The Reason Foundation publishes an annual report that looks at road conditions and driving safety in all fifty U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The report looks at such things as the condition of state and interstate highways, the traffic fatality rate, conditions of bridges and tunnels and even traffic congestion. Based upon the data collected, each state is assigned a ranking that directly ties to tangible data. Other surveys (Forbes, for example) try to include too many variables, which impact the overall result. If you want to know how enjoyable or painful a state is to drive in, the Reason Foundation study is the best data out there.
So which states fared best or worst in their most recent report (which covered the full year of 2008)? Read on to find out:
Best States To Drive In
1. North Dakota – This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, since almost no one lives in North Dakota and it’s not exactly a tourist mecca. Maybe it’s the best kept secret in the US, since they’ve got great roads, very little traffic congestion and low unemployment. Too bad they also have winters that last for six months.
2. Montana – Montana gives you a healthy dose of good news and bad news when it comes to driving there. On the plus side, you probably won’t hit any traffic jams. On the down side, you really don’t want to get into an accident in Montana, since their fatality rate is the worst in the country. Long stretches of isolated roads are to blame.
3. Kansas – Kansas was always an obstacle to overcome when driving from Colorado to New Jersey. Kansas has sunflowers, while Nebraska has corn; you’re going to get tired of looking at either, but at least Kansas is quicker to drive through.
4. New Mexico – Low population and mild winters help to boost the state’s ranking. It’s a scenic state, but there’s lot’s of poverty and lots of desert.
5. Nebraska – Back in the days of the 55 MPH speed limit, Nebraska was about 8 hours worth of never ending corn fields. Today, it’s probably six hours of never ending corn fields, but at least they give you smooth pavement and little congestion.
6. South Carolina – Good roads and cheap gas, just don’t expect cell phone coverage, even on the major interstates.
7. Wyoming – Wyoming is one of those states that I keep expecting to explode in population, but it never does. Maybe the harsh winters keep out the riff-raff, or maybe the natives discourage out-of-staters from sticking around. If you’ve never experienced a drive across Wyoming, you really need to put this on your “to do” list.
8. Missouri – The state not only has good roads, but they generally have some of the cheapest gas prices in the country, too.
9. Georgia – Overall not a bad state to drive through (except for the whole hating Yankees thing), but traffic around Atlanta can be a nightmare, and southern Georgia interstates are perpetually under construction. Plan accordingly and it’s no big deal.
10. Oregon – The forgotten state, sandwiched between California and Washington, Oregon has a whole lot of nothing in its vast interior. Just remember to watch out for logging trucks and Bigfoot.
If there are ten best states, it stands to reason that there are ten worst states as well. Most of these should come as no surprise, since (for the most part) they’re heavily populated, perpetually out of money or some combination of the two.
Worst States To Drive In
50. Rhode Island – Small size, small tax base, crumbling infrastructure. Rhode Island has some of the worst rated bridges in the country, but try not to dwell on that if you drive them.
49. Alaska – Since most of the state doesn’t even have roads, it’s no surprise that the ones they have are in disrepair. Brutal cold and massive snowfall take their toll.
48. California – One word: overpopulation. Combine that with a culture that drives everywhere, and it’s a recipe for infrastructure failure. Even the state’s mild climate can’t counter the impact of too many residents and too many tourists.
47. Hawaii – I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I suspect the cost of maintaining roads and bridges on an island in the middle of the Pacific is substantial. At least the weather’s nice.
46. New York – Too many people, too many trucks, harsh winters and road salt all take their toll. The Tappan Zee Bridge, for example, is a structural failure waiting it happen; it’s coming down one of these days, the only question is how many drivers will be killed when it does.
45. New Jersey – See “New York” and you get the idea. Too many people, too many trucks, too many miles of highway to maintain. Probably the dirtiest state in the nation, since I don’t think I ever saw a road crew picking up trash in the thirty plus years I lived there.
44. Massachusetts – Harsh winters and a perpetual budget shortage (despite steep taxes) take their toll on bridges and roads in Massachusetts.
43. Maryland – Blame it on D.C., since so many government employees live in Maryland. The roads are perpetually congested, but trying to drive the Beltway at rush hour (or even lunchtime) is flirting with disaster. People complain that salaries in D.C. are too high, but the frustration of having to drive through Maryland on a regular basis justifies them, in my book.
42. Vermont – Low population and harsh winters mean that this diminutive state has some of the worst roads in the country. That’s probably a good thing, otherwise more visitors would probably decide to call Vermont home.
41. Connecticut – Take the worst road conditions of the neighboring states and import them into one place, and you get a sense of what driving in Connecticut is all about. The big cities predate highways, and current roads can’t be expanded further. I don’t think I’ve ever driven I95 through Connecticut without being stuck in a traffic jam.