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Jun 242013
This map shows the maximum posted daytime speed limits on rural interstates.  TX is fastest at 85, the grey states are all 75.

This map shows the maximum posted daytime speed limits on rural interstates. TX is fastest at 85, the grey states are all 75.

What would life be like without cars and other forms of motorized transportation?  That’s a question we’ll almost surely find the answer to in a future Level 2/3 situation, but until such time, having convenient transportation is an essential part of our lifestyle.

Actually, convenient transportation will become even more vital in a Level 2/3 situation in the future, in a scenario where you might be more reliant on horse or other animal power rather than gas/diesel power.  These new constraints will completely redefine what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable transportation issues/constraints, and some of the present day issues (eg congestion) will probably disappear entirely.  We’ll also see the gradual decay and diminishing of our amazing current national roading system, bridges will fail, and so on.

But the future issues and challenges are a matter for other articles.  In this article, we mainly look at many of the issues associated with present transportation.  These issues impact on the desirability of potential locations as retreats, because hopefully for the indefinite future, life will continue as normal, and our experiences will be shaped by present day issues rather than by the challenges of TEOTWAWKI.

There’s another reason for looking at such issues as well.  How a state legislates for traffic matters gives you an oblique perspective of how intrusive and controlling the state wishes to be in the lives of its citizens.  The more traffic laws, and the higher the penalties, the more likely there are to be too many laws on too many other things too, and draconian penalties for all sorts of other minor offenses too.

Here are a number of criteria to consider when choosing retreat locations.  Our map graphic at the start of this article touches on one consideration – the freeway speed limits each state allows.  You can see a larger size map here, and this page has a more detailed table of data for each state.

If you are like us, you’ll probably equate being able to drive faster with a better state in general to live in.  🙂

Driving Safety

Of course, the justification for lower speed limits is usually safety.  Dubious data suggests correlations between traffic speeds and traffic safety.  We’re not going to argue the point about how fast is too fast, but we will definitely agree that there are very large differences between states in terms of vehicle accident rates.

The most relevant measure of the safety (or danger, if you prefer) of driving in each state is to look at the deaths per 100 million miles traveled.  This is more relevant than the deaths per 100,000 of population, because some states have people driving much greater distances than others.  Here’s a table that shows this data both ways.  The safest state was MA, while the most dangerous state was MT, with nearly three times the rate of fatalities (1.79 per 100 million vehicle miles in MT, 0.62 in MA).

One word about the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  We’ve used their data for many of the elements we look at in this article, but we also understand them to be funded by a group with a massive vested interest in the matter – insurance companies.  What is the vested interest that insurance companies have about road safety?  That’s a good question, and there are two possible answers.

The first answer is that by making the roads safer, insurance companies can lower their premiums and also make more profit from lower premiums, because they don’t need to pay out on accidents as often.  That’s obviously the positive view.  But there’s a second answer, too – by encouraging states to penalize more and more types of driving, the insurance companies create opportunities to raise insurance premiums based on a driver’s ‘safety record’.  Some cynics feel that this may be the stronger motivation.  We make no statement, but we do point out that there are both these issues driving the apparently laudable promotion of safety issues by the IIHS.

What about the role of alcohol in fatal accidents?  Less is known about this than you might think, because not all drivers involved in fatal accidents have their blood alcohol tested.  Furthermore, the total numbers of cases by state are surprisingly low, so statistically, the answers are not always very significant.  You can see a table here, however, and most of the states score very similarly to each other.

These days all states have a limit of 0.08g of alcohol/100ml of blood, but penalties vary.  This table shows how severely different states treat DUI/DWI.

Driving Costs

The cost of driving varies appreciably from state to state.  The main variations in cost are insurance, gas prices, and registration costs.

This table lists typical insurance costs by vehicle, ranging from the most expensive states (LA, MI and GA – $2699, $2520 and $2155) to the least expensive states (NC, IA, ME – $1085, $1028, $934).

This table shows the cost for a vehicle title and annual registration by state, although it seems to us that some states have additional fees imposed by city and county authorities in addition to the state fees shown in the table.

Fuel taxes hit you every time you go to the pump.  This table has 2010 data by state, including not just a simple statement of how much is taken in state and local gas taxes out of every gallon, but some additional data too.  Page 8 probably has the best table, highlighting the huge range in tax levels, from a high of 58.1c/gallon in IL to a low of 8.0c in AK (or 14.0c in the lower 48 states, in WY).

Depending on where your retreat would be located, and where you might regularly drive, you might find yourself up for turnpike fees too.  Here’s a list of toll roads in the US and here’s some more data on the fees they charge.

Seat Belts, Helmets, and Phones

A difficult compromise that all states, counties and cities have to wrestle with is where to draw the line between allowing their citizens the freedom to make wrong/foolish decisions on the one hand, and insisting on proper/best behavior on the other hand.

We make no value judgments about these issues, but you might find the different ways that different states respond to some of these bellwether issues to be illuminating.

The first of the big three issues is requiring people to wear seat belts.  Although all states except NH now require front seat passengers to wear seat belts, there are different approaches to enforcing the law, and a wide variation in terms of special child restraint laws.

This map distinguishes between states that have seat belt laws as a primary enforcement item, and those with it as a lesser secondary enforcement item.  This map shows the age below which children have to be in an appropriate restraint system, and this table has detailed information on state seat belt and child restraint laws.

A related topic is requiring riders on motorbikes and bicycles to wear safety helmets.  Only 19 states require all motorbikers to have helmets, and 28 more require helmets of some riders (eg younger riders).  As for bicycles, 21 states have bicycle helmet laws, although none apply to all riders, state-wide (but there may be county or city laws applying to all riders).

This map shows motorbike helmet laws by state, and this map shows bicycle helmet laws by state.  Here is a table with information on the applicability of such laws.

The third of the ‘big three’ things is the use of cell phones while driving.  Hand-held cell phone use while driving is banned in 11 states, and text messaging is banned in 41 states.  This map shows state laws on hand-held cell phone use, and this map shows state laws on texting while driving.  Here is a table of information about these two issues.

Traffic Enforcement Issues

Depending on your perspective, states that are less aggressive at traffic enforcement either show a wanton disregard for the importance of human life, or perhaps, alternatively, are less intrusive and obsessive at controlling every last detail of our lives.

In particular, we have a strong dislike of states that aggressively use photo-radar and red-light cameras.  Again, opinions differ, but there are credible concerns widely expressed that suggest such devices primarily exist to make money for the local authorities (and for the companies that operate them under contract).  Too often we’ve read about cases where traffic lights have their timings changed (ie shorter orange light times) when red-light cameras are installed, and speed cameras are as likely to be located where normal average speeds are high as they are in areas where accident rates are significant.

This table on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website lists state and local policies on the use of such devices.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an interesting summary table of state policies and penalties for speeding and ‘reckless driving’ (a concept which is very subjective) and more detailed information on each state from this menu.

We really don’t like states which potentially can jail first time speeding offenders.  Of course, that almost never happens, and if you’re speeding truly fast, then even in a non-jailable state, you can find yourself locked up, because the officer who stops you will simply upgrade your ticket to reckless/dangerous driving or some other more serious charge.

Traffic Congestion

No-one likes getting stuck in traffic, but it seems to be an unavoidable part of living in any moderate to large-sized city.  For many reasons, all ultimately being, of course, based on money, few if any roads are built to a traffic handling capacity such that they can conveniently handle not only average volumes of traffic but also peak surge volumes.

However, your retreat is unlikely to be anywhere near a big city, so we’ll ignore those issues (but here’s a good starting point if this is relevant to you).

Instead, let’s look at more rural parts of the country, and traffic flows there.  Here’s a map showing freight traffic movements across the country (we think it dates back to 2010 or earlier).  It provides an interesting perspective on where commercial traffic flows across the country.

Looking ahead, here’s a second map that shows only the extra amounts of freight traffic expected to be added in addition to the freight traffic already shown in the first map, above.  That gives you a good impression of where future traffic will be appearing.

Both these two maps were taken from this report.

Here’s a more forward-looking map, showing projected truck traffic in 2035.

In addition to simple traffic, how about congestion?  This map shows the predicted level of congestion on freeways and other major roads in 2020, and this map adds more secondary routes to its 2020 congestion display.  Both are taken from this report.

Other Transportation Issues

There are many other considerations that you might want to also evaluate.  For example, here’s a map that ranks states by the quality of their bridges and what percent are deficient and in need of priority repair/replacement.  PA is the worst state, FL the best.

This map is part of a fascinating website that gives you detailed information about all the road bridges in your area.  That’s a relevant issue to understand, because it gives you a clue to what may happen in the future WTSHTF and road maintenance stops – how long before the essential bridges in your area start collapsing?

A related, but more difficult to get hard data on, issue is that to do with road maintenance needs in general.  For example, do you have roads along hill-sides that are subject to landslides falling onto the road, or slips/floods washing the road away?  Do you have roads lined by large trees that could fall over and block the road?

Another issue to consider is snow removal in winter.  If you’re in an area with appreciable winter-time snow, what happens to the major and minor roads in your area?  Will you get snowed in, and if so, would it be for a few days or might it be for many months?  As for WTSHTF, there’ll of course be no snow removal in that type of scenario.  What will you do in that situation?

A related part of these questions is to consider what the potential seasonal problems could be if/when you need to bug-out to your retreat.  How much of the year might the roads be impassable?  Are there any major risks on the routes you would have to take that may interfere with your bug-out plans?


The quality of our roading system, its reliability, and the associated costs of traveling by private vehicle are essential aspects of our present normal life.  At the present, they are factors to consider in choosing a retreat location.

In the future, if a Level 2/3 situation does eventuate, some issues will become irrelevant, but other ones will become vitally important.  You need to consider both present and future issues when weighing transportation considerations as part of your retreat selection process.


David Spero[suffusion-the-author display='description']

  2 Responses to “Transportation Rankings by State”

Comments (2)
  1. Finally got a little time to sit down and read some more of your articles here, over the holidays! Still monitoring the most interesting topic (“Why cities will unavoidably become lawless in a crisis…”), and slowing working on establishing our own retreat site, as time and money permit.

    I was interested to see the stats on Montana being the most dangerous state for driving, in terms of deaths per vehicle miles. Do you think that is mainly due to people driving very fast over the often large distances – i.e. when there IS an accident, it is more likely to be fatal? Or is a lot of it due to cold weather and icy roads…or a little of both?

    Just wondering, have you seen the recent articles about the movement to break up California into 6 or so states? I love the idea myself – I’d love to move to “Jefferson” if it becomes a reality – but the very reasons such a move would be a great advantage to the citizens in the more rural areas, is precisely why the special interests currently in power are unlikely to ever let it happen. …Of course, if the SHTF, and things necessarily break down into smaller chunks for local management…then I expect the power base will shift quite a bit, and even if the big cities eventually recover, they will have a heck of a time trying to put that genii back in the bottle, once it has been turned loose of the control of the Sacramento politicians & “environmental” interests.

    Best wishes, & hope you are having a nice holiday!

    • Hi, Julie

      Always nice to hear from you, and I hope you are having/did have a nice holiday too. Glad to see you are using at least some of it productively, by reading through articles here!

      You raise some excellent questions about the underlying reasons for the traffic statistics. I don’t have answers, but it good to always look beyond the simple presentation of ‘results’ and to try and understand what is really making the numbers go up and down. Many times, it isn’t the obvious thing, even though we might be told to believe that it is (the biggest example of this is perhaps global warming – heck, not only is there genuine uncertainty about the causes of global warming, there is also that inconvenient truth that for the last decade or so, there hasn’t been any warming at all).

      There are lots of movements to split many different states into smaller states; sometimes also movements to take counties from several adjoining states and make them into new states. Curiously, almost without exception, these are always right wing/conservative groups seeking to split away from left wing states, and they are also, by definition, minority groups. Because a new state would then put two more senators into government, and because they would be more likely to be Republican rather than Democrat, the Democrat majorities in the states the breakaway movements are within will never, ever, ever agree to such things.

      Your point that there’ll be a shift in the power base if/when/after TSHTF is very astute. But that’s cold comfort for us, today.

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