Traffic is horrible, but not for the reasons you think: Americans waste an estimated $160 billion on the road each year, an average of $960 per motorist. Traffic leads to both wasted money and wasted time, cutting into spending and other economic factors. Traffic also often leads to road rage, which causes half of all fatal crashes (loss of life having the worst long-term economic impact). Considering that we as Americans drive an average of 29.2 miles per day, it’s in our best interest to keep the roads clear. So which states have the worst traffic, and which states handle their extra traffic best?
What are the worst states for traffic in the U.S.?
Our graphic measures the mileage of the states’ public roadways and compares these figures to the total number of registered automobiles (as of 2014). Using that ratio as a metric, these are the most and least congested states, traffic-wise:
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- The worst state for traffic is Hawaii, by a long shot. No other state even comes close. With only 4,439 miles of roadways and well more than a million registered vehicles, their ratio (313.87) dwarfs even the District of Columbia (222.44). Add in the influx of tourists driving on roads they’re not familiar with and it’s enough to make even laid-back islanders angry; they’re also rated as the first for road rage (by number of Instagram posts with the #roadrage tag).
- In North Dakota, you’ll likely not see another driver for a good while. With almost 20 times the miles of roadways (87,088 miles) and roughly half a million fewer registered vehicles than Hawaii, North Dakota’s highways have become famous for being empty. It’s so lonely that locals created the Enchanted Highway to keep drivers entertained and occupied, and it’s one of our favorite roadside attractions.
- Stereotypes don’t always apply. As a general rule, Northeastern states are more congested, and Midwestern states are less so. There are exceptions, of course, with California and Florida being pretty stressful to drive in. Meanwhile, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are practically stress-free compared to their neighbors.
- The traffic in states doesn’t reflect their cities. While California might not rank very highly for congestion overall, the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs ranks as one of the places with the most traffic in the entire world, among cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and San Francisco. (Honolulu also made that list.)
How do states combat the congestion?
By and large, the two main ways to combat traffic in the United States are to either improve the design of the roadways or to reduce the demand for cars (usually through public transportation policy). Many metrics are gathered by state governments to provide data on how and where to make necessary changes. States invest millions into data-gathering or adaptive technologies to try to combat the problem. Utah has implemented adaptive traffic signals. Cities like New York City have made an effort to give bikers a place to ride by providing bike lanes and encourage non-car transportation (though there is a great deal that can still be done in that regard). States like Texas use special lanes to reward carpooling drivers.
The problem is that since many Americans are moving to cities or their suburbs, the problem of traffic is likely to keep getting worse.
Hopefully, in the next few years, autonomous driving will make this whole conversation unnecessary. Until then, good luck, Hawaiians!