Rulebreakers on the Road: States with the Most Reckless Drivers

A policeman in a mask hands a driver a ticket for a reckless driving violation through the car's window.

You’ll find risky drivers on the road no matter where you are, but in some states, these rulebreakers are less likely to get away with it.

While driving patterns vary across the United States, American drivers can generally agree on the following decorum: be mindful of your surroundings, try to avoid sudden movements, and do your best to follow the traffic patterns of the vehicles around you. However, the disregard of these practices by reckless drivers seems to be more blatant in certain states. Reckless driving is characterized by a wanton disregard for the rules while driving. This broad penalty encompasses violations such as excessive speeding, driving while under the influence, racing, and illegal passing (such as passing a stopped school bus). Reckless driving rates across the country are not only driven by varying levels of offense shown by regional drivers, but also the level of on-road enforcement that varies from state to state. States with high rates of reckless driving likely have not only drivers who exhibit more blatantly negligent behavior, but a stronger presence of highway patrols who are able to catch these reckless motorists in the act. 

Behavior on the road this year has been greatly influenced by socio-economic circumstances — the most pressing being the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis. Following stay-at-home orders in March, nonessential workers were encouraged to avoid transit as much as possible. Additionally, while overall rates of driving decreased following lockdowns this spring,, rates of driving violations such as speeding increased. At this point in the year, rates of driving have exceeded their pre-pandemic norms, according to Apple Maps Mobility Data. Used car sales are up, and in places like New York City where driving is not a common form of transportation, people are buying cars in droves. Like it or not, this influx of motorists may come with consequences on the road.

Curious to see where reckless driving is most prevalent, the research team at Insurify examined the data to identify the states with the most reckless drivers.

Heat map showing number of drivers with a reckless driving violation on record per 10K drivers by state

Insights

  • National averages. Across the United States, the average number of reckless drivers per state is 18 per 10K drivers. Between March 30th and September 12th, the average relative increase in driving across the U.S. was 211 percent. The average population density in 2019 was 428.8 people per square mile.
  • Reckless driving rates are high in sparsely populated states. While population density and incidents of reckless driving are not correlated to a statistically significant degree, it seems that states with high rates of reckless driving are likely to be low in population density as a general rule of thumb. Of the ten states on the list of the states with the highest rates of reckless driving, seven of them are among the ten least densely-populated states. A potential factor driving this phenomenon could be that drivers may feel less inclined to follow the rules of the road when there are fewer people around them. While it’s necessary to abide by driving laws no matter how many drivers are on the road, the social pressure to do so may (and the perceived risk in failing to do so) may feel less acute when few other drivers are present.
  • Nothing if not consistent. Eight out of the ten states with the most reckless drivers in 2020 also topped the rankings in 2019. The pattern of persistently high reckless driving rates in particular states suggests that even though the pandemic has increased overall rates of driving violations on the road, the geographic regions in which these incidents are happening the most frequently are not necessarily different than before lockdown.

Methodology

The data science team at Insurify, an auto insurance comparison site, analyzed its database of over 2.5 million car insurance applicants to determine which states have the most reckless drivers. To apply for car insurance quotes at Insurify, drivers submit personal and vehicle information, as well as their driving history, which includes any prior convictions of reckless driving on their record. Researchers compared the number of drivers with a reckless driving violation to the total pool of drivers in each state to identify which states had the highest proportions of reckless drivers.

Mobility data was provided by Apple Maps, which compares the daily volume of directions requests per city to a baseline volume on January 13, 2020. Data sent from users’ devices to Apple Maps services is anonymized.  Insurify’s research team calculated the percent change in the volume of driving queries between March 30th, the date when California was the first state to announce a state-wide lockdown, and September 12th. Population density for each state comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimates of population per square mile across the United States.

States with the Most Reckless Drivers

10. Idaho

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 26 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 317%
  • Population density: 21.6 people per square mile

Starting off our rankings is Idaho, with a reckless driving rate that’s 31 percent above the national average. Drivers in Idaho upped their driving throughout the pandemic at a rate 34 percent faster than the national average. As the state that has the 6th lowest population density in the United States, Idaho drivers seem to exercise less caution on the roads, resulting in higher incidents of reckless driving violations.

9. New Hampshire

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 28 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 484%
  • Population density: 151.9 people per square mile

They may say “live free or die” in the ninth state on the list, and it seems like this laissez-faire attitude carries over to precautions on the road. New Hampshire’s rate of reckless driving is 36 percent higher than the national average. The Granite State has also experienced an astronomical increase in driving rates from the beginning of the pandemic until September: with a 484 percent relative increase, New Hampshire drivers returned to the roads in great droves. Unlike many of the other states on this list, New Hampshire’s population density, while lower than the national average, is not comparatively very low — it ranks 21st in the nation on population per square mile. As a repeat offender from 2019, it seems as though the driving norms in New Hampshire are less stringent — and result in more driving violations — than the rest of the country’s.

8. South Carolina

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 34 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 141%
  • Population density: 171.2 people per square mile

With a reckless driving rate 48 percent above the average, South Carolina places eighth for states with the highest share of reckless drivers. South Carolina’s population density is below the national average at 171.2 people per square mile. Drivers in South Carolina surprisingly experienced a lower-than-average increase in volume of driving over the pandemic (only three of the 10 states on this list returned to the roads more slowly than the rest of the country). It’s possible that car owners in South Carolina never lowered their rates of driving to the same degree as other parts of the nation.  Therefore the relative increase up to the present, while still positive, is lower than the national average.

7. South Dakota

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 34 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 309%
  • Population density: 11.7 people per square mile

While South Dakota has the same high reckless driving rate as South Carolina,  which ranks eighth on the list, South Dakota’s larger increase in driving during the pandemic — at 32 percent higher than average — secured the Mount Rushmore State’s spot at seventh on the list. South Dakota has the fifth-lowest population density in the United States, which follows the overarching pattern of reckless driving occurring in sparsely populated regions.

6. Washington

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 35 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 222%
  • Population density: 114.6 people per square mile

When it rains it pours, and in this rainy state in the Pacific Northwest, reckless driving is as prevalent as precipitation. The Evergreen State saw a reckless driving rate that’s 49 percent higher than the national average in 2020. Over the course of the pandemic, Washington’s relative increase in driving was about average. While Washington’s rate of reckless drivers was about equal in 2019, the state moved up from seventh to sixth for this year’s rankings, establishing itself as a region with particularly risky road behavior.

5. Wyoming

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 40 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 375%
  • Population density: 6.0 people per square mile

It’s the wild, wild west in the state with the fifth-highest rate of reckless driving across the nation. Wyoming experiences incidents of reckless driving at a rate 55 percent above average. The population density in Wyoming is significantly sparse — Wyoming is the second least-densely populated state in the U.S. This seems to follow the typical trajectory of many of the states on this list. With fewer cars on the road, drivers can (foolishly) take advantage of the opportunity to exercise less caution while driving.

4. Montana

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 44 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 407%
  • Population density: 7.3 people per square mile

The fourth state in the rankings, Montana, follows a similar pattern to Wyoming. Montana’s reckless driving rate is 60 percent higher than the national average, and it has the third lowest population density. Montana also witnessed a 407 percent rise in its volume of driving throughout the pandemic. This increase in driving may have been a contributing factor in bumping Montana from fifth in last year’s rankings to fourth for 2020’s. 

3. Alaska

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 49 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 256%
  • Population density: 1.3 people per square mile

Alaska is both the most sparsely-populated state and the state with the third-highest rate of reckless driving. The frequency of reckless drivers in the Last Frontier is 64 percent higher than the national average, and the spike in driving over the course of the pandemic is 18 percent above the nationwide mean. Interestingly, Alaska was not one of the states with the highest number of reckless drivers in 2019 — especially surprising considering its spot as third on this year’s list. 

2. North Dakota

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 59 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 163%
  • Population density: 11.0 people per square mile

For the second year in the running, North Dakota has the second-highest rate of reckless driving in America. With a share of reckless drivers a staggering 70 percent above the average, it seems that drivers in the Peace Garden State do not necessarily display peaceful behaviors on the road. While North Dakota does follow the pattern of states with low population densities experiencing higher rates of reckless driving, the state’s relative increase in driving over the course of the pandemic is actually 23 percent below the national average.

1. Virginia

  • Frequency of reckless drivers: 66 per 10K drivers
  • Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 180%
  • Population density: 216.1 people per square mile

In first place for the second year in a row, Virginia is the state with the most reckless drivers. Drivers in Virginia demonstrate reckless on-road behaviors at a rate that’s 73 percent higher than the rest of the nation. Unlike most of the other states on this list, the Old Dominion does not have a low population density. Whether due to higher rates of enforcement, more reckless driving offenders, or some combination of both, Virginia experiences the most reckless driving of any state in America.

If you have questions or comments about this article, please contact insights@insurify.com.

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