’t driving themselves — that will start in 2019 — we focused on the number of licensed drivers in Delaware.
Even when trying to go easy on “The Small Wonder” it’s difficult to deny there’s a traffic problem when there are 749,901 more licensed drivers living in Delaware than there are roads within the state!
It’s a (large) wonder all those cars ever find a free lane to drive on.
#9 – Florida
Total Population: 20,612,439
Licensed Drivers: 14,675,160
Registered Vehicles: 16,600,317
Total Public Roads: 122,736
Congestion Index: 119.57
As you can see in the above video, even things you would never expect can cause traffic that makes you late for work.
At least in Florida, there are more people than there are cars, but there are nearly two million more registered vehicles than there are licensed drivers.
With over 14.5 million more licensed drivers than there are public roads, there’s no way Florida could avoid a detrimental traffic problem.
Florida’s overcrowded roads help to explain why “The Sunshine State” is ranked 2nd for having the most pedestrian deaths in America.
#8 – Connecticut
Total Population: 3,576,452
Licensed Drivers: 2,611,007
Registered Vehicles: 2,841,842
Total Public Roads: 21,531
Congestion Index: 121.27
The reporters in the above video are correct; traffic doesn’t just waste time it wastes money. Sadly Connecticut residents are wasting a whole lot of both with traffic at “pre-recession levels.”
There are 132 times more registered vehicles in Connecticut than there are public roads. Talk about a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately, Connecticut ranks as a top 20 state for having some of the best drivers in America, because crowded roads are deadly with the safest of drivers.
#7 – Rhode Island
Total Population: 1,056,426
Licensed Drivers: 753,143
Registered Vehicles: 876,228
Total Public Roads: 6,052
Congestion Index: 124.45
The shocking ABC news clip above illustrates how sometimes heavy traffic can be beneficial — to trap a runaway driver.
It doesn’t even seem possible that the state of Rhode Island can have a population of over one million people, and yet only have 6,052 public roads.
Not only does Rhode Island have 747,091 more licensed drivers than it does roads, but it also has the most drunk driving deaths in the U.S. and is ranked 3rd for the most deaths caused by speeding and ignoring traffic laws.
Rhode Island has a traffic problem, a drinking and driving problem, and a problem with drivers who disregard traffic laws . . . a horrifying combination.
#6 – Maryland
Total Population: 6,016,447
Licensed Drivers: 4,264,875
Registered Vehicles: 4,178,873
Total Public Roads: 32,147
Congestion Index: 129.99
The eye-opening video above explains that Maryland is spending $4.1 million annually due to traffic congestion, and the average Baltimore motorist is spending 47 hours a year stuck in traffic.
Finally we come to a state that has more licensed drivers than it does registered vehicles, but there are somehow still over four million more cars than there are public roads in Maryland, which adds up to a huge problem.
Maryland certainly has a traffic problem, but at least it’s ranked a top-ten state for having some of the best drivers in the nation.
#5 – Massachusetts
Total Population: 6,811,779
Licensed Drivers: 5,040,662
Registered Vehicles: 5,069,559
Total Public Roads: 36,632
Congestion Index: 137.60
In the above video, you can hear a Massachusetts resident himself — who’s also a radio and TV show host — give a real-life example of the “stultifying traffic” in his home state.
In Massachusetts “the masochists who commute every day” face:
- An average 55 minute round trip
- Longer commutes than residents in 46 other states
- A loss of 250 hours a year, 2,500 a decade, and 125,000 in a work life . . . to traffic
When there are five million more licensed drivers living in a state than there are roads to get around, it almost makes sense that a 14-mile trip would take over four hours.
#4 – California
Total Population: 39,250,017
Licensed Drivers: 26,199,436
Registered Vehicles: 30,221,033
Total Public Roads: 180,800
Congestion Index: 144.91
There are over four million more registered vehicles in California than there are licensed drivers, and what’s even more shocking is that there are over 26 million more licensed drivers than there are public roads across “The Golden State.”
What’s far from golden is the traffic problem caused by the surplus of people all trying to get somewhere with a shortage of roads to make that possible.
It’s pretty sad when the congestion is so bad that the miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic actually look like Christmas lights from the air. See the infuriating collection of vehicle lights captured in the video above.
#3 – New Jersey
Total Population: 8,944,469
Licensed Drivers: 6,238,436
Registered Vehicles: 5,940,997
Total Public Roads: 39,071
Congestion Index: 152.06
As the CBS news channel report shows above, New Jersey has taken serious action to help eliminate some of its traffic problems. This first-ever travel ban involves 60 roads that motorists can’t drive on from 6-10 am or 4-9 pm seven days a week unless they work or live there. Motorists are fined $200 if caught breaking this law.
Despite these efforts, New Jersey still has more traffic than 49 other states.
To help put this into perspective, let’s compare New Jersey’s stats to a state that is ranked 37th (top 15) for traffic. Missouri has 256,472 fewer registered vehicles than New Jersey but still has 92,736 more public roads!
#2 – Hawaii
Total Population: 1,428,557
Licensed Drivers: 931,703
Registered Vehicles: 1,231,728
Total Public Roads: 4,469
Congestion Index: 208.48
Hawaii’s traffic problem isn’t a new one. The above news report broadcast in March of 2015, shares that drivers in Honolulu with a 30-minute commute spent a distressing 88 hours — or four full days a year — stuck in traffic.
The over 1.2 million more registered vehicles in the state than there are roads, shows how drastic Hawaii’s problem truly is.
What’s also surprising is that there are 300,025 more registered vehicles in Hawaii than there are licensed drivers. Cars in Hawaii spend much of their time sitting motionless in both garages and traffic.
#1 – District of Columbia
Total Population: 681,170
Licensed Drivers: 489,831
Registered Vehicles: 337,100
Total Public Roads: 1,509
Congestion Index: 223.39
Washington D.C. might not have earned statehood in the elections, but those who commute in D.C. need their traffic woes to be heard.
D.C. has over 88 percent of the number of licensed drivers that Vermont has, but only 11 percent of the public roads.
With over 223 times the number of cars to the number of public roads, those who have to drive through or to the District of Columbia better have the patience of a saint.
The 10 Best States for Traffic in the U.S.
There are people who live in the U.S. who have never sat in traffic. Can you believe it?
Individuals who call the below ten states home and don’t commute to other states most likely have no idea how traffic can make you feel like you are losing your mind. They probably have never sat wondering what was going on miles ahead of them, questioning if the cars in front of them would ever move — having minutes, sitting stationary, feel like hours.
The residents of the below states with the least traffic in the entire nation likely have, as icing on the cake, lower blood pressure.
#10 – Idaho
Total Population: 1,683,140
Licensed Drivers: 1,160,922
Registered Vehicles: 1,842,245
Total Public Roads: 51,342
Congestion Index: 22.61
As shown in the news report published in September of 2018, when traffic isn’t a problem in a state, police officers have available roads to make traffic stops.
In just one day, on only one highway, 300 traffic stops allowed police to find 70 pounds of drugs including weed, meth, cocaine, and LSD, driving along with various Idaho residents.
With a congestion index of under 23, at least Idaho has more time to focus on its drug problem.
#9 – Oklahoma
Total Population: 3,923,561
Licensed Drivers: 2,498,178
Registered Vehicles: 3,737,405
Total Public Roads: 112,988
Congestion Index: 22.11
It seems the states with the least traffic have some of the biggest problems with drugs.
Just one traffic stop allowed the narcotics officers to find 15 pounds of meth in a diaper box (found between two children) in the back seat of a vehicle that was driving along a freely flowing Oklahoma highway.
Sometimes lots of open roads can be a bad thing. Oklahoma has over one hundred thousand public roads to use for drug trafficking.
#8 – New Mexico
Total Population: 2,081,015
Licensed Drivers: 1,521,785
Registered Vehicles: 1,823,961
Total Public Roads: 69,111
Congestion Index: 22.02
New Mexico has had a good handle on its traffic for a while now.
Even eight years ago, Albuquerque (New Mexico’s largest city) only had four percent of the amount of traffic congestion in Los Angeles.
There are enough public roads in New Mexico for each road to only have 22 licensed drivers on it at any given time.
#7 – Iowa
Total Population: 3,134,693
Licensed Drivers: 2,245,640
Registered Vehicles: 3,676,290
Total Public Roads: 114,741
Congestion Index: 19.57
It’s hard to watch, but as you can see in the 70-car pileup caught on camera earlier this year, Iowa has many months of treacherous driving as its problem — not traffic.
Not only is Iowa ranked a top-ten state for having the least traffic, but it’s also ranked 1st for having the best drivers in the nation!
Iowa’s 114,741 public roads keep its nearly 2.3 million (safe) drivers moving along.
#6 – Wyoming
Total Population: 585,501
Licensed Drivers: 421,098
Registered Vehicles: 855,230
Total Public Roads: 28,326
Congestion Index: 14.87
We come to another state on our top ten best list making the news (just three weeks ago) for drugs found at a traffic stop.
1,849 pounds of marijuana — valued at $7.3 million — were found in a traffic stop in Wyoming last month sitting in the back of a tractor trailer.
What’s suspicious is that there are more than double the number of registered vehicles than there are licensed drivers in “The Equality State.”
#5 – Nebraska
Total Population: 1,907,116
Licensed Drivers: 1,404,479
Registered Vehicles: 1,951,766
Total Public Roads: 94,988
Congestion Index: 14.79
States like Nebraska have the opposite problem of all the states with the worst traffic in the nation.
Nebraska is looking to slow down motorists by adding traffic signs and signals in order to decrease the fatalities happening on its roadways.
“The Cornhusker State” may have over 1.4 million licensed drivers, but it also has more public roads than 28 states in America.
#4 – Kansas
Total Population: 2,907,289
Licensed Drivers: 2,030,025
Registered Vehicles: 2,649,736
Total Public Roads: 142,047
Congestion Index: 14.29
As you can see in the above NBC news report, Kansas has bigger problems than traffic congestion. “The Sunflower State” hasn’t been very rosy this past year having experienced drastic spikes in car crash fatalities.
However, Kansas’ handle on traffic in general is impressive. Kansas has over 12.6 million fewer licensed drivers than Florida, yet 19,311 more public roads!
Now Kansas just needs to get its free-flowing roads to be less deadly.
#3 – Montana
Total Population: 1,042,520
Licensed Drivers: 797,145
Registered Vehicles: 1,794,732
Total Public Roads: 73,610
Congestion Index: 10.83
Even during the busier summer months, Montana has traffic congestion under control. “The Treasure State” is working on decreasing the prevalence of distracted driving on its roadways.
As shared in the above news clip, it’s terrifying that 56 percent of motorists who admitted to driving distracted didn’t think their behavior was dangerous.
Montana drivers, (ranked worst in the nation) need to treasure the fact that their vehicle is actually moving and text when they arrive at their destination safely.
#2 – South Dakota
Total Population: 865,454
Licensed Drivers: 622,663
Registered Vehicles: 1,246,359
Total Public Roads: 82,557
Congestion Index: 7.54
As you can see in the gorgeous, inspiring video above, South Dakota’s open roads make for incredible road trips.
If each of South Dakota’s public roads had only eight drivers on it, that would cover all the licensed drivers in the entire state at one time — that is a mighty remarkable congestion index! . . . Our first in the single digits.
With 623,696 more cars than drivers, South Dakota has quite a few empty roads and empty vehicles spread across its state.
#1 – North Dakota
Total Population: 757,952
Licensed Drivers: 555,935
Registered Vehicles: 894,954
Total Public Roads: 87,397
Congestion Index: 6.36
It takes a “moose on the loose” for North Dakota to have any sort of traffic problems.
In the state with the least traffic in America, the public roads make up a monumental 16 percent of the total number of licensed drivers, which means fewer than seven drivers for every public road!
Now if “The Peace Garden State” could only put a stop to its drunk drivers. For four years in-a-row, North Dakota has ranked a top five worst state in the nation for drunk driving.
In this new study for 2018, our researchers determined the following for D.C. and all 50 states:
- Total Population
- Number of Licensed Drivers
- Number of Registered Vehicles
- Total Number of Public Roads
- Annual Miles per Vehicles/Drivers
- Average Daily Miles per Vehicles/Drivers
From this data, we were able to determine the “congestion index” for all 51 areas in the United States. This was calculated by taking the state’s total drivers or vehicles (whichever was less, to be realistic) divided by the state’s total number of public roads. The states with a large number of drivers and vehicles to a small number of roads have a high congestion index (lots of traffic!).
All of our data is based on totals and calculations derived from the most recent reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U.S. DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
City data provided by INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard.
With this brand-new, detailed study, our researchers were able to determine which states had the least traffic and which states had the most.
– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.
– Click here for the full stats and sources for each category. For all media inquiries, please email: Josh Barnes. To get a free quote on your best car insurance rates, enter your ZIP code into our Free Tool below!