Pointing a finger at the District’s worst drivers, accident data tells the tale


D.C. residents experienced 11,007 crashes in 2012, 37 percent of the city’s total that year. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite quiz show, D.C. Traffic Nightmares!

Today’s question: If you’re involved in a traffic crash in the District, chances are the other driver is:

1. A Virginian desperately searching for a bridge home.

2. A Marylander headed to Georgetown for a haircut.

3. A D.C. resident caught in the zany crisscrossing of traffic.

4. A bewildered tourist holding a map of downtown upside down.

This matters only because human beings, with an emotion that often strays into the province of bigotry, tend to blame whole classes of people other than themselves for their woes.

Well, it’s somebody’s fault, and in 2012 people who have D.C. driver’s licenses were involved in more of the 29,725 crashes that occurred in the city than anyone else, according to an analysis of crash statistics by Howard University’s Transportation Safety Data Center.

D.C. residents experienced 11,007 crashes that year, 37 percent of the city’s total.

Drivers from Maryland were a close second, with 33 percent of the total. But those Old Line State drivers were better behaved — or luckier — than in the two previous years, when they were the city’s leading metal crunchers, with more than 37 percent of the total each year.

Virginians? Veritable saints when driving through the nation’s capital city.

At their worst, in 2011, Virginians had a part in just 14 percent of all crashes in the city. They had a tad fewer in the years on either side of 2011.

And the tourists? Hard to say.

Between 8 and 9 percent of the crashes during the three years studied involved drivers from other states. But alert drivers in the region take note that there are tens of thousands of military people who live here but retain out-of-state licenses.

Then there is the unexplained category designated “unknown.” Those unknown drivers account for between 1,000 and 2,400 crashes each year.

Cities have their reputations. Bad reputations, that is. The first thing a friend will tell you after a visit to, say, Kansas City, is not that the drivers there were so nice.

But on return from Boston you may hear “it’s like demolition derby,” or after a visit to Philadelphia, “They all floor it when the light turns yellow.”

The worst city of them all?

That would be Washington, D.C.

In its annual report, “America’s Best Drivers,” Allstate Insurance company rates the District dead last among 200 big cities. Second to last? That would be Baltimore, suggesting that the skills of Maryland drivers are somewhat suspect.

The Allstate analysis says D.C. drivers go 4.8 years between accidents. At the other end of the spectrum, drivers in Fort Collins, Colo., are involved in fender-benders every 13.9 years, on average. Philadelphia? Every six years. New York? Every 7.3 years. Boston? It gets a pass in the ratings because Massachusetts doesn’t keep records that allow comparison to other cities.

Overall, D.C. drivers are 109.3 percent more likely to get into a crash than the national average. Fort Collins is 28.2 percent below that average.

Driving in D.C. can be deadly, too — 15 deaths in 2012 — and both crashes and insurance are expensive. The District’s average annual $1,800 insurance bill is the highest in the region.

“With an average of 82 crashes per day and a litigious lawyer virtually on every street corner, auto insurance premiums can be very expensive,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “The estimated economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes in the city was just shy of $1 billion in 2010 or $1,659 per capita.”

Nationally, the total cost of crashes in 2010 was calculated at $871 billion, according to a report last month from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The federal agency pegged the economic cost at $277 billion and the value of the societal harm at $594 billion.

“Beyond medical costs, exorbitant insurance claims and property damage, some of these costs are paid directly by government through Medicaid, police, paramedics and courts,” Townsend said. “Many other costs — like lost wages, traffic delays and reduced quality of life — don’t show up directly, but also reflect the very large, very real cost of crashes.”

Perhaps surprisingly, 54 percent of crash deaths occur in rural areas, where just 19 percent of the population lives, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The D.C. crash statistics revealed that men were twice as likely as women to be involved in crashes. Drivers in the 26-30 age group had the highest number of crashes (10 percent), followed by the next age bracket, 31-35 (9 percent). Rookie drivers, ages 16-20, were involved in just 2 percent of crashes.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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