How bad are Charlotte drivers, really?

How bad are Charlotte drivers, really?
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I remember the first time I merged onto I-277 at rush hour. Hoo boy.

Since then, I’m pretty sure the drivers haven’t gotten any better, but I’ve gotten more used to them. Still, any Charlotte gripe session is inevitably going to turn to how bad traffic and drivers are.

I’ve even heard people go so far as to say that Charlotte is home to the worst drivers in America. But is that statistically true?

Of course, a lot of this is subjective, but here’s my best shot at answering the question.

Turns out that Charlotte drivers are pretty bad — but probably nowhere close to the worst.

Here’s how the city stacks up in rankings

City-by-city data is actually hard to come by. So you kind of have to take it where you can get it.

The Allstate insurance company puts out an annual “America’s Best Drivers” report that’s based primarily on frequency of property damage collisions. This past year, Charlotte ranked No. 142 out of 200.

So not great, but not the worst! We were still ahead of Cincinnati, Atlanta, Austin and the city with the worst drivers — Boston.

Waze actually listed Charlotte as one of the 10 cities were drivers were MOST satisfied. Their ranking was based on traffic, safety and the self-reported “moods” of Waze users.

Charlotte didn’t even rank in Travel + Leisure’s list of cities with the worst drivers. The city was No. 25 in most expensive car insurance among big cities and not in the top 10 in road rage according to Monkey Meter.


Rankings are lame. What about actual stats?

The only real gold standard on city-by-city vehicle safety data is from a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It looked at the traffic death rates in 63 different cities in the 50 largest metro areas.

Charlotte ranked worse than the average large U.S. city, but definitely not the worst (that distinction went to Orlando).

Charlotte came in at No. 20 with a death rate of 9.8 for every 100,000 residents. Just ahead of New Orleans and significantly ahead of Atlanta. New York City was the safest by this measure (no surprise) followed by San Francisco.

Another government data point: Mecklenburg County was No. 47 in raw number of car crashes according to FARS data. We’re the 48th largest county in the country, so right in line.

Traffic on highway

Charlotte’s not even the worst in the state

Yes, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are home to more crashes than any other in North Carolina, but that’s only because more people live here than anywhere else.

The state Department of Transportation puts out an annual list of the most dangerous cities to drive. Charlotte ranked No. 7 in the state among cities with more than 10,000 people in terms of crash rate and other factors, in the most recent list. Asheville was the worst, followed by Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Asheboro, Lumberton and Roanoke Rapids before you get to the Queen City.

Mecklenburg also ranked No. 7 in the state in raw number of animal crashes. Thanks deforestation.


So before you complain again, it could be worse. At least we’re not Boston or Miami.

Photo by John Stracke via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Photo by John Stracke via Flickr (Creative Commons).

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