Best Cities for Car Drivers

Auto Loans, Loans
Best Cities for Car Drivers

Omaha has staked its ground as the best city for drivers, according to a new NerdWallet study. Although many major U.S. cities are notorious for their bumper-to-bumper traffic and poor driving conditions, some metropolitan areas like Omaha buck this trend and offer relatively friendly driving environments. Our study found that four of the top 10 best cities for car drivers are in the Southwest, where drier climates make for better road conditions.

At a glance, the best cities for car drivers

Rank Location Overall score
1 Omaha, Nebraska 76.59
2 Kansas City, Missouri 73.87
3 El Paso, Texas 72.40
4 Salt Lake City, Utah 72.15
5 Albuquerque, New Mexico 72.06
6 Richmond, Virginia 71.72
7 Raleigh, North Carolina 71.37
8 Phoenix, Arizona 71.13
9 Milwaukee, Wisconsin 70.35
10 Tucson, Arizona 69.53

For its rankings, NerdWallet looked at traffic delays and congestion, weather and availability of parking. We also factored in the cost of insurance and gas, which can vary widely from place to place.

[For more information about auto insurance rates, check out NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool.]

NerdWallet’s analysis

NerdWallet analyzed these seven factors to determine the best cities for car drivers:

  • How bad are delays? We examined the average annual hours of delay per year for each location for 30% of the score.
  • How congested is it during peak commute times? To provide an idea of how much congestion you might experience, we looked at the percentage of the population that drives to work during peak commute hours. This is 10% of the score.
  • How’s the weather? Poor weather conditions can make driving dangerous. We looked at the number of days with precipitation for 10% of the score.
  • Is parking available? Once you make it to your destination, lack of parking can cause major headaches. We looked at the number of parking lots and garages per 1,000 commuter vehicles. This is 10% of our score.
  • How much does car insurance cost annually? Insurance is costly and premiums can vary depending on where you live. We found average annual car insurance premiums for each city. Crime, such as car theft, and population density can affect car insurance premiums. This is 10% of the score.
  • How expensive is gas? We looked at average gas prices in each location for 10% of the score.
  • Is there a higher chance for an accident? Accidents can be costly and inconvenient. We looked at the relative likelihood of an accident for each city compared with the national average. This is 20% of the score.

10 best cities for car drivers

1. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha is the best city for car drivers, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. Drivers in Omaha endure only 24 hours of traffic delays each year — nine hours less than the national average and the second-fewest hours of all the places we examined. Omaha also has a lower amount of precipitation, 20 days less than the average, making commutes and errands less stressful.

2. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City drivers don’t have much to complain about when it comes to traffic delays, coming in at 27 hours each year, or six hours less than the national average. Of all the large cities examined, Kansas City has the lowest likelihood of an accident — the flat landscape makes it easier for drivers to navigate.

3. El Paso, Texas

El Paso drivers enjoy sunny weather and car insurance rates lower than other places. The average insurance rate for El Paso drivers is $1,024.83, which is $74.88 less than the national average. Similarly, gas prices are relatively low at $3.31 a gallon, compared with the national average of $3.44. In 2012, there were only 42 days of precipitation here, quite a bit less than the national average of 110 days.

4. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City is often recognized for its scenic routes and natural views. On average, drivers here spend 30 hours each year sitting in traffic, which is three hours less than the U.S. average. Drivers also get a bargain when it comes to insurance, with an average annual rate of $772.23, which is over $300 less than what the nation’s average driver pays.

5. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Drivers in Albuquerque spend four hours less in traffic every year than the U.S. average of 33 hours. The city doesn’t get as much rain, about half as much as other places, making for safer driving. Here, drivers don’t spend as much on car insurance, at an average yearly cost of $961.16, or $138.55 less than the average.

6. Richmond, Virginia

Richmond drivers spend 29 hours each year in traffic, which is 14% less than drivers in other cities. Drivers also benefit from low car insurance prices, at an average annual premium of $875.95 — over $220 less than the national average. However, icy roads are common during wintertime, so drivers should be wary.

7. Raleigh, North Carolina

Out of all the major cities NerdWallet examined, drivers in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, are the least likely to waste time sitting in traffic. Drivers here endured only 23 hours of delays a year, or 10 hours less than the national average. The city has many scenic byways where drivers can view North Carolina’s natural beauty. Drivers also enjoy lower-than-average insurance costs at $828.17, compared with the national average of $1,099.71.

8. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is known for its sprawling desert landscapes — and relatively easy driving conditions. Phoenix gets 28 days of precipitation, making it the driest of all the places we examined. Car owners aren’t getting soaked by insurance premiums, either, with an average annual rate of $1,029.49, over $70 cheaper than the national average.

9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee drivers endure only 28 hours of annual traffic delays, which is five hours less than the average U.S. driver. In addition, Milwaukee drivers are less likely to get into an accident when compared with other drivers in the nation.

10. Tucson, Arizona

It turns out the desert is a good place for driving. Tucson’s sunny climate makes driving easy in a place where insurance costs are considerably lower than in the rest of the nation. The average rate is $810.78, compared with a national average of $1,099.71. In addition, gas prices are 14 cents cheaper per gallon than the national average of $3.44.

Best cities for car drivers 

Rank Location Average annual hours of traffic delays Percent of peak-period commuters per population Days of precipitation Parking garages and lots per 1,000 commuter vehicles Average annual car insurance premium Average gas price Accident likelihood compared with the national average Overall score
1 Omaha, NE 24 55.9% 92 0.21 $1,149.92 $3.23 -11.4% 76.59
2 Kansas City, MO 27 57.0% 98 0.70 $1,236.58 $3.37 -16.8% 73.87
3 El Paso, TX 32 55.9% 42 0.05 $1,024.83 $3.31 0.8% 72.40
4 Salt Lake City, UT 30 55.9% 84 0.64 $772.23 $3.33 3.4% 72.15
5 Albuquerque, NM 29 55.9% 53 0.09 $961.16 $3.28 16.4% 72.06
6 Richmond, VA 29 55.9% 109 1.65 $875.95 $3.40 9.3% 71.72
7 Raleigh, NC 23 57.0% 108 0.27 $828.17 $3.45 10.1% 71.37
8 Phoenix, AZ 35 54.4% 28 0.22 $1,029.49 $3.42 5.7% 71.13
9 Milwaukee, WI 28 55.6% 119 0.60 $1,239.44 $3.41 -5.7% 70.35
10 Tucson, AZ 38 55.8% 44 0.10 $810.78 $3.30 -4.1% 69.53
11 Birmingham, AL 35 55.9% 117 0.57 $828.64 $3.25 -8.3% 68.29
12 Sacramento, CA 32 54.4% 57 0.44 $998.15 $3.75 13.8% 67.58
13 Jacksonville, FL 30 57.0% 109 0.09 $968.71 $3.41 -0.7% 67.57
14 St. Louis, MO 31 57.0% 106 0.76 $1,282.80 $3.31 10.8% 67.29
15 Cleveland, OH 31 56.2% 150 1.71 $796.54 $3.51 9.6% 66.41
16 Oklahoma City, OK 38 55.8% 77 0.07 $1,242.17 $3.09 7.2% 66.36
17 New Orleans, LA 28 53.1% 107 1.04 $2,314.29 $3.29 39.9% 66.22
18 Minneapolis, MN 34 57.0% 108 1.12 $1,373.30 $3.42 8.0% 65.22
19 Columbus, OH 40 57.0% 102 1.80 $941.53 $3.54 4.4% 63.64
20 San Diego, CA 37 54.4% 37 0.58 $818.08 $4.08 13.2% 63.59
21 Memphis, TN 38 57.0% 99 0.34 $1,025.41 $3.24 8.7% 63.57
22 San Antonio, TX 38 57.0% 74 0.15 $1,120.88 $3.32 24.2% 61.93
23 Pittsburgh, PA 39 56.6% 144 4.19 $758.74 $3.65 51.3% 60.25
24 Buffalo, NY 33 48.5% 162 0.34 $1,070.70 $3.74 38.4% 59.27
25 Charlotte, NC 40 57.0% 104 0.22 $815.00 $3.46 16.4% 59.03

Methodology

NerdWallet examined some of the nation’s most populous cities and found the 25 best cities for drivers by analyzing the following factors:

  1. Annual hours of delay: We used traffic congestion data from Texas A&M Transportation Institute. More hours of delay resulted in a lower overall score.
  2. Peak-period commuters per population: We used traffic congestion data from Texas A&M Transportation Institute. A higher percentage of peak-period commuters per population resulted in a lower score.
  3. Days of precipitation: We used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and found days of precipitation in 2012. More days of precipitation resulted in a lower score.
  4. Parking garages and lots per 1,000 commuter vehicles: We used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. More parking garages and lots per 1,000 commuter vehicles resulted in a higher score.
  5. Average annual car insurance premium: We used data from NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool. To determine the average insurance premium increases, we used quotes for eight driver profiles: 27-year-old single men and women and 40-year-old married men and women each driving a Toyota Camry and a Ford Escape. For each driver profile, we used every city’s three cheapest car insurance quotes (to reflect consumer behavior) and to determine our overall average. A more expensive insurance premium resulted in a lower score.
  6. Average gas prices: We used 2014 data from the Council for Community and Economic Research to find average gas prices in each location. Higher gas prices resulted in a lower score.
  7. Accident likelihood compared with that of the national average: We used data from Allstate’s America’s Best Drivers Report. A lower percentage resulted in a higher score.

[Car insurance premium data are from NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool.]


Omaha, Nebraska, image via iStock.

  • Did you find this article helpful?
  • yes   no