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Massachusetts? The Safest Place to Drive in the US?

What the hell is he smokin’?, you might ask.  Anyone who has driven in Boston knows that the only way to get anywhere in the city is to completely disregard the laws and any respect one might have for other cars, pedestrians or drivers.  Driving behavior doesn’t change as you leave the city, either – the asylum lets its inmates out at 5 o’clock every day and they take their cars and a full-days worth of pent up frustration on the road with them when they exit the city’s boundaries.  This causes a domino-effect across most of the state – Massachusetts is a pretty small place, after all.

This month’s Car and Driver magazine ranks the 50 states in terms of their “friendliness” to motorists.  They have a pretty complete spreadsheet of all their sources of data available here.  Now, in terms of overall “friendliness”, Massachusetts ranks 20th – I’m shocked it’s that high, actually.  But, one of the factors used in determining “friendliness” is on-road fatalities.  Surprisingly, Massachusetts shines in this category with only 0.87 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  For what it’s worth, Mississippi was the worst in this category with 2.28 and the entire country came in with 1.44.

In trying to figure out what this means.  I immediately asked the question, “well, what about accidents that resulted in injuries, but not death?”  I’m afraid that the data doesn’t cover this.  It could be, after all, that Massachusetts driver’s driving habits just include a blatant disregard for personal property and a strong desire to send a message about who is in control, with no intent or desire to go any further than that.  Perhaps they follow George Carlin’s mocked description of Mohammad Ali’s refusal to go to war.  “I’ll beat ’em up, but I won’t kill ’em.”

Of course, the key to data is how you interpret it and, in this case, the data creates more questions than answers.  The end results are the end results, though, and fewer deaths is always a good thing.  Other than that, you can’t draw much more from the numbers as presented (at least in terms of on-road fatalities, there is plenty of other good information in the data presented).  As Csaba Csere, the author of the article and editor in chief of Car and Driver points out, “I suspect this says more about the higher willingness of Massachusetts drivers to buckle up than it does about their inherent driving talent . . .”

 

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 December 13th, 2006  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 10 Comments

10 Responses to Massachusetts? The Safest Place to Drive in the US?

  1. It may not surprise you that I have a theory about this. I have noticed that when I’m driving slowly and/or passively (not typical – but sometimes it’s the only way to get through Boulder without blowing an artery) is when I have a lot of close calls.  It’s because *driving slowly doesn’t hold my attention*.  If I’m driving more assertively, I have to pay attention and focus on it. In Massachusetts, you pretty much have to drive assertively to get anywhere, as you point out, and you know that there are enough lunatics out there that you’re always at risk of being cut off, someone passing you on the shoulder, etc.  So – you pay attention – because you have to – and so you’re more likely to have time to respond when something *does* happen. That’s my theory.

  2. It may not surprise you that I have a theory about this.

    I have noticed that when I’m driving slowly and/or passively (not typical – but sometimes it’s the only way to get through Boulder without blowing an artery) is when I have a lot of close calls.  It’s because *driving slowly doesn’t hold my attention*.  If I’m driving more assertively, I have to pay attention and focus on it.

    In Massachusetts, you pretty much have to drive assertively to get anywhere, as you point out, and you know that there are enough lunatics out there that you’re always at risk of being cut off, someone passing you on the shoulder, etc.  So – you pay attention – because you have to – and so you’re more likely to have time to respond when something *does* happen.

    That’s my theory.

  3. I’d be interested in the average speed per commute, it’s hard to rack up a bunch of fatalites if you’re not averaging over 20mph…

  4. I’d be interested in the average speed per commute, it’s hard to rack up a bunch of fatalites if you’re not averaging over 20mph…

  5. True.  The spreadsheet has speed limits, which is almost useless, especially in Massachusetts.  One reason why speed limits may not matter is that in Massachusetts, there are very few roads that are actually straight and there are a huge number of intersections that involve traffic coming together from 5 or more directions.  Actual speeds aren’t indicative of what happens in these, of course, it’s all about beating the other guy through the intersection at whatever speed is necessary 😉

  6. True.  The spreadsheet has speed limits, which is almost useless, especially in Massachusetts.  One reason why speed limits may not matter is that in Massachusetts, there are very few roads that are actually straight and there are a huge number of intersections that involve traffic coming together from 5 or more directions.  Actual speeds aren’t indicative of what happens in these, of course, it’s all about beating the other guy through the intersection at whatever speed is necessary 😉

  7. well, I am always surprised when people talk about how driving in MA is bad etc. I think it’s a stereotype. I traveled all over the country and I lived in several of European countries. I have been living in Boston for almost 8 years now and I tell you – for that matter Boston and MA is no different than any other place in the US and in fact better than some places in the US and much better than some European locations. Frankly I am sick of hearing how bad driving in MA is. Have you been to somewhere else to judge?

  8. well, I am always surprised when people talk about how driving in MA is bad etc. I think it’s a stereotype. I traveled all over the country and I lived in several of European countries. I have been living in Boston for almost 8 years now and I tell you – for that matter Boston and MA is no different than any other place in the US and in fact better than some places in the US and much better than some European locations.

    Frankly I am sick of hearing how bad driving in MA is. Have you been to somewhere else to judge?

  9. Hey ds, thanks for the comment. Of course, you’re right.  The legend of Boston driving is far worse than the reality.  For those who come from places where commuting isn’t considered a sport, though, it truly is a bizarre driving experience.  It’s not so much that the driving is bad, it’s that it’s very aggressive and is on roads that are laid out as the cattle and oxen that cut them decided to walk.   The ignorance of the merging vehicle trying to get into your lane.  The stomp on the accelerator to keep someone from turning in front of you.  Barreling down the shoulder of the road to skip by a line of traffic.  While Boston doesn’t have a monopoly on these actions, its reputation as being a crazy place to drive is far from inaccurate. I was at the Patriots game today in Foxboro.  Ask anyone who was trying to get onto Rt 1 whether they think Massachusetts drivers are courteous or safe.  My guess is that the vast majority will have the same answer. You ask if I’ve been somewhere else to judge.  Well, I haven’t been everywhere, certainly, but lived in several locations on both the East and West Coasts of the US as an active driver, including daily commutes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and NYC at times.  I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in almost all Western European countries.  It doesn’t sound like as much as you have, though.  I have had the opportunity to drive many times in each, however – it’s a passion of mine, so I do it as often as possible.  I’d say I’ve also had the chance to drive in most metropolitan areas in the US having traveled extensively for business. None of this is to say that I’m any kind of expert at judging what is bad or aggressive driving – I’m one of those aggressive drivers, after all.  And, as you say, there are cities that are worse.  Rome is MUCH worse than Boston.  Paris is pretty bad as well.  Miami’s a tough place in the US – probably my least favorite.  Earlier this year, AutoVantage  (the auto club) ranked Boston as the fifth least courteous city to drive in in the US (http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2006/05/16/006847.html).  The other four were substantially larger cities (New York, LA, Miami, and Phoenix).  Personally, I find drivers in all of those other than Miami to be much nicer than most Bostonians.  In New York’s case, louder, but more predictable. While I’d have to disagree that “Boston and MA is no different than any other place in the US,” I’m with you that it doesn’t bother me in the least.  In fact, I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m bored to tears on freeways in California, for example. I think you’re right.  The image of poor driving in Boston is a stereotype.  Like most stereotypes, though, it’s based on reality.  Perhaps overblown over all the years – I think that the driving’s gotten better in my 25 years in Boston – but nonetheless, the fact that Boston drivers are more aggressive and a bit more rude than in most places remains true.  That’s my opinion, anyway.  I may be wrong, but I’m certainly not I’m alone with it. BTW – there’s a funny article on this topic from the Boston Phoenix if you’re interested: http://72.166.46.24//boston/news_features/out_there/documents/01528682.htm

  10. Hey ds, thanks for the comment.

    Of course, you’re right.  The legend of Boston driving is far worse than the reality.  For those who come from places where commuting isn’t considered a sport, though, it truly is a bizarre driving experience.  It’s not so much that the driving is bad, it’s that it’s very aggressive and is on roads that are laid out as the cattle and oxen that cut them decided to walk.  

    The ignorance of the merging vehicle trying to get into your lane.  The stomp on the accelerator to keep someone from turning in front of you.  Barreling down the shoulder of the road to skip by a line of traffic.  While Boston doesn’t have a monopoly on these actions, its reputation as being a crazy place to drive is far from inaccurate.

    I was at the Patriots game today in Foxboro.  Ask anyone who was trying to get onto Rt 1 whether they think Massachusetts drivers are courteous or safe.  My guess is that the vast majority will have the same answer.

    You ask if I’ve been somewhere else to judge.  Well, I haven’t been everywhere, certainly, but lived in several locations on both the East and West Coasts of the US as an active driver, including daily commutes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and NYC at times.  I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in almost all Western European countries.  It doesn’t sound like as much as you have, though.  I have had the opportunity to drive many times in each, however – it’s a passion of mine, so I do it as often as possible.  I’d say I’ve also had the chance to drive in most metropolitan areas in the US having traveled extensively for business.

    None of this is to say that I’m any kind of expert at judging what is bad or aggressive driving – I’m one of those aggressive drivers, after all.  And, as you say, there are cities that are worse.  Rome is MUCH worse than Boston.  Paris is pretty bad as well.  Miami’s a tough place in the US – probably my least favorite.  Earlier this year, AutoVantage  (the auto club) ranked Boston as the fifth least courteous city to drive in in the US (http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2006/05/16/006847.html).  The other four were substantially larger cities (New York, LA, Miami, and Phoenix).  Personally, I find drivers in all of those other than Miami to be much nicer than most Bostonians.  In New York’s case, louder, but more predictable.

    While I’d have to disagree that “Boston and MA is no different than any other place in the US,” I’m with you that it doesn’t bother me in the least.  In fact, I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m bored to tears on freeways in California, for example.

    I think you’re right.  The image of poor driving in Boston is a stereotype.  Like most stereotypes, though, it’s based on reality.  Perhaps overblown over all the years – I think that the driving’s gotten better in my 25 years in Boston – but nonetheless, the fact that Boston drivers are more aggressive and a bit more rude than in most places remains true.  That’s my opinion, anyway.  I may be wrong, but I’m certainly not I’m alone with it.

    BTW – there’s a funny article on this topic from the Boston Phoenix if you’re interested: http://72.166.46.24//boston/news_features/out_there/documents/01528682.htm

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