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California’s Most Dangerous Cities for Drivers

Brian DebelleBrian Debelle

You should be in a car accident at least three or four times in your lifetime, statistically speaking that is. And that’s given you’re an “average” driver, which self-admitted or not, most people are. But do your odds of being in a car accident change if you live in an urban versus rural environment? Or a desert or mountain climate? Or if you live in a starter home neighborhood versus a senior community?

The short answer: yes. A great example of why, is California; as a larger state, it has an abundance of people, small and large cities and differing weather patterns between the north and south.

A new study dove into hundreds of thousands of collision records and accident contributory factors (like the ones mentioned above) to rank the most dangerous and safest California cities for drivers.

How Dangerous (or Safe) is Your City?

Top 5 Most Dangerous:

  1. San Francisco
  2. San Bernardino
  3. Santa Ana
  4. Berkeley
  5. Los Angeles

Top 5 Safest:

  1. Simi Valley
  2. Carlsbad
  3. Fremont
  4. Thousand Oaks
  5. Temecula

While San Francisco didn’t rank No.1 for any singular collision factor, it ranked amongst the top for all of them, grabbing the rapidly growing city the “most dangerous” title. Contributory factors such as road conditions also played a crucial role in their ranking. Play around with the study’s data table to see all of the city’s numbers for yourself.

Interestingly, it’s not just this one study to say so- a separate one found SF (and Oakland, jointly) had the worst roads in the country. And if you’re still not satisfied, a third national study said SF was No.2 for pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Then there’s the safest city, Simi Valley, located in the southeast corner of Ventura County and about 30 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. It also didn’t rank last- safest- in any one category, but collectively ranks among the best in every category.

Most importantly, the city has an impressively low accident fatality rate at .19 per 100 million vehicles mile travelled; for comparison, the study’s average was .98 while the highest fatality rate was 3.26.

But while it’s fun to discuss the best and worst of anything, the study’s biggest takeaway came from identifying three major differences between the 20 safest and most dangerous cities.

First, the average population for the most dangerous was over 400,000 compared to the safest at almost 235,000. Second, the most dangerous had nearly four more inches of rain per year, on average, than the safest. And finally, the most dangerous cities had significantly higher- almost two times- rates for all considered collision factors.

From a simplistic viewpoint, it make sense. Less people may mean less congestion while more rain may mean more hydroplaning and unkept roads.

Young drivers also impact overall safety levels; in the study, drivers 15 to 29 were involved in 51 percent of the accidents despite representing just over 22 percent of the population. Unfortunately, data on accidents with seniors is not as cohesively monitored. Overall, Southern California claimed 14 of the 20 most dangerous, but also 13 of the 20 safest. Northern California drivers averaged  slightly higher crash rates and crashes with injuries than their SoCal counterparts, according to the study.

Why Does This Study Matter?

“Raising awareness” and “getting attention of people in power positions” is always a reason for a study- true, yet cliché. As safe drivers we should look carefully not necessarily at the state’s average but rather our own city’s problems. Why over scrutinize San Francisco when you live in San Diego?

A San Diegan, for example, will see their city is surprisingly safe, especially considering its size. In fact, residents daily vehicle miles travelled is almost 14 million compared to San Francisco’s five million. Yet, San Diego is 48 out of 65. So the study is almost irrelevant to them, right?

Scott Liljegren, a San Diego car accident attorney who conducted the study, says while his city seems safe on the surface, next door neighbor Escondido (part of San Diego County) ranks No.1 in the state for drunk driving accidents. Obviously, that’s important information for anyone who lives nearby. For comparison, San Francisco is No.14 for alcohol-related crashes.

Liljegren hopes people who do look at the study will take a close look at the provided data tables and look at their hometown as well as cities they frequently visit. While the overarching idea is to raise awareness across the state, the study should tell you what to be cautious of specifically in your daily commute.

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