Many factors determine what makes a city the best or worst to drive in. In general, the concept is somewhat subjective, as personal preferences shape many people's opinions about the driving experience in a city. Additionally, elements such as long commute times, underfunded and poor infrastructure, gas prices, and more can sway the consensus.
Worst Cities To Drive In
A city can be challenging to drive in if it has congested and poorly maintained roads, inadequate traffic management systems, and a lack of efficient public transportation options. High levels of traffic congestion, confusing road layouts, and insufficient parking facilities can also contribute to the overall difficulty and frustration of driving in a city.
1. Memphis, TN
Cruising through Memphis proves dangerous as it boasts one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities among 100 metro areas, clocking in at around 30 deaths per 100,000 residents (2016-2020), according to the NHTSA. Memphis is also known for its traffic congestion, especially during rush hours, which can make driving frustrating and time-consuming.
2. Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque suffers from the highest fatality rate per 100 million miles driven, in addition to facing challenges with poorly maintained roads and a high rate of car thefts. These factors alone contribute to a less-than-ideal driving experience for residents and visitors alike before you get to the long commute times.
3. Detroit, MI
Detroit’s aging infrastructure and frequent road repairs create a bumpy and sometimes hazardous driving environment. The city’s fluctuating weather, with harsh winters and unpredictable potholes, adds to the challenges of navigating Detroit’s streets.
4. Louisville, KY
Louisville’s intricate network of one-way streets and periodic closures for events like the Kentucky Derby can confuse drivers, causing congestion and delays. Additionally, the city’s bridges over the Ohio River may lead to traffic bottlenecks, impacting driver perception.
5. Tucson, AZ
While the city does have a public transportation system, including buses and a streetcar, the coverage may not be as extensive or frequent as in cities such as Seattle. Tucson’s urban sprawl makes car-dependent commuting feel like a necessity. Plus, the intense desert heat can strain vehicles and road surfaces, contributing to maintenance issues and discomfort for drivers during the scorching summer months.
6. Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix’s rapid population growth has resulted in what some residents have described as neverending construction projects. There has also been an uptick in increased traffic, creating congestion on major highways like the I-10. The city’s reliance on cars and public transit can worsen commuting challenges, particularly during busy hours.
7. Oklahoma City, OK
Oklahoma City’s susceptibility to severe weather that can occur at any time throughout the year, including tornadoes and storms, poses a unique driving hazard. Drivers may also experience flash flooding, ice storms, extreme temperatures, high winds, and dust storms. These factors can lead to slippery roads, poor visibility, and other hazards, necessitating caution and preparedness for drivers.
8. Mesa, AZ
Mesa’s intricate network of streets is fairly easy to follow for a local, but some roadways follow unconventional patterns, leading to confusion for drivers unfamiliar with the area. Aside from this, using NHTSA data, U.S. News ranks them in the top 10 cities for car crashes. Lastly, sweltering weather conditions may impact comfort while driving.
9. Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, known for its bustling entertainment scene, experiences heavy traffic on the Las Vegas Strip, especially during peak tourist seasons. The city’s dependence on tourism can lead to crowded roads, affecting locals and visitors trying to explore the lively but congested urban landscape.
10. Jacksonville, FL
Jacksonville’s numerous bridges, including the Dames Point Bridge and Buckman Bridge, can cause delays due to heavy usage, especially in the summer. Compounding the issue is that a significant portion of the traffic infrastructure is inadequate for the current volume, and the city is struggling to keep pace with the rapid population growth.
11. Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis has a complex system of interconnecting highways. Construction projects and frequent lane closures further contribute to traffic disruptions, impacting the driving experience. To aid in reducing the number of fatal car accidents involving drivers and nondrivers alike, the city revised its Complete Streets policy to prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety, addressing the pressing issues on its roads.
12. Nashville, TN
As a tourist destination, Nashville’s rapid growth and popularity result in increased traffic, particularly in the downtown and Broadway areas. Driving is incredibly inefficient during events and live music performances.
13. Orlando, FL
Orlando’s confusing toll roads and popular attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios mean you’re always likely to experience backed-up traffic. Additionally, sudden downpours during the rainy season can create hazardous driving conditions.
14. Miami, FL
Miami faces diverse traffic safety challenges. These include concerns about public parking spaces, poor street lighting, excessive speeding, and frequent incidents of wrong-way drivers on city roads.
15. Tampa, FL
Traffic congestion in the Bay Area is projected to increase twofold, and potentially even triple, over the next two decades. Every morning, if you’re heading south on I-275 from the apex towards I-4, it’s like a parking lot; there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic.
16. Charlotte, NC
Many of the driving problems in Charlotte could be remedied with a better infrastructure. According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, 14 percent of the state’s bridges are rated in poor or structurally deficient condition, and 23 percent of the major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Charlotte also has fewer bike trails or public transportation options than other cities.
17. Raleigh, NC
According to residents, driving in Raleigh, NC, is terrible because of driver behavior, road conditions, and the diverse expectations from driving in other states. Drivers are often too slow, fast, distracted, rude, aggressive, inexperienced, or unfamiliar with the area, while the roads are poorly designed, maintained, or marked.
18. Richmond, VA
Driving in Richmond is challenging because of the high population density, the poor road design, and the driving culture. Richmond has over 230,000 residents and more than 1,000 crashes annually, making it one of Virginia’s most congested and dangerous cities.
19. Austin, TX
Austin is another city that suffers from high population growth but insufficient route systems. There’s also a high rate of impaired driving. Austin has added hundreds of thousands of people in the last 20 years, making it one of the most crowded cities in the U.S. Many people describe drivers there as inconsiderate, careless, or clueless.
20. Columbus, OH
As a proud alumna of The Ohio State University, I can vouch for the fact that the traffic, particularly in that area, is awful. It’s a large and famous city, but the parking rates near the university are sky-high, the roads are always swarming with traffic at all hours of the day, and let’s not discuss the infamous bottleneck at the SR 315/U.S. 23 interchange.
21. San Antonio, TX
Another city in Texas, San Antonio, is notorious for having some of the worst traffic. The main culprits include roads like I-35, which is often ranked as one of the busiest highways in the country, especially near the I-410 interchange, and Loop 1604, which is plagued by frequent delays and closures due to construction and accidents.
22. El Paso, TX
The city’s role as a significant land port sees over 800,000 trucks annually traveling between the U.S. and Mexico through the El Paso port of entry, contributing to an elevated rate of car accidents. Additionally, El Paso, along with three other Texan cities, has the highest rate of drunk driving fatalities in the country.
23. Salt Lake City, UT
In the court of public opinion, Utahns have been deemed hilariously bad drivers who do not follow the rules of the road or respect the rights of other drivers. On a more serious note, one aspect that makes driving in Salt Lake City difficult is its high altitude, which can affect both drivers and vehicles. The air is thinner, and engines may perform differently. Drivers from lower altitudes might notice a difference in their vehicles' performance.
24. Omaha, NE
Apparently, there are several reasons that drivers may want to steer clear of driving in Omaha, including excessive speeding, a high number of DUI incidents per year, and terrible road conditions in the winter. The city has earned a bad reputation in conjunction with the packed streets, particularly at 72nd and Dodge.
25. Sacramento, CA
Sacramento’s horrid traffic congestion, especially during rush hours, can turn a routine drive into a time-consuming ordeal for locals. The city’s summertime air quality issues, marked by smog, add an extra layer of discomfort to the driving experience. Ongoing road construction projects and the city’s reliance on cars further contribute to the obstacles, making Sacramento one of the worst cities for driving.
Best Cities To Drive In
On the other side of the fence, some cities in the United States offer a much better driving experience, at least according to residents and frequent visitors. From well-designed roads to smooth traffic flow, these cities redefine what it means to enjoy the ride.
1. Boston, MA
Boston is a good city for drivers because of its location and fewer car crashes compared to other popular cities in the nation. Boston is centrally located in the Northeast, making it easy to travel to other towns and destinations by car. Boston has a well-developed subway, bus, and bike network, allowing drivers to park their vehicles and use alternative modes of transportation within the city.
2. Burlington, Vermont
Burlington is the largest city and the cultural hub of Vermont, located on the shores of Lake Champlain. The city has a compact and walkable downtown, with bike lanes, public transit, and car-sharing options to reduce traffic and pollution.
3. Honolulu, HI
One of the main reasons that Honolulu can be a good city for drivers is the visual experience. It’s a tropical paradise with immaculate coastal views and a laid-back atmosphere. The city also has several initiatives to promote lower commute times and less traffic during rush hour.
4. Providence, RI
Providence offers drivers a generally well-maintained infrastructure, which makes for a smooth and efficient driving experience. It’s not heavily car-dependent, and its urban layout ensures easy access to essential amenities. While facing challenges like heavy traffic, Providence exhibits positive elements contributing to a favorable driving environment.
5. Concord, NH
Concord generally experiences less traffic congestion than larger metropolitan areas, contributing to smoother and more efficient commuting. The city has a well-maintained road network, high safety, and affordable gas prices.
6. Chicago, IL
Chicago, IL, has a well-designed and maintained road network, which facilitates the mobility and accessibility of drivers and reduces the risk of accidents. It also has a vibrant culture, with many attractions, landmarks, museums, restaurants, and sports teams to enjoy along the way.
7. Boise, ID
Idaho, generally, is said to have a friendly driving atmosphere with low wait times for traffic, providing a more relaxed and short commute. The city’s road layout benefits drivers, ensuring reliability and ease of navigation.
8. Fargo, ND
Fargo is the largest and the most populous city in North Dakota. Despite this, the traffic isn’t too bad, and you can generally get where you need to go without waiting for hours daily. The city has a simple and well-run transportation system, a freeway, bus, bike trail network, and a car-sharing program.
9. Baltimore, MD
Baltimore has been known for having older infrastructure, especially in the more popular areas like downtown. With that being said, navigating downtown Baltimore by car is relatively straightforward. The roads follow a precise grid pattern, with many operating as one-way streets.
10. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids has moderate population density, high road quality, and brief commute times, making it ideal for drivers who can’t stand traffic. There’s also easy parking access for those who are used to cities like New York City, where things always feel cramped.
11. Portland, OR
Portland has a solid infrastructure to support the city, efficient traffic management, and a comprehensive public transportation system, including buses, light rail, and streetcars. The city’s urban planning prioritizes pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, accessible amenities, and sustainable transportation options, contributing to a positive and convenient driving experience
12. Philadelphia, PA
Philly is a fantastic place to drive through because of notable attractions, a suitable road network, and specific streets like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that provide wide, open spaces, creating a pleasant drive. The city’s commitment to ongoing infrastructure improvements, including the revitalization of critical roads, contributes to a positive and evolving landscape for drivers.
13. Wichita Falls, TX
Wichita Falls boasts low traffic congestion, picturesque drives through the surrounding countryside, and affordable, easily accessible parking compared to larger cities. The friendly driving atmosphere and the city’s relatively small size make for an enjoyable commute.
14. Minneapolis, MN
Exploring Minneapolis, MN, promises a positive driving experience, benefitting from well-maintained roads, decent-paced traffic flow, and scenic attractions like the iconic Chain of Lakes. This city is also committed to sustainable transportation projects, including extensive bike lanes and public transit options.
15. Denver, CO
Continued infrastructure improvements position the city as one where drivers can enjoy a balance of convenience and accessibility. The parking isn’t too shabby, the mountains are stunning, and the traffic flow is relatively smooth.
16. Cleveland, OH
As a native of Cleveland, I can attest to the city being decent when it comes to traffic for a city of its size. The outskirts seem to carry more congestion than the inner city, and for the most part, you can get from point A to point B without wasting all day sitting in traffic. I must say, however, the potholes are just awful, so beware!
17. Milwaukee, WI
Milwaukee impresses with manageable traffic, scenic routes along Lake Michigan, and reasonable parking options compared to larger urban areas. The city’s moderate size contributes to ease of navigation and helps its positive reception by drivers.
18. Greenville, SC
Driving in Greenville, SC, offers a delightful experience with revitalized downtown streets, attractive routes to destinations like Falls Park, and an abundance of parking options that boost convenience for explorations. Greenville’s size and straightforward navigation further add to the overall ease and enjoyment of driving within the city.
19. St. Louis, MO
St. Louis provides drivers with relatively lower traffic congestion and affordable parking options. The city’s friendly driving culture makes it a bit better for those days when you do have to wait.
20. Cincinnati, OH
The most significant selling point for Cincinnati being a good city for drivers is the accessibility. Getting around Cincinnati is straightforward, thanks to its network of main roads connecting neighborhoods. Interstates 75, 71, and 74 are key routes for northbound travelers heading to Dayton, Columbus, and Indianapolis, while I-75 and I-71 lead southbound drivers into Kentucky.
21. Pittsburgh, PA
The well-designed belt system in Pittsburgh, comprising I-376, I-279, and I-579, not only fosters smoother traffic flow but also enhances overall navigation, allowing drivers convenient access to various neighborhoods throughout the city. However, take caution because the city has a reputation for aggressive drivers.
22. Kansas City, MO
Kansas City is a Midwestern gem that not only looks nice as you drive through but also has a low traffic density and affordable parking compared to other major metropolitan areas. Additionally, the gas prices are reasonable, and the roads are in pretty good shape.
23. Virginia Beach, VA
Driving in Virginia Beach is pretty smooth, with nicely maintained roads that also give you some scenic coastal views. Getting around is a breeze thanks to the well-thought-out road network, and there’s plenty of parking available, making it convenient and enjoyable to cruise around the city.
24. Greensboro, NC
Greensboro, NC, is a good city for drivers because it has low traffic waits and high road quality, making your travel time stress-free. The city also has various transportation options, such as bus, bike, and car-sharing services, that complement the driving needs and preferences of different residents.
25. Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale has a low accident rate, making the driving experience safe and comfortable. The city also has a variety of parking options, such as garages, lots, and meters, that are easy to access and affordable to use. Not to mention the stunning desert backdrop you can take in as you ride!