America's Worst Drivers
Wendy Peck once spent a year driving 30,000 miles around North America. “I’m a confident driver,” says the Canadian meeting planner—“always have been.”
Until, that is, she spent a winter driving in and out of Phoenix. “It’s not just that people speed,” she says, “but they roar up behind you in the lane, and have to slam on their brakes when you don’t magically disappear from their path.” The irony, she added, is that the city itself is easy to navigate. “It’s 100 percent the drivers that scare me to death.”
That kind of suspense helped Phoenix plow into the top 10 of America’s Worst Drivers—a new category in the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey. Travel + Leisure readers evaluate 35 cities, voting in categories such as shopping, cuisine, and driving ability. The nation’s best drivers, according to readers, are tooling around Kansas City, KS; Portland, ME; and Savannah, GA.
And the worst drivers? They hail from cities known for traffic and, shall we say, lively locals. Simon Tam, a musician who tours with the band the Slants, recalls driving though Little Italy in New York City. “A large delivery truck once drove onto the sidewalk just to pass me,” he says. “In the process, he took off my side mirror—and then flipped me off.”
Granted, some bad reputations stem from unfair perceptions. According to the Allstate Insurance Best Drivers Report, Phoenix residents average about 10 years between accidents—while local drivers in Washington, D.C., average only five years between run-ins. And some cities that ranked as the worst for driving ability are filled with tourists who don’t know their way around. That may explain Orlando’s poor standing (you try finding your exit with a carful of kids riding a sugar high).
Density and growing traffic can also take their toll on otherwise easygoing locals. Austin, TX, for instance, made the Worst list, despite also ranking well in the survey for friendliness. “You just can’t predict what they’re going to do,” says Jason Jepson, an entrepreneur who moved to the Texas capital last year. “They’ll gun it on a yellow, or swerve left to make a right-hand turn—and if you don’t have a huge truck, you’ll just get run over.”
Yet there’s a twist: “Drivers here are super nice to people on bikes,” says Jepson. “I feel much safer on my ten-speed than I do in my car.”
No. 1 Miami
Spending too much time checking their hair in the rearview mirror? These Floridians ranked near the top for their good looks, fashion savvy, and cocktail scene. But all that eye candy can get distracting. Locals didn’t impress voters with their street smarts: Miami ranked as the city with the worst drivers.
No. 2 Atlanta
In this famously sprawling city, driving is essential. But that doesn’t mean local drivers impressed our readers with their skills at the wheel. Maybe it’s a case of slow reflexes. Atlanta locals also ranked as some of the least athletic. And their driving may contribute to the city’s unsettling ranking for safety.
No. 3 New York City
Driving is nearly a contact sport in the Big Apple; most visitors would rather buckle into the backseat and let the cabbies fight it out. Many locals don’t drive regularly, which may contribute to their poor ranking here. When the traffic gets too intimidating, pull over for a snack: New York City ranked fifth for its beloved street food.
No. 4 Boston
Beantown’s drivers are primed to ace their written driving tests—they rank third in the survey for smarts—but they don’t play nice on the road, landing in the bottom five for friendliness. For a more relaxing holiday, park your car and stroll on the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
No. 5 Washington, D.C.
Maybe the diverse crowd here—visiting our nation’s capital from all over the globe—just has varying interpretations of traffic laws. Summer intensifies the problem, too, with hordes of family travelers and fireworks fans. Happily, the mass transit system ranks near the top; it’s an excellent excuse to forgo driving at all.
No. 6 Dallas/Fort Worth
Perhaps drivers in the Big D are suffering from heat exhaustion and low blood sugar: according to the survey, they have to endure the nation’s worst weather, disappointing dining, and the country’s lamest coffee. Once you get off the clogged highways, at least, you might be able to kick back. Downtown Fort Worth is particularly pedestrian-friendly.
No. 7 Orlando, FL
You might find it less frustrating to drive a teacup at the Magic Kingdom. Orlando locals aren’t terribly accident-prone, according to another study, so the erratic driving here may be the fault of all the disoriented tourists, whose nerves are frazzled by kids yelling, “Are we there yet?” from the backseat. No surprise, Orlando still took the top prize for family getaways.
No. 8 Las Vegas
The potential for driving hazards is high in the city that earned the silver medal for both its bar scene and its wild weekend vibe. It’s also hard to keep your eye on the road when there are so many intriguing people to gawk at: Sin City ranked in the top five for people-watching, and in the top 12 for well-dressed, good-looking people.
No. 9 Providence, RI
Offbeat and brainy may sound great when you’re sitting down for an excellent meal or a good latte, but these Rhode Island locals seem to lose their charm once they’re behind the wheel. Voters were willing to overlook a lot for a colorful backdrop, though: the city ranked in the top three for fall visits.
No. 10 Phoenix/Scottsdale
Beware of the snowbirds: the roads in this popular winter city may fall prey to seasonal visitors, who are squinting in the sun while trying to merge. You’re safer if you stick with pedestrian pursuits, such as lounging and shopping: voters loved the city for its luxury resorts and nice stores.
No. 11 Los Angeles
On one hand, ranking outside the top 10 is something of a victory for the city that may have invented road rage. Still, watch yourself: the City of Angels ranks pretty low in the friendliness category, and that may extend to ticket-writing traffic cops and impatient drivers. Indeed, L.A. also ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the survey.
No. 12 Houston
Do the locals drive their cars as though they were mechanical bulls? Visitors have long found this oil town’s layout a bit confusing, and there aren’t many opportunities for hoofing it, since the city ranked near the bottom for walkable streets. When in doubt, bide your time at one of the local burger joints, which ranked near the top.
No. 13 Salt Lake City
The city scored highly for being clean and tame—so why are the streets ever rough? Perhaps folks are trying to drive while still wearing ski boots—they ranked poorly for their fashion sense—or maybe there are just too many tourists wandering the highways. At least you don’t have to worry about too many partiers on the road: the bar scene came in last place.
No. 14 Memphis, TN
Distracted drivers here might just have the blues: While Memphis fell into the bottom 10 for its general disarray, the locals are still pretty welcoming. Voters were cheered, too, by the overall great values around town, including rich street fare and the legendary barbecue.
No. 15 Baltimore
Proceed with caution: This Maryland city ranks as the generally most dangerous in the nation. Voters were put off by the local drivers and by the noise and pollution (some of which stems from gas-guzzling cars). But that doesn't mean travelers are staying away. Readers gave Baltimore a thumbs-up for the bar scene and the festive 4th of July.
No. 16 San Juan, P.R.
If you find yourself in stop-and-go traffic in this island city, it may be due to drivers continually pulling over for food stands: San Juan won the street food category for its tempting kabobs, empanadas and roast suckling pig. It's hard to get too angry with locals who cut you off, either, considering they also ranked first in the survey for being good looking and charming.
No. 17 Chicago
Is it really the drivers, or just the elements? In the next-to-last-rated city for weather, snow, rain, and slush certainly add more stress to traffic. The locals may not be defrosting their own windshields with personal warmth, either, according to voters. You’ll do better with locals once everyone gets inside: the fine dining options rank at No. 4, and the bar scene is No. 6.
No. 18 Austin, TX
The city’s booming population has snarled traffic and perhaps raised tempers out on the road—which was already pretty full of college kids and live music fans. Voters may have found Austin drivers to be a bit too unpredictable when changing lanes: AFC voters declared them the No. 4 city for offbeat locals.
No. 19 San Francisco
Maybe the Bay Area’s less-than-perfect drivers are hopped up on espresso, or they’re rushing to make their restaurant reservations. No matter: your best bet is sticking with the cable cars, the BART system, or just the calorie-burning, hilly sidewalks. San Francisco ranked in second place for its mass transit and walkable streets, and in the top 10 for its physically fit locals.
No. 20 New Orleans
Traffic laws, speed limits, parallel parking—they all seem beside the point in the city that ranked first for its wild weekends and quirky locals. The driving may be quirky in a less flattering way, but voters weren’t too offended: they were more interested in the great food, cafés, and bars.