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Sacramento Drivers Gain Notoriety: Allstate Ranks Capital Motorists Among the Worst in the Country

Jun 14, 2007

By Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jun. 15--You've long suspected it. Now, an auto insurance company has run the numbers and concluded:

Sacramento drivers are among the worst in the entire country!

Local drivers are 23 percent more likely to get in a crash than the national average, according to Allstate Insurance Co.

That ranks Sacramento a lowly 158th out of the 200 largest cities in the country.

"We don't really want to label Sacramento," a cautious-speaking local Allstate spokeswoman, Patti Kelly, said, "but we do want to call attention to this issue. It's bad news, but news we need to hear."

On average, it means a driver here gets in some sort of a crash once every eight years.

The study, Allstate's Kelly admits, is limited.

It's based only on claims filed by Allstate-insured drivers in 2004 and 2005. That group represents slightly less than 6 percent of insured drivers in the city of Sacramento, she said.

Also, the list is missing Massachusetts -- home to those notorious Boston drivers -- because Allstate doesn't insure drivers there. Allstate nevertheless calls its data a "realistic snapshot."

Plenty of Sacramento drivers agree.

Take James Henry, who is 96 and says he is an exceptionally good driver, unlike the guy the other day who tailgated "not a foot behind me. That is one thing I hate."

So Henry did what guys will do. He tapped his brakes. That made the other guy mad enough to pull around him and cut him off. So Henry turned into a Safeway parking lot, after signaling, of course.

"I know how to get away from these guys," Henry affirmed.

David Delgado can't seem to get away from tailgaters.

He was hit from behind three times in the first 18 months after moving here from Portland, Ore. -- ranked 90th by Allstate -- where driving seemed more sedate.

"This reminded me of Los Angeles," he said.

The scariest fender-bender happened on Highway 65 when Delgado stopped in traffic only to see the massive headlights of a big rig bearing down on him. No one was hurt, but Delgado wonders if he's a marked man.

"My God, do we have a target on us?!" he said. "The DMV should ask the question on every test: How many car lengths should people be behind?"

Or maybe it should check in with folks in Sioux Falls, S.D., the city that Allstate says has the best drivers in the country. Drivers there get in crashes only once every 14 years.

Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson was proud at the news Thursday, but in a modest Midwestern way.

"I don't mean to bore you," Munson said via telephone. "People are very courteous here. Just like yesterday, I was on one of our busiest streets, and people were stopping to let the next car in, then the next car goes, then the next car lets a car in."

For the record -- and for perspective -- many cities at the top of Allstate's list were smallish middle-America milieus where traffic is lighter: Fort Collins, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Eugene, Ore.

Conversely, many of the cities landing at the ugly end of the scale were urbanized East and West Coast cities with more old, overcrowded roads.

Newark, N.J., ranked last, just ahead of Washington, D.C., and Elizabeth, N.J.

Sacramento came out ahead of some of its cosmopolitan coastal siblings. Oakland ranked 171st, Los Angeles 185th and San Francisco 188th.

"It is not just the people who live here," suggested California Highway Patrol spokesman Tom Marshall. "You have to account for how many drive in and out on the interstate highways. You can say the same for L.A. and the Bay Area."

Others said the crash numbers here and in larger California cities may be the result of rapid population growth that has outpaced transportation improvements.

State voters last year approved $20 billion in transportation bonds to help improve roads and add more mass transit statewide. In Sacramento, planners say they're behind in keeping the transportation system up to date with modern traffic.

Malcolm Fenner of Woodland, who cringes when he rides his motorcycle on some Sacramento freeways, says his pet peeve is the driver who knows he or she needs to get over to the exit lane but scoots as far ahead as possible before forcing their way in.

But, Fenner says, Sacramentans aren't so different.

"The truth is, I've seen it everywhere," he said.


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