In August 2023, Forbes Advisor released its list of states with the worst drivers in the United States. Forbes staff used publicly available data from various sources dated between 2018 and 2023 and made determinations based on six fatal incident metrics. They considered drunk drivers, distracted drivers, drowsy drivers, wrong-way drivers, failure to obey traffic rules, and physical cellphone distractions.
Kentucky ranked 5th for the worst drivers out of the top five, which included, in order, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas and Oklahoma. Forbes based their list on the number of fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers. To compare, Texas scored 100 fatal crashes. Kentucky scored approximately 79 fatal crashes.
The Roads Have Become More Dangerous
Compared to 2020 data, fatal car crash incidents increased by approximately 10% in 2021. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 39,508 crashes that involved 61,332 motor vehicles took place in 2021. As a result of these incidents, 42,939 drivers, passengers and others died. That year, 725 Kentuckians lost their lives in car accidents.
At least 3,349 accidents happened because of distracted driving. Daydreaming and general distractions caused 65% of those crashes. Cellphone usage while driving caused 11% of crashes. The IIHS noted that these numbers underestimate the true number of crashes because of on-the-ground difficulties attempting to verify distracted driving. Forbes ranked Kentucky 4th for distracted driver fatal crashes.
Beyond fatalities caused by risky driving behaviors, such as eating or drinking, reaching for or using devices, arguing or talking with passengers while not looking at the road, making dash or other adjustments, running red lights and stop signs, not looking both ways properly, driving while abusing substances, and dealing with moving objects, some drivers became drowsy, fell asleep at the wheel, or mistakenly drove the wrong way. Kentucky ranked as the 8th worst state for drivers falling asleep at the wheel and the 9th worst for drivers going the wrong way, either on the wrong side of a two-way road or up a one-way in the opposite direction.
Additionally, more than 50% of fatally injured drivers and passengers 13 years of age and older failed to use vehicle seat belts. Lastly, speeding, the act of exceeding a state’s posted speed on traffic signage or racing vehicles, accounted for 29% of all fatal crashes in 2021.
How Did Other States Compare?
As the most dangerous state, Texas ranked 2nd with drivers falling asleep at the wheel and driving the wrong way. It also had the third-highest number of fatal crashes caused by drunk driving (i.e., approximately 17 per 100,000 drivers). Louisiana ranked 3rd for distracted driving, 10th for drivers falling asleep at the wheel, and 8th for drunk driving.
Kansas had the second-highest number of fatal crashes from distracted driving. It ranked 4th for drivers falling asleep at the wheel and 5th for wrong-way driving. It also had a high number of crashes from drivers refusing to obey traffic officers, signals and signs. Lastly, Oklahoma, the 4th worst state overall, ranked 7th for distracted driver fatalities, 8th for disobeying traffic warnings, and 9th for drunk driving.
New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Montana and South Carolina rounded out the list of the top 10 worst states for drivers. Each state had more than 70 fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers. With 19 fatalities in 2021, Montana ranked the worst for drunk-driving incidents. New Mexico had the most distracted driver incidents. The most fatal crashes occurred between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., with the highest overall number happening after sundown.
Forbes didn’t only consider the worst states. Washington, D.C., ranked best out of the nation. The Northeast geographically received the best rankings overall, with the lowest number of fatal incidents (i.e., less than 10 per 100,000) in D.C. and Vermont. With less than 20 fatal crashes, Minnesota (non-NE) ranked next, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.