U.S. motor vehicle accident statistics are under the purveyance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, after 2008, NHTSA accident statistics have been limited to fatalities. Consequently, most discussion of vehicular accidents and the relative safety of driving in U.S. cities are now based on data supplied by the Allstate Insurance Company.
Since 2004, Allstate has issued an annual report detailing statistical data for accidents in the 200 largest cities in the U.S. These data are based on insurance claims for property damage submitted for vehicles insured by Allstate – about 10% of all U.S. vehicles.
As in past years, the 2012 eighth annual “Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report” uses the weighted average of the data from January 2009 through December 2010. Using a weighted two-year average serves to minimize any effect of weather or road construction in a particular year.
Calculations determine the number of claims per capita to correct for population differences between cities. Allstate actuaries present the data as the average frequency of claim stated as the expected number of years to pass between accidents. For example, in the latest report, Washington rates the highest in frequency of accidents per capita at 6.2 years versus a U.S. average of about 10.2 years.
The data is often presented as the percent frequency versus the overall average for the country. Therefore, at a frequency of 6.2 years, Washington drivers have a 112% greater chance of being involved in an accident compared to the national average.
The ten worst cities ranked by percentage are (1) Washington, D.C. at 112%; (2) Baltimore at 88%; (3) Providence, R.I. at 81%; (4) Hialeah, Fla. at 78%; (5) Glendale, CA at 76%; (6) Philadelphia at 64%; (7) Alexandria, Va. at 63%; (8) Newark, N.J. at 59%; (9) Miami at 58%; and (10) San Francisco at 55%. New York, N.Y. at 41.1% and Los Angeles, CA at 48.5 were not far behind, but Chicago came in at a respectable 25.9%. On the flip side, in Sioux Falls, S.D. a vehicle is 27.6 % less likely (-27.6%) to be involved in an accident.
A clear geographical bias is evident with eight of the worst cities situated along the I-95 corridor that includes the Northeast megalopolis stretching from Boston, MA and its northern suburbs to Washington, D.C. and its southern suburbs. It is noteworthy that Allstate Insurance does not do business in insurance-regulated Massachusetts. However, when Providence R.I. is third, one can probably assume Boston would be somewhere in the top ten. Moreover, New York City probably escapes only because so many residents use public transportation. It is probable that Allstate does not insure NYC taxis and limos.
Most of these cities have traffic systems that began as winding colonial “roadways” never meant for modern traffic. Popular with tourists and visiting businessmen, these areas can be particularly confusing to visitors. That a city the size of Chicago is notably lower in the ranking is probably a testament to the planning of the Northwest Territory that instituted grid patterns for states, counties, towns, farms and roads. Similar grid systems with fewer strange intersections were laid out as the U.S. spread out across the continent.
Allstate data does not include any breakdown accident by their cause. Urban traffic certainly involves higher levels and types of traffic and distractions. Additionally, the stop and go nature of traffic due to pedestrians, delivery trucks, city buses, parking cars and emergency vehicles demands heightened alertness. Road design also may require greater road awareness. Ultimately, the vast majority of accidents are caused by driver error. Some cities simply give the driver more chances to make that error.
This piece was contributed by Roland Bergstrom, a freelancer based in the city of Austin, TX. Roland writes on automobiles, auto accidents, auto safety, automobile gadgetry and other related topics; those with legal needs in the area of DUI criminal defense should click here.