- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

Are Washington’s motorists the worst in the nation? One report released last week suggests we are. Insurance giant Allstate ranked Washington dead last among 196 U.S. cities with 100,000-plus residents for frequency of accidents. Allstate accounted for weather and construction to get a clear picture of who has the most fender-benders, and it’s not pretty for Washington.

D.C. drivers have an accident every 5.2 years by Allstate’s reckoning, which makes us slightly worse than Newark, N.J. (every 5.3 years), noticeably worse than Los Angeles (7.2), Chicago (7.4) or New York City (7.7), and well under the national average of 10 years.

As if to confirm our worst suspicions, the problem extends to the suburbs. Alexandria and Arlington join Elizabeth, N.J., to round out the bottom five places in the country. In those two Virginia communities, residents have accidents every 5.4 and 5.5 years, respectively. Baltimore isn’t much better: In Charm City, it’s a crash every 6.5 years, or 189th in the country. It would have been interesting to know how the Maryland suburbs fare, but since none has 100,000 or more residents, towns like Rockville and Upper Marlboro are too small for the Allstate study.

What accounts for accident-prone metro Washington? No doubt the city’s poor traffic conditions must account for most of the problem. Washington ranked third-worst in the country for hours wasted behind in the wheel in the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2005 urban mobility report. Only in Los Angeles and San Francisco do drivers sit in traffic longer. Thus, the temptation to run yellows and reds, and increase the likelihood of a crash. L’Enfant’s city layout of criss-crossing avenues on a grid probably plays into the numbers as well.

Speaking with The Washington Times, Allstate spokesman William Mellander stressed that the results are meant to highlight what’s going right in the best-driving communities in the country — Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D., where drivers go 15 and 13.8 years between accidents on average, respectively — and that Washington’s poor numbers do not necessarily prove that the nation’s capital is a bad place to drive. Still, even Mr. Mellander admits that “the numbers speak for themselves.” Which they do.

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