Drivers ask the question every time they see another motorist sending texts while barreling down the interstate at 75 mph, or changing lanes without signaling, or hanging a left on red:
Does (INSERT STATE HERE) have the worst bleeping drivers in the country?
Just about every year, one organization or another tries to provide an answer, based on factors as varied as how many people could pass their state's written driving test, how many citations are written for distracted driving and how likely people are to die in a motor-vehicle crash.
The latest such survey is from CarInsuranceComparison.com, a website for people to compare features of various automobile insurance companies. For its worst drivers rankings, the website compiles data on fatality rates per 100 million miles traveled, citations for failure to obey traffic signals and seat belt laws, DUI infractions, and tickets for speeding and careless driving. It collects data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Motorists Association and MADD.
And the winner is - drumroll, please - Louisiana.
According to CarInsuranceComparison.com, drivers in the Pelican State were propelled to No. 1 by finishing in the top five for failure to obey, speeding tickets and careless driving. Louisiana drivers also won this dubious distinction in last year's rankings.
Jeffrey Crews, vice president of CarInsuranceComparison.com, says the ranking generates lots of conversation and debate. "There are several reasons for that," he says. "One, it's the holiday season. People are traveling, and that comes into play. Plus, this is something that always comes up. Somebody is always saying, 'This is a horrible state to drive in.' And they can take this and say 'I told you so.'
"Plus, people use it as a little prod to kind of jab at each other," he says.
These kinds of rankings are seldom purely scientific, but they sure get people talking.
A 2011 ranking by GMAC Insurance (now National General Insurance) found that some of the nation's worst drivers weren't in a state at all but in Washington, D.C. The insurer based its rankings on how well - or how little - drivers understood rules of the road where they lived. It found that just 71% of drivers in the nation's capital were capable of passing a written driving test.
A 2010 ranking by The Daily Beast analyzed federal crash data and weighed fatal crashes in which driver error - such as DUI, running a stop sign or inattentive driving - was a factor. It found the worst drivers were in North Dakota, followed by Montana, Kentucky and Louisiana.
Another recent report, insurer Allstate's ninth annual "America's Best Drivers Report" in August, found that the USA's best drivers, based on Allstate crash claims data, are in Fort Collins, Colo.
The Best Drivers Report "was created to boost the country's discussion on safe driving," according to Michael Roche, the company's senior vice president of claims. "Best Drivers has generated a lot of attention, which we think is a very good thing."
The CarInsuranceComparison.com report has neither New Jersey nor New York in the top 10, which is going to be shocking for people such as David Alston, a New Jersey school bus driver who has long argued that his state, along with New York, wins the title hands-down.
Alston, who has logged more than 230,000 miles in each of his last two personal vehicles, says he has seen it all: In 2004, a drunk motorcyclist killed himself when he slammed into Alston's car at 65 mph, just months after Alston's mother was hit by an unlicensed driver in Montclair; he saw a motorcyclist decapitated in a crash near Newark International Airport.
"I see people driving with no lights on in pitch black, in snow, rain, fog," he says. "People tailgate me on my school bus. People blow through stop signs. It's unbelievable. New Jersey's got to be No. 1 or No. 2 for worst drivers."
States with the worst drivers:
2. South Carolina
7. Missouri (tie)
7. North Carolina (tie)
10. North Dakota