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Ten Best Cities For Car Drivers

March 3, 2013
Personal Finance
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The average U.S. household spends a whopping $3,400 on gasoline each year, not to mention the time wasted in traffic or looking for a parking spot.

Although driving in any big city can be a hassle, we picked out the large cities that are least likely to induce road rage.  NerdWallet analyzed the data to bring you a list of the ten best U.S. cities for car drivers, according to the following three questions:

1. Will you be stuck in traffic?  We included the annual hours of traffic delay per commuter in our calculation.  This number represents how many hours commuters spend in their cars, stuck in traffic, in excess of their regular commute time.

2. Is gas expensive? How do gas prices compare to the national urban average? We incorporated the price per gallon of gas in our analysis; specifically, to what extent the price per gallon varies from the national average (across 304 urban areas).

3. Is the city overcrowded? We assessed this through the population density, the number of people per square mile.  Densely packed cities are difficult to drive in and tend to have less available parking because there are many commuters, while drivers in loosely packed cities will have less competition for parking spots and less traffic on the roads.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

To see the most road rage-inducing cities, check out the ten worst cities for car drivers!

Ten best cities for car drivers

 1.     Raleigh, NC

Raleigh gas prices are typically lower than the national urban average.  When combined with the moderate level of delay (23 hours per year per commuter) and moderate population density, it’s easy to see why Raleigh ranks as the best city for car drivers.  Raleigh’s rolling hills make the drive more scenic as well.

2.     Bakersfield, CA

Situated between Fresno and Los Angeles, Bakersfield has incredibly little traffic—drivers only waste 12 hours a year stuck in traffic.  Compared to the 61 hours per year that California drivers spend stuck on the road in San Francisco and Los Angeles, commuting in Bakersfield is a breeze.

3.     Wichita, KS

With few hours of delay per commuter, low gas prices and a low population density for a big city, you can’t go wrong driving in Wichita.  Drivers should watch out for Wichita’s frequent summer thunderstorms, however.

4.     Kansas City, MO

Kansas City has a very low population density and cheap gas.  Additionally, because Kansas City has more boulevards than any other city except Paris, your commute is bound to be scenic.

5.     Tulsa, OK

Although Tulsa drivers experience 32 hours of delay per year, the low cost of gas and low population density make the city better than most for drivers.  However, Tulsa sits right in Tornado Alley, so drivers should be careful of thunderstorms and other inclement weather that can make driving more stressful and dangerous.

6.     Albuquerque, NM

Despite the fact that Albuquerque drivers spend more than one full day per year stuck in traffic, Albuquerque’s low gas costs and moderate population density reduce the stress caused by driving in the city.  Albuquerque also has very little rain, so drivers don’t have to worry about the weather.

7.     Omaha, NE

Omaha drivers spend one full day per year stuck in traffic, which is less than most big cities.  Gas prices are on the low side, and the population density isn’t high enough to make driving too stressful.  Because Omaha is located on the banks of the Missouri River, drives here can be particularly scenic, making the overall driving experience much more pleasant.

8.     El Paso, TX

Although the annual hours of delay per commuter is on the high side, El Paso’s low cost of living means car drivers can get cheap gas, making their commutes less stressful.  El Paso can be very hot, so get ready to roll your windows down.

9.     Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs has a moderately dense population, gas prices slightly below the national urban average and 26 annual hours of delay per commuter, making it a relatively stress-free city for car drivers.  Plus, Colorado Springs is near several large ski resorts, so your car will come in handy for weekend trips.

10.  Fresno, CA

Even though Fresno has a high population density, car drivers are only delayed by 15 hours per year on their daily commute.  Gas prices hover around the national urban average.  Additionally, you can use your car on the weekends to go exploring the nearby national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Rank City Annual hours of delay per commuter % Difference between cost of a gallon of gas and national average Population density (people per square mile) Overall score for car owners
1 Raleigh, NC 23 -10.91% (cheaper than average) 2,826.3 90.9
2 Bakersfield, CA 12 +1.24% (more expensive than average) 2,444.2 88.3
3 Wichita, KS 20 -4.45% 2,400.4 88.1
4 Kansas City, MO 27 -7.30% 1,459.9 87.3
5 Tulsa, OK 32 -10.79% 1,991.9 86.5
6 Albuquerque, NM 29 -7.58% 2,907.6 84.5
7 Omaha, NE 24 -3.35% 3,217.9 83.7
8 El Paso, TX 32 -7.64% 2,543.2 83.2
9 Colorado Springs, CO 26 -2.31% 2,140.6 83.0
10 Fresno, CA 15 +2.54% 4,418.4 82.9


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

  1. Annual hours of delay per commuter from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute
  2. Percent difference between the cost of a gallon of gas from the ACCRA cost of living index and the national urban average of 304 cities
  3. Population density from the 2010 U.S. Census

50 of the biggest U.S. cities were included in this analysis.


Winding road image from Shutterstock