Automobile-related laws in the US vary significantly from one state to the next. Some states require routine vehicle inspections. Others ask for emissions monitoring or require motorists to maintain very high levels of insurance coverage. These regulations are ostensibly designed to improve safety and reduce pollution, but they can also be inconvenient or costly for many drivers. Add in poor road maintenance programs, crowded highways and excessive trucking traffic and some states can be extremely driver-unfriendly. Not all areas are like this, however. Some states are extremely driver-friendly, with reasonable laws and smooth, easy to use highways.
Many drivers consider the cost of gasoline one of the most important factors in determining driver friendliness. Average fuel costs vary according to season, with prices rising as more drivers get on the road in warm weather. They also vary up to about 36 percent by region. New Jersey consistently maintains lower gas prices than other states, due to its high percentage of oil refineries. South Carolina also has low costs for gasoline, making it very friendly to drivers who need fuel. The least friendly states are Alaska and Hawaii, where fuel is costly because of the long distances it must travel.
The cost of insurance can vary significantly between states, too. Due to differing state insurance requirements, rates of theft and accident, and regulations on the insurance industry, rates can vary by 300 percent. Drivers looking for very friendly insurance rates should consider Vermont and Maine. Michigan and Louisiana have some of the highest rates in the country, however.
Some states just have better infrastructure, including stronger bridges, smoother roads and better safety indicators. A better road means fewer delays and better gas mileage, as well as a reduction in accident risk. Montana and North Dakota rank best in terms of friendly infrastructure. The largest state in the Union and the smallest – Alaska and Rhode Island – are the least friendly. When ranked in terms of road smoothness alone, Georgia is the winner. Eighty-six percent of this state’s paved roads have earned a roughness index of 94 or better per mile, producing a friendly surface for drivers.
There’s always a risk of getting pulled over while driving. Depending on where this happens, drivers could find the experience a relatively easy one or suffer from police exploitation and unfair court systems. Factors for friendliness to motorist’s rights include radar detector legality, number of speed traps per resident, allowed law enforcement behaviors, and the way the courts treat defendants for vehicle offenses. Drivers can expect the most protections in Idaho and Wyoming. In Ohio, North Carolina and New Jersey, the climate is considerably less friendly.
Few drivers enjoy traveling on a crowded highway. Populous states tend to have greater highway crowding, especially if they contain large travel and shipping hubs. Lower-population states have very low crowding. For instance, in North Dakota, each lane-mile of highway sees only 41,000 vehicle miles worth of travel per year. In Washington DC, the highways see about 22 times that much traffic, with the accompanying delays. In terms of trucking traffic, Hawaii ranks as the friendliest, while almost a quarter of the traffic in Wyoming is made up of large trucks.
In terms of safety, Mississippi ranks the worst with 2.28 fatalities for every 100 vehicle miles driven. Massachussets is the safest state in terms of fatalities, with only 0.87 fatalities per 100 vehicle miles. Lower speed limits produce safer driving too, though they can make a trip feel much slower. The highest speed limits are found in Oklahoma, Nevada and South Dakota, where drivers can go up to 75 miles per hour on the Interstate or 70 mph on state highways. In Washington DC, where traffic is a big problem, the official speed limit is 55 miles per hour. Enforcement against speeders is strict, too. The nation’s capital issues 400,000 tickets via photo radar every year. New Jersey is much friendlier in terms of enforcement, issuing the least traffic tickets per vehicle mile of any state in the country.
Statistics aren’t the only indicators for driver-friendliness, but they’re a good place to start. Drivers who want a good experience without too much heavy traffic, overzealous law enforcement or high gas prices may do well in the western US and parts of the South. Washington DC and other large cities tend to produce a much less desirable driving experience due to their packed highways, low speed limits and driver-unfriendly legal systems.