Providence was ranked one of the worst cities to drive in based on the frequency of auto collisions in the ninth annual “Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report,” which was released recently by Allstate Insurance Company.
The study, which is put together using claims data from Allstate, looked at the number of auto collisions in the 200 largest cities in America to determine which cities were the safest for drivers. According to this year’s report, Providence is the third worst city, ranking only ahead of Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C. According to the report, the average driver in the city of Providence can expect to be involved in an auto collision every 5.4 years.
For comparison, the national average is every 10 years, and drivers in Fort Collins, Colo., the safest city according to the 2013 report, will be involved in an auto collision only every 13.9 years.
“That number does surprise me,” said Anthony J. Silva, administrator for the Department of Motor Vehicles and a former police officer, about Providence’s rank. “I’d like to know the reason why.”
The data was collected through collision claims made throughout Allstate’s network of 16 million households with the Allstate, Encompass, Esurance and Answer Financial brands, among others.
“Every time someone filed a claim for a car accident, it went towards this study,” explained Julia Reusch, communications manager for Allstate Insurance Company.
Rosamaria Amoros, chief public affairs officer at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, said while this survey provides an important number to look it in terms of safety, it does not paint the full picture when it comes to auto collisions. She explained that the state has made strides in reducing auto collision fatalities, which is not included in the study.
“From 2001 to 2006, we averaged 87 deaths per year on our roadways; from 2007 to 2011, that average dropped to 70,” said Amoros. “This decrease can be attributed to several factors, including engineering improvements and public awareness/education campaign efforts.”
Dave Raposa, managing director of public affairs for AAA Southern New England, pointed out that most auto accidents must be at lower speeds, therefore leading to a lower fatality rate.
Raposa added that living in a state with a high crash rate could have an effect on insurance rates, even if they are small fender benders.
“If they result in insurance claims,” said Raposa. “Sure, it will end up playing a role in the insurance cost for the area.”
Reusch said the claims were for accidents that occurred in the city of Providence, but the drivers could be from anywhere. “Someone may live in Warwick, but be driving in Providence [when they got in an accident],” she said.
Data for the study was collected over a two-year period in an attempt to account for weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy or Blizzard Nemo, which may cause a spike in accidents.
Silva pointed out that he would like to see month-by-month data, if it is recorded in that manner, to see if particularly harsh conditions during the New England winter, such as particularly icy or snow-covered streets, cause more accidents between November and February.
“I’d like to see if that has an impact,” said Silva.
According to a press release, Providence is consistently ranked as one of the worst cities to drive in, ranking one spot worse in 2013 than in 2012. The capital city is the only Rhode Island city on the list. The release says the survey was “created to facilitate an ongoing dialogue on safe driving that saves lives.”
When asked what he thought might cause frequent accidents in the city, Silva, who spent time on traffic patrol as a cop, said it could be a number of factors but distracted driving plays a big role.
“We see these things,” said Silva, pointing out that drivers often use cell phones, change the radio station, eat food, drink coffee or take part in other activities that distract from watching the road. “It’s not one certain issue.”
Raposa said a dense population could play a role.
“When you have real dense population, you probably do end up having more accidents than in a rural area,” said Raposa, pointing out that Rhode Island is very much a city-state.
Amoros said many low-cost improvements to the highway and other high-traffic roadways have done a lot to promote safety, such as rumble strips, signs and reflectors, and cable guardrails. “One particular project that is already paying off is the installation of signage, pavement markers and reflectors on three sections of Interstate 95 in Providence and Pawtucket,” said Amoros, pointing out that serious injuries from crashes have reduced by half on the S-curves, Lonsdale Avenue and the Thurbers Avenue curb in the first year. She calculated that this one improvement has saved drivers more than $4 million in potential medical bills, car repairs and other damage.
Raposa said safety on roadways could improve by teaching young drivers from the beginning, through their 50 hours of supervised driving and student driver training, which is offered through AAA.
“Kids, physically, have great reflexes and control but have no experience,” said Raposa. “The inexperienced kid tends to only see what is right in front of the car.”
Raposa said more experienced drivers know to look down the road at the changing light or hidden roadway and other things that could lead to accidents. Adults supervising young drivers should make sure to point these things out so kids know what to look for when on their own.
“If it’s all done right, by the time they are 18, they should be good to go,” said Raposa.
While Amoros said engineering improvements can play a role, safety on roadways is also the responsibility of the driver.
“That means not drinking and driving, obeying the speed limit, wearing a seat belt, and putting cell phones away while driving,” said Amoros.
“We are working aggressively to address the challenge presented by our state’s aging infrastructure and will continue to work with the Governor’s office and legislature to identify new, sustainable ways to fund transportation improvements across Rhode Island,” added Amoros, saying work on educational campaigns on distracted driving such as “It Can Wait,” which encourages young drivers not to text and drive, will continue.