CITIES AND BAD DRIVERS
An interesting recent article in Slate asked the question, “Which U.S. City has the Worst Drivers?” The authors studied the 200 largest cities in the country, and using a complicated matrix of measures (which is explained in a useful spreadsheet) they compiled the list of shame. Miami was the worst by a wide margin, followed by Philadelphia, Hialeah, Tampa, and Baltimore. I see two possible patterns here. Obviously, three of the five cities are in Florida so either: a) the heat makes people drive badly (unlikely); the larger number of elderly drivers makes for a dangerous environment (possible); or Latinos are reckless drivers (Hialeah and Miami are overwhelmingly Latino, but then so are many cities in Texas and California, which were generally rated as much safer). As for Baltimore and Philadelphia, both have high poverty rates (Philadelphia has the highest percentage living in poverty of any major U.S. city). Are poorer people less law-abiding drivers, or is it simply that a poorer city has less ability to enforce traffic laws? My guess is the latter. For example, Philadelphia is a city where cars regularly park on downtown sidewalks. Speed limits are rarely enforced. Laws are flouted as a matter of course, and nobody, but nobody, actually stops at STOP signs. I remember that one year in my district, the police started ticketing cars that were parked “on the wrong side of the street,” i.e. facing traffic. There was an immediate outcry–it was unfair, we’ve always done it this way, it’s our neighborhood we can do what we want, etc. The police stopped issuing tickets.