Best Cities for Car Drivers - NerdWallet
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Best Cities for Car Drivers

Best Cities for Drivers

Driving can be a hassle no matter where you live, but there are some cities in the nation where it’s cheaper to own a car and easier to get around. Gas prices surge in the summer months, and this year’s prices are about 5% more expensive than last year. Prices, traffic and road conditions can vary widely by city, making some areas less road rage-inducing than others. If you live in one of our 10 best cities for car drivers, you’ll enjoy cheaper gas, easier-to-navigate roads and less traffic. And chances are, your daily commute will be less stressful than that of drivers in other cities. NerdWallet analyzed the data and found the 10 best U.S. cities for car drivers, according to these metrics:

1. Is it expensive to own a car? To answer this question, we considered gas prices and insurance premiums, which vary widely from city to city. Gas prices are greatly affected by local taxes. Crime, local laws and population density are just some of the factors that affect car insurance premiums.

2. Is the city overcrowded? Weaving though trolleys, cab drivers, pedestrians and cyclists can be difficult and dangerous. Also, when a city has a higher population density, roads become worn out at a faster rate. We assessed this factor through the number of people per square mile.

3. Will you be stuck in traffic? We incorporated the length of traffic delay, which was calculated by the amount of time drivers spend in traffic exceeding their regular commute time.

4. Does it rain or snow a lot? Precipitation can be dangerous and unpleasant for drivers, since it decreases visibility and makes roads slippery. We assessed the cities by including the number of days with precipitation as a factor.

To see a list of the most frustrating cities for drivers, check out NerdWallet’s ten worst cities for car drivers.

10 Best Cities for Car Drivers

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s dry climate and open roads make it an ideal place for drivers. Albuquerque drivers pay relatively little for car insurance, just $961.16 a year on average. While the city has struggled with a high rate of car thefts, Albuquerque police in the past few years have confronted the issue head-on by placing bait cars around the city to catch over 80 suspected thieves.

2. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson has much lower gas prices than the rest of the country. One reason is that the state has lower taxes than the rest of the country. And at about $810 a year, the average Tucson driver has very low insurance rates compared with the rest of the country.

3. El Paso, Texas

Along with Maine and North Dakota, Texas is one of six states in the U.S. with a 75 mph speed limit on both urban and rural interstates, making it faster and easier to get around on the open roads there. El Paso drivers have an average commuter delay of 32 hours a year. High speed limits, along with the low cost of gas, mild weather and affordable car insurance, make El Paso a driver friendly destination.

4. Phoenix, Arizona

Among cities with populations over 1 million, Phoenix is the safest city for drivers. Despite the much higher population density, locals report traffic collisions at just slightly above the national rate. Because of Phoenix’s arid climate and low precipitation, drivers also enjoy good road conditions for much of the year. The city averages 28 days of precipitation each year.

5. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs drivers enjoy cheap gas and quick commutes. The city has about 2,140 people per square mile, and the average Colorado Springs driver is delayed 26 hours per year in traffic. As the home of the scenic Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs offers breathtaking views as well as spacious roads.

6. Wichita, Kansas

Wichita was home to the Jones Motor Car Company until 1920. Now, although it’s hard to find any Jones automobiles outside the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, Wichita continues its car friendly legacy with cheap gas prices and low levels of traffic congestion. Wichita residents spend only 20 hours a year in traffic and pay average gas prices of $3.50. One reason for Wichita’s short commutes is the lower population density in the city, which has 2,400 people per square mile.

7. Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield’s population grew a whopping 43.6% from 2000 to 2012, and with the Thomas Roads Improvement Project, the city has started to make updates to meet the needs of its growing population. With an average of only 12 hours of delays annually, Bakersfield drivers sit in traffic less than commuters in any other major U.S. city.

8. Fresno, California

The city founded by the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1872 has a long history as a transportation-oriented city. Today, cars are the most popular form of transportation. With flat and wide roads, this city provides drivers with clear conditions on a regular basis. Fresno residents also enjoy extremely low car insurance rates at just $837.50 a year.

9. San Antonio, Texas

The home of the Alamo is also home to both a sprawling metropolitan center and rural outskirts. Even though it’s the second-largest community in Texas, none of San Antonio’s roads made the top 25 on the Texas Department of Transportation’s list of the state’s most congested roadways. The well-managed traffic flow keeps commute times short in San Antonio with drivers spending an average of 38 hours a year in traffic in addition to their regular commutes.

10. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Because several fuel pipelines run through the state, Oklahoma City gas retailers can often buy surplus gas at reduced prices. This makes fuel more affordable in the area with gas prices at just $3.42 on average. Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Oklahoma City also has the lowest population density, which means there’s a lower risk of vehicle collisions. The city has only 956 people per square mile.


Rank City Annual Hours of Delay per Commuter Population Density (People per Square Mile) Average Gas Prices Average Insurance Premium Average Number of Days with Precipitation per Year Overall Score for Car Owners
1 Albuquerque-Rio Rancho 29 2,907.6 $3.38 $961.16 53 86.03
2 Tucson 38 2,294.2 $3.36 $810.78 44 85.63
3 El Paso 32 2,543.2 $3.47 $1,024.83 42 84.76
4 Phoenix 35 2,797.8 $3.51 $1,029.49 28 84.68
5 Colorado Springs 26 2,140.6 $3.39 $1,041.98 83 82.45
6 Wichita 20 2,400.4 $3.50 $1,192.44 80 81.95
7 Bakersfield 12 2,444.2 $4.07 $838.91 35 81.85
8 Fresno 15 4,418.4 $4.02 $837.50 43 79.06
9 San Antonio 38 2,879.8 $3.39 $1,120.88 74 78.53
10 Oklahoma City 38 956.4 $3.42 $1,242.17 77 78.36
11 Tulsa 32 1991.9 3.429 $1,367.27 84 77.84
12 Omaha 24 3217.9 3.525 $1,149.92 92 77.70
13 Kansas City 27 1459.9 3.531 $1,236.58 98 76.50
14 Austin 44 2653.2 3.41 $1,061.18 77 75.91
15 Raleigh 23 2826.3 3.609 $828.17 108 75.77

The Best and Worst Cities for Car Drivers

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The overall score for car owners was derived from the following measures:

1. Number of days of precipitation from NOAA.

2. Annual hours of delay per commuter from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

3. Gas information from Gas Buddy.

4. Population density from the 2010 U.S. Census.

5. Insurance information from NerdWallet.

Car on an open road image via Shutterstock.


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