Cities in California With the Most and Least Safe Drivers
Getting behind the wheel of a car can be a risky venture, but a good way to stay safe is to understand the most common factors in driving-related fatalities. And when you know how other drivers in your county compare, you can stay even safer.
So to help you stay safe on the roads, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 cities in California with the safest drivers.
How We Determined the Safest Cities
To create our list of the cities in California with the safest drivers, we analyzed the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We looked at how many fatalities resulted from car accidents and compared that data to population numbers to ascertain how many fatalities there were per 100,000 residents. We used the data analysis from each county and applied it to the largest city or metropolitan area in the county.
How California Ranks
California has some of the most densely populated counties in the U.S., but those congested, slower highways may be safer to drive on. Nationally, Californians are some of the safer drivers in the U.S. In 2014, California reported 3,074 traffic fatalities, or 7.92 per 100,000. In the U.S., on the other hand, that number was 10.25 per 100,000. Seat belt use is lower in states with the most road fatalities, and over 90 percent of Californians buckle up. The NHTSA estimates that, in 2014 alone, 1,241 lives were saved by seat belt use and 293 were saved by helmet use in motorcycle accidents. There were 882 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities — 29 percent of the total fatalities — and 991 speeding-related fatalities.
Here are the 25 cities in California with the safest drivers.
- Daly City
Daly City, the largest city in seaside San Mateo County, is one of the safest cities in California for drivers. Despite being a hub for commuters — the county includes the San Francisco International Airport — less than 1 percent of traffic fatalities in California happened in San Mateo County. Almost 21 percent of the fatalities in San Mateo County were related to alcohol-impaired driving, a low rate compared to the rest of the state.
Placer County — famous as the site of the historic California Gold Rush — is located in the Sacramento Valley, along the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas. Most of Lake Tahoe is in the county, and Roseville is the largest city. Of the 13 traffic fatalities in Placer County, only three were the result of alcohol-impaired driving, but 11 were involved in single-vehicle crashes.
- San Rafael
San Rafael is the largest city in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Located just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the outdoor mecca of Marin County includes natural beauties Muir Woods and Point Reyes National Seashore. Proper seatbelt use likely contributed to the county’s low traffic fatality rate, as all of the driving fatalities were wearing seatbelts. Thirty-nine percent of the traffic fatalities in Marin County were due to alcohol-impaired crashes.
The eighth-largest city in the San Francisco Bay area, Concord is also the largest city in Contra Costa County. Contra Costa, which is the ninth largest county in California, was given the Spanish name meaning “opposite coast” because it sits across the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco. Thirty-two percent of traffic fatalities in the area were because of alcohol-impaired driving. Motorcyclists accounted for approximately 11 percent of fatalities.
- San Francisco
The only consolidated city-county in California, San Francisco County encompasses just the city of San Francisco. Though it’s the smallest county in the state geographically, it is the most densely populated city in the state — but that hasn’t stopped the county from keeping its traffic fatalities down to a minimum. Sixty percent of the fatalities were pedestrians, and there were four motorcyclist fatalities, though all four were wearing helmets.
California’s wine country, Napa County was one of the original counties in the state, and Napa is its largest city. The Tuscany-style vineyards and numerous Michelin-starred restaurants make tourism a major economic driver in the area. Despite the tourists and flow of wine, only one of the county’s traffic fatalities involved alcohol-impaired driving. There were no pedestrian or bicyclist fatalities.
- Santa Maria
Known for its tri-tip steaks and great barbecue, Santa Maria is the largest city in Santa Barbara County. Earth Day was also founded by the county’s environmentally conscious residents, who are also some of the state’s safest drivers. There were no motorcycle fatalities in the county and only one bicyclist fatality.
Alameda County sits east of San Francisco Bay in a diverse, urban region. It is the seventh largest county in the state, and Oakland is its biggest city. Speeding was a factor in 28 percent of the county’s traffic-related fatalities, and 18 percent were related to alcohol-impaired driving.
The largest town in Nevada County — and one of only three incorporated towns in the county — Truckee grew as a railroad town as the county was established during the California Gold Rush. Nevada County experienced only five traffic-related fatalities in 2014, down from 15 the year before. There were no motorcyclist or bicyclist fatalities, and only one fatality was related to alcohol-impaired driving.
Home to Disneyland, Angel Stadium, and the Honda Center, Anaheim is the largest city in the third-biggest county in Southern California. Orange County is famous for its tourism, with over 40 miles of beaches, but the county’s safe drivers help keep tourists safe, too. Of the traffic fatalities in Orange County, 67 percent were involved in single-vehicle crashes, and 32 percent occurred at intersections.
Half of Ventura County is made up of national forest, and a quarter of its population lives in Oxnard. An agricultural capital of the Southern California region, local crops like the county’s strawberry fields and lemon groves contribute $2.1 billion to the local economy. There were two bicyclist fatalities in 2014, and speeding was a factor in only 19 percent of the total fatalities.
- San Jose
Thanks to the tech industry in Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County is one of America’s most affluent counties, with a median income of $89,064. San Jose, the county seat and largest city, is the 10th largest city in America. On top of that, the county is extremely bike friendly: there are 125 miles of bike trails through the county’s parklands, and bicyclists accounted for only five percent of the county’s fatalities.
- Los Angeles
The most populous county in the U.S., Los Angeles County was one of the first counties in the state. Over a quarter of Californians live in Los Angeles County, and a third of those live within Los Angeles. Thirty-seven percent traffic fatalities in the county were related to speeding, and alcohol-impaired driving accounted for 26 percent of fatalities.
- San Diego
The second most populous county in the state, San Diego County is known for its Mediterranean weather, gorgeous beaches, desert hiking, military bases, and amusement parks. The county borders Mexico and counts San Diego as its largest city. Thirty-two percent of San Diego County’s traffic fatalities were pedestrians, and only 14 percent involved rollovers.
- Santa Cruz
Located on California’s central coast, Santa Cruz County varies in geography from beaches to redwood forests. Santa Cruz is the biggest city, while the plentiful outdoor recreation makes the county a desirable place to live. Of the county’s 20 total fatalities, three occurred at intersections. Alcohol was a factor in only five fatalities, while speeding contributed to 11.
From Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway to the Monterey Peninsula, some of California’s most iconic scenery is in Monterey County. Tourism and agriculture in the Salinas River Valley dominate the economy, including in Salinas, the largest city in the county. Of Monterey County’s 32 traffic fatalities — down from 49 in 2011 — only three were involved in a rollover, while roadway departures were a factor in 18.
Home to California’s state capitol, Sacramento County extends from downtown high-rises to rural country farms. There are seven incorporated cities — Sacramento is the biggest — and dozens of smaller areas within the county. Thirty percent of traffic fatalities in Sacramento County were the result of alcohol-impaired driving, but bicyclists accounted for only 7 percent of the fatalities.
The county seat of Hanford is the biggest city in Kings County. The county, located in the San Joaquin Valley, is a thriving agricultural region, full of dairies and berry fields — but without many traffic fatalities. Of the 12 fatalities in 2014 (down from 24 in 2010), three were the result of speeding. In addition, there were no bicyclist fatalities and only one pedestrian fatality.
- Santa Rosa
The largest wine producer in California’s famed Wine Country, Sonoma County is home to over 250 wineries. The county was ranked one of the most livable communities in America, and over a third of the county lives in the city of Santa Rosa. Though the number of alcohol-related fatalities more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, less than half of the county’s total fatalities in 2014 were the result of alcohol-impaired driving.
Davis — home to public research hub UC Davis — is the biggest city in Yolo County. The rural, agricultural region of the county produces 90 percent of the tomatoes in the U.S., a multibillion-dollar industry. Of Yolo County’s traffic fatalities, 68 percent were the result of a single-vehicle crash, and 32 percent were the result of alcohol-impaired driving.
The fourth largest county in California both in population and square mileage, Riverside County has seen a huge population boom in recent years because of its affordable housing, and Riverside is the largest city. Riverside County’s motorcyclists know the importance of wearing their helmets: only three of the motorcyclist fatalities were not wearing one. Bicyclists accounted for 5 percent of the county’s fatalities.
Named after Sutter Buttes, the prominent landmark in the valley, Butte County enjoys affordable housing and various natural wonders. With a population over 88,000, Chico accounts for nearly 40 percent of the county’s total population. There were no pedestrian fatalities in Butte County in 2014, and no fatal crashes occurred at intersections.
Clearlake and Lakeport are the only incorporated cities in Lake County. Its hilly terrain has made paved roads difficult in some places — half of the urban roads in Clearlake are unpaved — but that hasn’t kept the county from enjoying a low traffic fatality rate. The county experienced only seven fatalities, none of which involved speeding or motorcyclists.
Eighty percent of the land in Solano County has been preserved for open space and agricultural use, and more than a quarter of its population lives in Vallejo. Traffic fatalities within the county have increased since 2010, but alcohol-related fatalities have remained relatively low at 27 percent. On the other hand, speeding was a factor in 46 percent of the county’s driving-related fatalities.
- San Luis Obispo
Between the Coast Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is San Luis Obispo County, a central California rural region that enjoys coastal and mountain living. Oprah named the largest city, San Luis Obispo, the happiest city in America. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in San Luis Obispo County are relatively low compared to the rest of the state, at only 25 percent. Eleven of the county’s 32 fatalities were involved in a rollover.
California Counties with the Least Safe Drivers
The worst drivers in the state are in the smallest, most rural regions of California — including Trinity, Glenn, Mono, Modoc, Colusa, Plumas, Del Norte, Mariposa, Imperial, and Humboldt counties. While the total number of fatalities in the mountainous Trinity County was relatively low (only seven in 2014), it experienced the highest rate of fatalities in the state at 53.15 per 100,000 — nearly 17 times higher than the rate of fatalities in the safest county. Glenn County had the next highest rate of fatalities per 100,000, but none of the county’s fatalities were the result of alcohol-impaired driving and the county recorded no motorcyclist fatalities. Modoc and Mariposa counties were the only other counties in the bottom 10 to experience no motorcyclist fatalities. Only one of the 10 least-safe counties experienced any bicyclist fatalities — Modoc County — while six of the 10 experienced no pedestrian fatalities.
Over twelve percent of the U.S. resides in California, but Californians have fewer accidents and fewer alcohol-impaired driving fatalities than many other parts of the nation. Did your county make the list? Share this article with people you know who live in California, so they can help keep their county roads and highways safer.