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The 10 most miserable states for drivers

Des Toups

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CarInsurance.com

Insurance rates by ZIP codeA new Honda Accord costs about the same amount no matter where you buy it.

But every dime you spend after you leave the dealer’s lot is affected greatly by where you live:

  • On a typical day, the cheapest gallon of regular gas in America is half the price of the most expensive.  Even at 27 mpg in the Accord, that adds up.
  • In a typical year, a driver in Washington, D.C., racks up half as many miles as a driver in Kentucky, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
  • And a driver in Maine would pay a third as much for car insurance as a motorist in Louisiana, according to data gathered by Quadrant Information Services.

Factoring in miles driven, the cost of gasoline and the cost of insurance, drivers in Wyoming shell out more cash than those in any other state -- $4,828 a year. At the other end of the scale is Alaska, where the tally is $2,765, more than $2,000 a year less than Wyoming and well below the national average of $3,482.

Those costs come every year, long after the payment book is empty.

The Automotive Misery Index

Percentage-wise, Wyoming drivers aren’t hurting as much as those in Mississippi.

Gas and insurance consume 9.1 percent of an average Wyoming household income of $52,848. But households in the nation’s poorest state bring in considerably less, $36,821, drive a lot of miles and pay more than average for insurance. Overall, Mississippians spend 11.6 percent of household income to fuel and insure their cars, the most of any state.

Who feels the pinch least? Drivers in New Hampshire, where the distances are smaller, the insurance is cheaper and the paychecks are bigger, shell out just 4.4 percent of household incomes.

Your personal level of misery is no doubt different, determined by where you live, the car you choose to drive and how often you drive it.

If there’s a common factor among our 10 most miserable states, it’s that their motorists rack up a lot of miles and pay much higher-than-average insurance rates. Mississippians, for example, drive more miles than motorists anywhere except Wyoming, and they pay more for insurance than most people do. Yet gasoline isn’t cheap there and incomes are the nation’s lowest. 

All isn’t lost, however.

You can drive less. Every 27 miles you don’t drive in your new Accord is another $3 and change in your pocket. If you can drive a lot less -- typically under 7,500 miles or so a year -- you can save on insurance as well.

You can search a little harder for cheaper gas. You can learn the tricks of hypermiling or look for a hybrid car.

And you can shop around for car insurance. Last year, we analyzed 40,000 insurance quotes to see how wide the gap between cheapest and next-cheapest would be. Drivers under 25 were offered rates that on average differed by more than $1,100. 

That’ll buy a lot of gas.

Compiling the numbers

To keep things modestly scientific, we compared costs for the same driver and the same car to isolate the geographical changes.

Below we’ve laid out gas prices in each state, as gathered by AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report on Sept. 1, and how much a year’s worth of fuel for a 2012 Honda Accord would cost for someone driving an average number of miles for that state. Then we threw in a year’s worth of insurance on the Accord, and topped it off by looking at the total outlay as a percentage of that state’s median household income as determined by the 2010 Census.

Misery from Alabama to Wyoming

State Rank Miles Gas/gal. Gas Insurance Income Misery Index
Mississippi 1 20,424 $3.66 $2,772 $1,515 $36,821 11.6%
Oklahoma 2 20,010 $3.68 $2,725 $2,091 $45,018 10.7%
Louisiana 3 14,455 $3.69 $1,975 $2,529 $42,813 10.5%
West Virginia 4 15,276 $3.93 $2,224 $2,068 $41,999 10.2%
Georgia 5 17,834 $3.84 $2,537 $1,732 $44,082 9.7%
Montana 6 15,186 $3.70 $2,081 $1,924 $41,286 9.7%
Michigan 7 14,588 $4.05 $2,186 $2,088 $46,597 9.2%
Kentucky 8 16,099 $3.87 $2,306 $1,554 $42,302 9.1%
Wyoming 9 22,543 $3.65 $3,047 $1,780 $52,848 9.1%
Arkansas 10 15,325 $3.67 $2,082 $1,329 $37,856 9.0%
Alabama 11 15,608 $3.97 $2,296 $1,351 $40,808 8.9%
Missouri 12 16,357 $3.59 $2,175 $2,073 $47,879 8.9%
Tennessee 13 15,848 $3.66 $2,149 $1,234 $39,936 8.5%
New Mexico 14 17,375 $3.69 $2,373 $1,283 $44,679 8.2%
Florida 15 14,027 $3.78 $1,964 $1,655 $45,313 8.0%
Texas 16 15,026 $3.67 $2,040 $1,654 $47,862 7.7%
South Carolina 17 15,160 $3.60 $2,021 $1,104 $41,744 7.5%
Kansas 18 14,262 $3.74 $1,975 $1,411 $45,842 7.4%
North Dakota 19 15,935 $4.01 $2,364 $1,432 $51,141 7.4%
South Dakota 20 14,587 $3.78 $2,043 $1,316 $46,126 7.3%
Indiana 21 13,100 $4.13 $2,004 $1,306 $45,679 7.2%
North Carolina 22 14,745 $3.79 $2,067 $1,036 $43,175 7.2%
Nevada 23 11,449 $3.86 $1,637 $2,065 $51,904 7.1%
California 24 13,890 $4.16 $2,142 $1,747 $55,760 7.0%
Ohio 25 14,067 $3.86 $2,013 $1,131 $46,364 6.8%
Pennsylvania 26 12,440 $3.80 $1,750 $1,574 $48,714 6.8%
Delaware 27 13,292 $3.98 $1,960 $1,648 $54,122 6.7%
Minnesota 28 17,431 $3.77 $2,431 $1,264 $54,785 6.7%
Rhode Island 29 11,357 $3.87 $1,627 $1,837 $52,200 6.6%
Arizona 30 13,021 $3.66 $1,763 $1,189 $46,886 6.3%
Iowa 31 14,701 $3.94 $2,145 $1,003 $50,368 6.3%
Nebraska 32 14,208 $3.80 $2,001 $1,236 $51,571 6.3%
Idaho 33 13,958 $3.75 $1,936 $1,006 $47,282 6.2%
Oregon 34 12,526 $4.02 $1,865 $1,241 $50,217 6.2%
D.C. 35 9,950 $3.75 $1,383 $1,938 $54,773 6.1%
Maine 36 14,748 $3.80 $2,073 $889 $48,209 6.1%
Wisconsin 37 14,713 $3.90 $2,122 $994 $51,303 6.1%
New York 38 12,172 $3.60 $1,623 $1,426 $50,435 6.0%
Hawaii 39 10,928 $4.34 $1,757 $1,628 $57,537 5.9%
Vermont 40 15,494 $3.69 $2,117 $1,075 $54,562 5.9%
Illinois 41 13,147 $3.79 $1,845 $1,193 $52,252 5.8%
Utah 42 14,358 $3.72 $1,980 $1,333 $58,122 5.7%
Virginia 43 14,750 $3.83 $2,092 $1,320 $60,931 5.6%
Maryland 44 14,158 $3.78 $1,981 $1,366 $64,635 5.2%
Massachusetts 45 11,831 $3.89 $1,706 $1,381 $60,843 5.1%
New Jersey 46 12,297 $3.75 $1,709 $1,592 $64,693 5.1%
Washington 47 11,076 $4.05 $1,660 $1,316 $58,821 5.1%
Colorado 48 12,388 $3.56 $1,631 $1,324 $58,647 5.0%
Connecticut 49 10,839 $4.03 $1,619 $1,647 $66,187 4.9%
Alaska 50 9,827 $3.62 $1,318 $1,447 $60,409 4.6%
New Hampshire 51 12,777 $3.80 $1,798 $1,134 $65,948 4.4%
United States 14,133 $3.83 $2,003 $1,479 $50,022 7.0%

Methodology: Insurance rates were averaged from six carriers in 10 ZIP codes per state for a 2012 Honda Accord driven by a 40-year-old male with no violations or accidents commuting 12 miles to work. Our hypothetical driver carries a $500 deductible on collision and comprehensive coverage;  bodily injury liability policy limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident; and $50,000 in property damage liability coverage. Report was commissioned by CarInsurance.com from Quadrant information Services.

 

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9 Responses to "The 10 most miserable states for drivers"
  1. Barry Klein

    This research on travel costs should be looked at in the frame of the conclusions of Mr. Yacov Zahavi, a student of human travel behavior who died several years ago. Born in Israel, he also worked for the US Department of Transportation and the World Bank. Mr. Zahavi defined the idea of the"Travel-Time Budget." The research showed that: a) most of the world spends about an hour a day in travel, b) most commutes are under half an hour, and c) Families spend about 12-15% of their disposable income for mobility. Here are two papers by contemporary scholars that draw on Zahavi's analyses. The Evolution of Transport, Jesse H. Ausubel and Cesare Marchetti, The Industrial Physicist 7(2):20-24, April/May 2001. http://phe.rockefeller.edu/TIP_transport/ And, Toward Green Mobility: The Evolution of Transport. Jesse H. Ausubel, Cesare Marchetti, and Perrin S. Meyer, European Review 6(2):143-162, 1998. http://phe.rockefeller.edu/green_mobility/

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  2. Angus MacQuarie

    Do you understand drivers--at least, drivers who don't hate driving? You cite distance as a significant "misery" factor, and proceed to rank North Carolina as more miserable for drivers than either Virginia or D.C. You list the South as miserable and the Northeast as plum. Frankly, I wonder whether you've ever driven or lived in either region, as I have, because I'd rather drive my daily 15-20 miles in NC than two miles a day in D.C. As for Virginia, I try to drive as little in that state as possible after getting two speeding tickets there after a dozen trips to date--keep in mind I've never been ticketed in NC, and I always drive about 75 on the Interstate when safe. Speaking of speed, did you take into account the better fuel economy one gets cruising at 75 mph versus crawling at 5 mph in D.C. traffic or playing stop-and-go in Virginia or Northeast traffic? Have you ever paid $30 in tolls between Baltimore and NYC, heard the car horns in Boston traffic, or sat in the nice long parking lot between Philly and D.C.? Number crunching is fun, but what about real world experiences? Then again, I don't expect insurance types to think like a serious driver. Thanks to one or both of those VA tickets from some years ago, I probably had my rate hiked a bit whereas the slow, tired, daydreaming drivers I seem to keep running into on my local state highway aren't paying any penalty for holding up a dozen cars while they do 30 mph on down into the sunset of their lackluster commutes.

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  3. Tim

    Whoever came up with this list obviously has not driven in Massachusetts.

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  4. Heinz Disch

    You might want to check those numbers for Alaska. Average price has been $3.75 - $4.10 just for Anchorage alone. And your AAA source even has Alaska averaging at $4.16 or so. What about places like Nome or more remote locations that creep past $4.50 per/gal. Insurance is traditionally more in Alaska because there are more uninsured motorist in this state than any other state. And the average income is a negligible index considering the significant increased cost of living. Everything in Alaska averages a 20 to 40% more than down in the lower 48 due to shipping costs and what not.

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  5. James Renfroe

    I have a feeling your gas price number for Alabama might be too high. I've not seen that high of a price in this entire state since 2008. I drive 20,000 mi per year from corner to corner of Alabama, and true enough, it's a costly experience. But $3.97 doesn't sound accurate. But thank you for this research, as it validates my opinion that Alabamians might pay less for their homes and their real estate taxes, but just as much, if not more, for all of their other living expenses. And sales taxes in Alabama are among the highest in the US.

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  6. timothy mulderig

    At no time has the cost of gas in Texas been higher than New York at the same time.

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  7. k jewell

    I don't know where you got your gas prices for Alaska. Here on the Kenai Peninsula the lowest we have paid in couple of years was $4.13. I would love to pay the $3.62 listed in this article. Last summer and winter price was almost $5 per gallon!!

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  8. Occam's Tool

    Mississippi has a very active and prosperous plaintiff attorney bar, poor educational status, and the worst poverty rate in the US. All this makes for great tort haven counties were jackpot personal injury judgments are frequent.

      Reply»  
  9. Ed Nocella

    I think you got NY wrong. $3.60 a gal. Where? In Croton on Hudson, NY regular is $4.25 at Citco and $4.39 at Gulf.

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