Well, Allstate Insurance is out with its annual ranking of the nation’s 200 largest big cities on the basis of how good its drivers are. Seattle has fallen yet again, from No. 154 last year to No. 160 this year, knocking at the door of the bottom fifth. (No. 1 is the best.) Two years ago when I became New To Seattle, the city ranked No. 128, so it’s been quite a tumble.
Allstate uses its enormous database of accident claims to figure out how long the average motorist goes between mishaps. The more time, the better a city’s drivers are deemed. Tops nationally was Fort Collins, Colo., closely followed by Boise, Idaho. The absolute worst–by a large margin–was the Other Washington again, followed (again) by Baltimore. In Washington State, Spokane ranked No. 45 (up two clicks), Vancouver No. 82 (down from No. 67 last year), and Tacoma No. 144 (up from No. 156). So the City of Destiny finally beat the Emerald City in something good, although not by much.
As I wrote here in 2011, Seattle’s falling rank does not square with what I experience daily on the city’s streets. With one exception, I see few examples of the major factors that I associate with bad driving, including excessive speed, frequent lane changes, stop-sign running, weaving and general rudeness.
That one exception, though, is a big one: hand-held cell-phone use. It’s not unusual for me to see six or more cars in a row with drivers yakking into a cell held to their ear. I suspect it was during such a distraction that an uninsured college student rear-ended me on a metered I-5 entrance ramp last year during dry, sunny weather.
If there’s any solace for Seattle, it’s that a number of other major cities are ranked even worse. They include Atlanta (No. 164), Dallas (No. 170), New York (No. 172), Los Angeles (No. 181) and hated San Francisco (No. 186).
However, I don’t think Seattle has come close yet to hitting bottom in these rankings. The reason is Washington State’s legalization via voter referendum last year of recreational marijuana use. Even though pot use remains illegal under federal law, the U.S. Justice Department said yesterday it would not challenge the move here and in Colorado, where voter also gave their assent. (Today’s Seattle Times deemed that decision by the feds more newsworthy on its front page than that little military strike thing brewing in Syria).
Driving while high, of course, is illegal, just like driving while intoxicated. But Washington State’s pot law really doesn’t kick in fully until later this year when the state finalizes rules for the production and sale of weed. I have to think that millions of ounces of new grass legally coursing through the state each year–a disproportionate amount of that in Seattle–is not going to improve safety on the city’s streets.
Expect to hear more of this: “Accident, man? What accident? And where are my Doritos?”