What constitutes a car-friendly city may differ from person to person. For instance, if you're in the market for a new home and collision frequency is a concern, you might peruse the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Accident Reporting System. If you're more worried about vandalism, the National Insurance Crime Bureau's vehicle theft rate list is worth a look.
If, however, you're keen on studies that use more texturized data, or you're mostly apprehensive about finding a parking spot in a big city, then you're in luck.
Best Cities for Drivers Based on a Variety of Flavors
Two lists from NerdWallet and WalletHub weave together a rich tabulation of metrics, digging deeper than the most obvious driving headaches - such as long commutes and delays, both of which figure prominently among the worst cities. But while the two indices' metrics are relatively similar, each weighs them differently.
NerdWallet's list focuses on major cities, comparing them across seven key metrics. Delays and accident rate are weighted heaviest, followed evenly by congestion, weather, parking availability, insurance premiums and gas prices. Its top 10 best driving cities are as follows:
- Omaha, NE
- Kansas City, MO
- El Paso, TX
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Albuquerque, NM
- Richmond, VA
- Raleigh, NC
- Phoenix, AZ
- Milwaukee, WI
- Tucson, AZ*
Even more texturized is WalletHub's roster, which compares the 100 most populated cities along 21 metrics. Like NerdWallet, delays are weighted toward the top, but the heaviest attribute is gas prices. On top of aforementioned factors like weather, commute time, parking and accident rate, WalletHub also computes accident fatality, larceny rates, DUI law stringency, quality of roads and bridges, and number of dealerships per capita, to name a few. Its list of top cities include:
- Scottsdale, AZ
- Tucson, AZ*
- Corpus Christi, TX
- Gilbert, AZ
- Mesa, AZ
- Chandler, AZ
- Reno, NV
- Laredo, TX
- Las Vegas, NV
- Tampa, FL
Although more elaborate, WalletHub's list may be a tad skewed by the slew of less weighted variables, like dealership availability and DUI "harshness" - especially if you already own a car and have a contingency plan for nights on the town. It does, however, break its list down into sub-categories (lowest accident likelihood, lowest car-theft rate, etc.). This allows you to pinpoint criteria that are of highest priority.
How Metrics Come Hand-in-Hand
As denoted by an asterisk (*), you may have noticed that Tucson ranks on both lists. In fact, the top cities on both lists are predominantly in the Southwest, where climates are drier and roads more forgiving. It's therefore not so surprising that an Arizona city appeared multiple times. This also alludes to other important correlations, some of which may be less obvious.
Take, for example, the list of cities with the longest commute times by Inrix, a transportation analytics firm. Of its top seven cities, three appeared on WalletHub's "Highest Accident Likelihood" sub-category, from which three cities, in turn, earned top 14 spots on another NerdWallet study - most expensive cities for car insurance. In fact, between WalletHub and NerdWallet's lists, there's another correlation, that of high auto theft rates and, again, higher insurance premiums.
How commute times sync up with accident rates may not be a shocker. More interesting, perhaps, are the ways in which high auto accident and car theft rates correlate with expensive insurance policies - not to mention, how it all comes full circle.
Individual insurance premiums are determined, in part, by accident rates and vandalism in the policyholder's region. This is why cities with higher rates of auto theft or collisions may also have higher premiums for those who live there. Likewise, poor highway infrastructure and/or high population density are more apt to have longer commute times and thus greater incidents of collisions. So, if a city has, say, high population density and a substandard highway system, there's a decent chance other variables will be impacted, such as driving safety and insurance.
If Big City Parking is the Biggest Concern
Is your next move to the big city? Commuting and traffic accidents aside, one of the biggest travails of moving to a bustling metro is parking - not only finding it, but also having to pay for it. And for potential buyers, scarce parking and high parking prices can be a deal-breaker.
That's why if you're moving to a major city like San Francisco or one of New York's five boroughs, the app Parknav may prove hugely beneficial. Using a color-coded system (much like Google Maps does for traffic), this app allows drivers to find parking-friendly streets. Plus, their website allows users to search real-time parking conditions in over 70 cities in the U.S. and Germany to get a gauge of parking conditions in a given neighborhood.
Additionally, back in the beginning of 2016, ParkNav partnered with Trulia to identify the best and worst places to park in seven major cities, including New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn), Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon) and Washington, D.C. Parking scores ranged from 0 to 100. Although the study was mainly focused on renters, prospective homeowners can also benefit from their list of ample-parking neighborhoods and hone in on promising new digs.
While there may be no exhaustive register of car-friendly cities, these lists do offer a starting point, whether based on your personal concerns or those you may not have considered before—like the number of auto repair shops, or the average cost of new cars, in the area. If driving is your passion, it may be best to steer clear of densely populated cities and head for the suburbs. At least there you can be close to the excitement and bustle without always being deadlocked in the thicket of it.
Jeffrey Ill is the Vice President of Product at Esurance where he leads the homeowner insurance program.