Does Utah have the worst drivers? An investigation.

Utah simply has the worst drivers. Right?

I’ve heard this claim so many times, both from locals and non-locals alike, that I basically believed it. After all, it’s not uncommon for me to get in trouble with other drivers while driving, and we’ve all been in many accidents on I-15 and elsewhere.

But I also know how fun it is to complain about bad drivers—no one makes small talk about how smooth the commute to work was. I’m also familiar with the exceptionalism bias: the idea that people tend to believe their circumstances are outside the norm. Is driving in Utah really worse than most other places?

So I thought about all the pertinent points of evidence one would need to examine to examine the quality of a state’s driving behavior, and then looked up how Utah ranked on each of those points. Does Utah really have the worst drivers or is this just a lie we tell ourselves?

Where does Utah stand in traffic deaths per capita?

Car accidents in which people die are recorded very well by the federal government. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks accident fatalities and death tolls from auto, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents. In 2021, Utah had 328 traffic fatalities, or 9.8 per 100,000 state residents. That’s the 13th safest in the US and well below the national average.

What about fatalities per mile driven?

But of course, it’s possible that Utahns drive fewer cars per capita than other states. After all, there are more young kids in Utah who can’t drive than anywhere else. That doesn’t explain it though – in fact the numbers go down when you factor in the miles driven. Utah ranks eighth in traffic deaths per mile driven.

Incidentally, the low death rate is not primarily due to the type of cars Utah residents drive. Yes, 30% of Utah traffic fatalities occurred in SUVs, compared to 26% nationally. But that’s not a huge outlier, as it’s ranked 14th nationally.

Are cyclists or pedestrians more at risk in Utah than other states?

Streetlight, a transportation data company, ranked all 50 states for bicycle deaths per capita and miles traveled. Utah was the 8th safest state per capita and the 5th safest state by bike miles. In terms of pedestrian fatalities per capita, Utah ranks ninth safest in the latest NHTSA report.

What about non-fatal accidents?

However, the vast majority of accidents are not fatal. Of the accidents reported to the police, only about 1 in 200 ends in a fatality – and it is estimated that 44% of all accidents end up not being called to the police at all. It’s actually quite difficult to find state data on these accidents because NHTSA doesn’t report these statistics on that basis.

But we can be creative when it comes to finding out about them. The NHTSA tracks the estimated economic impact of auto accidents in terms of medical costs, auto repair or replacement costs, and even lost productivity costs. Per capita car accidents cost Utahns $874 a year, far below the US average of $1,035. Both figures correspond to 1.8% of total average personal income per capita.

Where does Utah rank in DUIs?

Utah has a lower percentage of drinkers than other states, but also a lower threshold for arrests for drinking and driving. In the end, how does Utah compare? In 2019, following the enactment of the .05 BAC law, Utah had 266 DUI arrests per 100,000 residents. That’s the 18th safest in the States. In addition, Utah ranks 45th in alcohol-related deaths per capita, one of the lowest in the country.

What About Other Types of Illegal Dangerous Driving?

In 2021, 33% of Utah traffic fatalities were related to speeding, higher than the state average of 29%. Yet Utah ranks 21st nationwide for the percentage of speeding fatalities. Data on speeding tickets, rather than speeding deaths, is harder to find, but insurance company Insurify listed the top 10 states based on how many of their claimants had speeding tickets on their records; Utah, while not in the top 10, had an above-average number of speeding tickets.

In distracted driving, only 6% of fatal accidents were caused by a distracted driver. This is the 16th safest. Wrong-way driving is particularly dangerous, but accounted for only about 1% of fatal accidents in Utah. The 21st place is the safest.

But Utah is the seventh most dangerous state when it comes to hit and run; According to Insurify, seven drivers in Utah for every 10,000 drivers committed a hit-and-run.

Utah residents rank average for seat belt use: 91.8% of Utah residents wear their seat belts, compared to 91.6% nationally.

How Does Utah Score for Auto Insurance Costs and Claims?

Accordingly, auto insurance companies charge more when they have to pay out more (and more expensive) claims. They adjust their rates based on the state. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Utah’s rates are the 11th lowest in the US, meaning Utah’s auto insurance spending accounts for 1.22% of median household income.

Insurers also adjust their rates by metro area and zip code, as urban driving is usually more dangerous than rural driving. Of the 200 metro areas rated by Allstate, Salt Lake City was ranked 67th safest in 2019. In SLC, Allstate insurance customers generally had 9.8 years between collisions. Taking the weather into account, Salt Lake City ranks 104th – a bit below average, but nowhere near the bottom of the list.

What about dangerous driving that doesn’t lead to accidents?

Because Allstate provides telemetry readers to a large proportion of its insured drivers, the company also has data on near misses. Every time someone hits the brakes, Allstate counts it as a “hard braking event.” Salt Lake City drivers had 20.56 braking incidents per 1,000 miles driven, which is higher than the national average of 19 per 1,000 miles driven. However, it’s below average for an urban area in the US

Zendrive, a company with access to data on 4.5 million drivers nationwide, says Utah is the 19th safest place for the amount of time drivers look at their phones while driving. In Utah, 6.2% of driving time was spent on the phone, and while that sounds like a lot, it’s less than the national average.

A 2017 study using data from 150,000 Android phones also ranked Utah as the seventh fastest state. 15% of the time Utahns drove over 70 miles per hour.

What about plain, annoying driving?

Lurking in the left lane, stealing a parking space, not letting someone pull in, not using the turn signal…all would be considered rude driving.

Unfortunately, we don’t have good data on this subject for each state. Instead, we rely on various surveys with relatively small sample sizes to determine discourtesy driving.

In 2017, the Kars4Kids #DriveHuman campaign surveyed 50 drivers from each state about their polite driving habits. In the end, Utah finished 12th for the most polite drivers overall. In a rating system where A+ stood for polite driving and F for rude driving, the state received a C for speeding to stop someone from overtaking; a B- in how its drivers respond to slow driving, use turn signals, and allow people to merge into heavy traffic; a B+ in stealing parking; and an A+ for being rude in heavy traffic. has now surveyed 2,000 people nationwide about their driving habits; If they used a proportional number from each state, that would be 20 respondents from Utah. They ranked Utah as the tenth rudest state, noting in particular the speeding in Utah.

And a Forbes poll of 5,000 nationwide (or about 50 Utahns) ranked Utah as the most confrontational driving state. As Forbes writes, “Utah residents were the most common (76%) nationally to report that another driver in their home state honked at them in frustration. More than half (58%) of Utah survey respondents said they had been the victim of a rude or offensive gesture while driving. Utah drivers were the second most likely to say that another motorist had tailgated them (73%) and that another motorist exceeded the speed limit just to prevent them from changing lanes (47%).

Ultimately, I just don’t know if the sample size of 20 to 50 Utahns surveyed is large enough to really tell how we compare to the rest of the country. If you poll so few people, some studies will show that Utah has very nice drivers and others will say we have very mean drivers just because of random selection bias. We see that above.

It’s worth noting that also ranked Utah as the state with the worst drivers. The company doesn’t use a survey method, but instead pulls data from people searching for car insurance quotes. QuoteWizard cites the state as “ranking #1 in all dangerous driving categories — Utah ranks first for speeding, second for subpoenas, fifth for accidents, and eighth for drink-driving.”

However, I am also skeptical about this report. We have great federal government DUI data nationwide that puts Utah nowhere near 8th. The speed data also doesn’t match what I could find.

And perhaps more tellingly, if Utah actually ranked 5th in accident frequency, we probably wouldn’t have relatively cheap auto insurance.

Really, I keep coming back to this: if Utahns really were the worst drivers, we’d be in more accidents, dying on the road more often, and taking our noses out on our dangerous routes. And instead, we just aren’t — we’re safer than average on most of these metrics. This is true even if you limit the data to just our urban areas.

Utah just has pretty typical riders. Right?

Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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