Worst Cities for Car Drivers - NerdWallet
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Worst Cities for Car Drivers

Worst Cities for Car Drivers

Driving can be a hassle no matter where you are, and the high costs of driving can be a deterrent to consumers. Gas prices surge in the summer months, and this summer gas prices are about 5% more expensive than last year. With high gas prices, expensive car insurance premiums, bad weather and long traffic delays, drivers in the following cities face many more obstacles on the road than most of the country. If you’re looking for an alternative to driving, however, you’re in luck: These areas are also home to some well-supported public transportation systems, which are an environmentally-friendly alternative to waiting in traffic. NerdWallet analyzed the data and found the 10 worst U.S. cities for car drivers, according to these questions:

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. Additionally, when a city has a higher population density, it also means the roadways wear down 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 commuting time.

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

To see where it’s a pleasure to drive, check out the ten best cities for car drivers. 

10 Worst Cities for Car Drivers:

1. New York City, New York

With more than 27,000 people per square mile, the Big Apple is the most densely populated city in the U.S. The average driver in New York also pays a whopping $1,614.71 per year for car insurance. Driving can be a hassle in New York, so it’s no surprise that 55% of New Yorkers take public transportation to work.

2. Detroit, Michigan

Detroit is known as the car manufacturing capital of the country, but it’s extremely expensive to own and operate a car in the city. Drivers in Detroit pay the most for car insurance – nearly $5,000 per year for the average driver. Complicated car insurance laws and a high rate of motor vehicle theft make car insurance premiums in the city the most expensive in the U.S.

3. San Francisco, California

With almost 10,000 registered cars per square mile, San Francisco’s dense car population makes it more difficult for residents to get around the city, much less find a parking space. In addition to congestion, San Francisco residents have to deal with high car costs. Gas averages about $4.23 a gallon, which is almost $0.60 more per gallon than the national average.

4. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s expensive parking is well documented, but the city’s drivers also have to deal with bad weather and high gas prices. Chicago averages 119 days with rain or snow per year. And when Chicagoans finally do dig their cars out from under the snow, they have to pay more than $4 per gallon for gas.

5. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital is also the city with the longest traffic delays; each year, Washington, D.C., drivers will spend an average of 67 hours stopped in traffic on top of their regular commutes. In Autovantage’s 2014 In the Driver’s Seat Road Rage Survey, Washington, D.C., also ranked as the fourth least courteous city for drivers.

6. Seattle, Washington

Precipitation can cause many difficult weather-related road conditions, including slick roads and poor visibility, and Seattle averages 150 days with either rain or snow per year. Because weather and traffic can make maneuvering through the city in a car challenging, many Seattle locals choose to ride bikes instead – 4.1% of Seattle residents commute to work by bike, much more than the 1.16% national average.

7. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston drivers have to deal with a lot. The city is one of the densest cities in the United States, and its drivers spend more than two full days a year in extra traffic delays – 53 hours. Bostonians also have to deal with bad weather; it averages 120 days of either rain or snow per year. The pain doesn’t just end with bad weather and congestion. Boston drivers who receive points on their driving records from moving violations will likely see insurance increases for six years, which can cost them upward of a thousand dollars.

8. Miami, Florida

Florida is often thought of as a sunny escape, but its residents know that it rains a lot in Miami. It averages 126 days of precipitation per year. Besides dealing with weather-related road conditions, Miami drivers have to deal with high car insurance prices. The average Miami driver pays a whopping $1,750.10 for car insurance each year.

9. Honolulu, Hawaii

Besides having the highest gas prices in the country at $4.35, Honolulu drivers also have to deal with Hawaii’s expensive car registration fees. Hawaii is 1 of 13 states that collect registration taxes based on vehicle weight, which means that drivers with trucks or vans end up paying far higher fees than drivers with sports cars.

10. Oakland, California

Oakland drivers spend 61 hours a year in traffic. Luckily, for Oakland drivers, they can enjoy good weather while they are stuck in traffic. It only averages 66 days of precipitation per year. But when commuters finally do reach their destination, they can expect to pay a lot for parking. Both San Francisco and Oakland were rated as some of the worst cities in the United States for parking.


Rank City Annual Hours of Delay per Commuter Population Density (People per Square Mile) Average Gas Price Average Insurance Premium Average Number of Days with Precipitation per Year Overall Score for Car Owners
1 New York City 59 27,012.4 $3.95 $1,614.71 113 32.73
2 Detroit 40 5,144.3 $3.90 $4,924.99 128 38.95
3 San Francisco 61 17,179.2 $4.23 $1,013.90 67 43.70
4 Chicago 51 11,841.8 $4.12 $1,243.52 119 44.65
5 Washington 67 9,856.5 $3.89 $1,390.88 111 45.49
6 Seattle 48 7,250.9 $3.94 $1,016.86 150 49.25
7 Boston 53 12,792.7 $3.69 $1,174.50 120 52.06
8 Miami 47 11,135.9 $3.66 $1,750.10 126 52.40
9 Honolulu 45 5,572.6 $4.35 $948.38 88 53.19
10 Oakland 61 7,004.0 $4.11 $979.41 66 54.18
11 Philadelphia 48 11379.5 3.715 $1,278.20 113 55.02
12 Los Angeles 61 8092.3 4.157 $1,175.61 32 56.72
13 Portland 44 4375.3 3.876 $1,251.04 123 57.19
14 Cleveland 31 5107.2 3.914 $796.54 150 58.67
15 Louisville 35 1836.6 3.874 $1,783.94 119 60.48

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.

Cars stuck in traffic image via Shutterstock.

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