Should you feel threatened when you see a California license plate…or just annoyed?

I frequently hear complaints of bad California drivers grumbled by both Californians and non-Californians alike. The complaint seems to be increasingly common as the ongoing California exodus marches along, and the other 49 states see more and more California license plates crowding their freeways.

Although you might feel annoyed by California license plates, data collected by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seem to suggest you need not feel threatened by them. The traffic fatality rate in California, one death per 100 million vehicle miles, is better than the U.S. average and worse than only thirteen other states and the District of Columbia.

Of course, Californians spend plenty of time driving back and forth to work every day, especially those who live in and around Los Angeles. California’s relatively strong fatality record might be attributable to (i) Californians do a fine job of driving long routes they know extremely well, and (ii) California’s congested freeways force drivers to move so slowly that their accidents tend not to be fatal. (Ever tried dying in a car accident involving speeds of 10 mph? It’s impossible!)

But what happens when a Californian faces an open road in unfamiliar territory? A recipe for disaster, perhaps. And likely the source of the grumblings.  Unfortunately, it appears the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not provide data that show fatalities involving California license plates outside of California. So, despite California’s respectable traffic fatality ranking, feel free to continue feeling both annoyed and threatened by California license plates when you see them in your state.

The following table shows the top five states, including the District of Columbia, for driving fatality (deaths per 100 million vehicle miles in parentheses):

Massachusetts (0.6)
Connecticut (0.6)
Minnesota (0.7)
D.C. (0.8)
New Jersey (0.8)

And the worst states for traffic fatality:

Montana (2)
West Virginia (1.8)
South Carolina (1.8)
Louisiana (1.8)
Arkansas (1.8)

Texas, California’s arch-rival of late, ranks number thirty-seven for traffic fatality rates at 1.3 per 100 million vehicle miles.

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