Increases in highway fatalities and drunk driving arrests landed North Dakota among the top 10 states with the worst drivers in an insurance group's ranking released in December.
It isn't the first time that North Dakotans have received unfavorable reviews about their driving habits, but record traffic fatalities in 2012 haven't helped. North Dakota rose three places from the 2011 worst-driver rankings to the number 10 spot in the 2013 CarInsuranceComparison.com survey.
Statistics came from several sources, including the National Traffic Safety Administration, National Motorists Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Mike Andrade buffs a vehicle Tuesday so it will look its best when it leaves Jerome’s
Collision Center. A survey of driving data suggests drivers should be more careful if they want to avoid the body shop.
A worker sands the side of a sports utility vehicle at Jerome’s Collision Center Tuesday.
"It's a good reminder to North Dakota citizens and people driving on North Dakota roadways that we do need to concentrate on our driving behavior," said Sgt. Tom Iverson, spokesman for the North Dakota Highway Patrol, Bismarck. "It's something that we need to definitely pay attention to."
Iverson said the Highway Patrol cannot vouch for the credibility of the ranking survey, but he added that North Dakota's drunk driving numbers are a cause for concern.
"We do still struggle with that. Traditionally, our fatal crashes are roughly around 50 percent alcohol-related. That's above the national average," he said.
The state is working to change those statistics through a combination of enforcement and education, he said.
North Dakota was not first in any category in the CarInsuranceComparison.com
ratings, but it was second behind Montana in drunk driving. Montana, ranked ninth overall, also led in fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. North Dakota's fatality rate was worse than 44 other states and the District of Columbia.
North Dakota was seeing lower traffic fatality and drunk driving numbers for 2013 near the end of December. There were 146 fatalities in 133 crashes as of Dec. 26, compared to 170 deaths in 147 crashes in all of 2012 and 148 deaths in 130 crashes in 2011. In 2012, 52 percent of crashes involved alcohol and 36 percent were speed related. Fatal crashes involving alcohol dropped to 41 percent in the 2013 statistics as of Dec. 26.
Iverson said the improvement doesn't mean North Dakota is in the clear yet. The numbers remain higher than law enforcement and other safety officials would like to see.
Seat-belt use in North Dakota also has ranked below the national average. The national average in 2012, as reported by the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, was 86 percent, while North Dakota's rate was 80.9, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
Changes are happening on the seat-belt front, though.
"We do compliance checks," Iverson said. "That's showing promising news that our seat-belt compliance rate is rising."
In the ranking survey, North Dakota fared worse than 29 other states and D.C. in seat-belt use and failure to obey traffic signals and worse than 28 other states and D.C. for careless driving. North Dakota did better than most states, though, with a relatively low number of tickets written.
According to the survey, Utah had the lowest rate of drunk driving and Massachusetts the fewest fatalities for miles driven. Kentucky is the worst for failure to obey traffic signals and seat-belt laws, while the District of Columbia is the best. Florida is the worst for careless driving, while Vermont is the best. The most tickets are written in Nevada and the fewest in Wyoming.
Louisiana was found to have the worst drivers, based on analysis of the data. Southeastern states, from Texas and Oklahoma to East Coast, accounted for 11 of the top 14 spots. South Dakota ranked 31st and Minnesota 48th. Vermont was shown to have the safest drivers.
The driving ability of American motorists has been the focus of research a number of times, with mixed results.
In 2011, GMAC Insurance declared Washington, D.C., as home to the worst drivers based on its finding that only 71 percent of drivers there were capable of passing a written driver's test. North Dakota's 78 percent was almost midway in the national ranks.
U.S. News & World Report ranked North Dakota ahead of only South Dakota's cellar performance among best states for teen drivers.
A survey in 2010 by The Daily Beast, an online news magazine, placed North Dakota first for worst drivers based on fatal crashes, driving under the influence, failure to obey traffic signs or signals and careless or inattentive driving statistics. At that time North Dakota was 18th for drunk driving, sixth for careless driving and tops in failure to obey traffic signs and signals.
The Daily Beast survey also found, as have other traffic studies, that younger drivers statistically are bigger risk-takers and can be the most troublesome in the data. Iverson said North Dakota's population growth, particularly the increase in young workers in western counties, likely is a factor influencing state crash numbers.
On a more positive note, a 2010 Forbes report ranked North Dakota fourth among the best states to take a drive. North Dakota grabbed the top ranking in infrastructure/safety, getting marked down only for higher-than-average gas prices.