4 Cities in Tennessee Have the Worst Drivers in the US, Study Finds 

downtown knoxville with the sunsphere in the background

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A recent survey finds 4 of the top 20 cities with the worst drivers in the country are located in Tennessee

As someone who has been driving in Tennessee for nearly 35 years, I was shocked by a recent Consumer Affairs report. Tennessee, the report says, has four of the Top 20 worst cities for driving in the country. Memphis came in as the worst city for drivers in the country. Knoxville, Clarksville and Chattanooga rank from 12th to 19th worst in the country. But I’ve driven large and small cities all over the Eastern half of this country. As a result, I say there’s no way.  

A recent Consumer Affairs report says Memphis is the worst city for driving in the country. The methodology is based on four factors which include fatal crashes per 100,000 people. The selected data points conclude cities like Knoxville, Clarksville and Chattanooga are among the worst. However, someone who has driven in those cities disagrees.  

U.S. RankCityCrash Score
1Memphis, TN86.6
12Knoxville, TN44.6
17Clarksville, TN40.4
19Chattanooga, TN40.1
View the full ranking here.
The memphis pyramid and the interstate around it
Memphis is a densely populated city in Tennessee that often attracts a decent amount of tourism. combined, these two factors can lead to traffic congestion (Photo by Nina Alizada/shutterstock.com)

About the study

The study used four factors to determine the worst-driving cities based on 2021 data from the U.S. Department of Education. The cities were limited to those with populations of 100,000 or greater. The selected data points are: 

  • Total car crash fatalities per 100,000 people
  • The number of fatal crash fatalities due to bad driving per 100,000 people.  
  • Number of fatal crashes due to positive blood alcohol content per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to speeding per 100,000 people

Examples of bad driving included aggressive or careless driving and following improperly.  Honestly, in that last category, my wife may personally be responsible for Knoxville ranking so highly. I’m kidding, of course. Leslie hasn’t killed anybody. She rides a bumper like a surfer on a wave. 

The full ranking can be found below:

Top 20 Cities with the Worst Drivers in the U.S.

U.S. RankCityCrash Score
1Memphis, TN86.6
2Baton Rouge, LA73.8
3Albuquerque, NM50.8
4Macon, GA49.1
5Saint Louis, MO47.4
6Cleveland, OH47.3
7Detroit, MI47.1
8Victorville, CA47.1
9Hesperia, CA45.6
10Pueblo, CO45.4
11Rockford, IL45.4
12Knoxville, TN44.6
13Beaumont, TX44.4
14Greensboro, NC42.2
15Independence, MO41.8
16Hartford, CT41.5
17Clarksville, TN40.4
18Lakewood, CO40.2
19Chattanooga, TN40.1
20Tucson, AZ39.6

Problems with the study

The first problem I have is with the selected data points. Don’t they seem a little redundant? Fatal car crashes and fatal car crashes due to bad driving? Are there fatal car crashes due to good driving? Not to be flippant but aren’t speeding and drunk driving bad driving, too? I feel like the four categories would carry overlapping numbers and skew the results. 

How do I know the results are skewed? Let’s step outside Tennessee. Macon, Georgia ranks fourth worst in the nation. Atlanta, Georgia ranks 29th. I have driven in Macon and Atlanta a lot for someone who doesn’t live there. Not just interstate driving either. I have never in my life been traveling North on I-75, crossed the Macon city limits, and felt relief that I only had Atlanta ahead of me. In other words, no one I have ever met believes Macon is worse for driving than Atlanta. 

“I have never in my life been traveling North on I-75, crossed the Macon city limits, and felt relief that I only had Atlanta ahead of me.”

– John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com
i-40 in knoxville tn
Knoxville certainly has its share of bad drivers (Photo by Rosemarie Mosteller/shutterstock.com)

Are Knoxville drivers that bad? 

Since this is a website based on the Smoky Mountains, I want to carefully examine the two East Tennessee cities mentioned in the study. Let’s start with Knoxville.

If we accept the premise that Knoxville is the 12th worst city for driving in America, why would that be? Welcome my friends to I-40 West in rush hour. Two of America’s major interstate systems converge for a brief time going through west Knoxville. You’ve got I-75 traffic heading down to Chattanooga and Atlanta. You’ve got I-40 traffic heading to Nashville and maybe on to Memphis. At the right time of day, when the confluence of humanity is staring into the setting sun, Knoxville just might be the worst city in America to drive. Bad driving conditions can create bad drivers. 

But honestly, it’s just not. Knoxville certainly has its share of bad drivers, but it’s not as bad as Nashville, which didn’t even make the top 25. Specifically, Nashville was ranked 59th. Clarksville – which is entirely peopled by drivers on their way to Nashville – was 17th.  That tells you all you need to know. The numbers are not right. I’ve driven enough in both cities – not just anecdotally – to know. 

Are Knoxville drivers the 12th worst in the country? Nah. They may not even be the 12th worst in Tennessee. It’s just in the smaller cities, we handle bad driving on a more personal level “Charlie, if you don’t stop riding my tail I’ma tell Jeweldene and she will tan your hide raw!” We ain’t got to get Consumer Affairs involved in this. 

downtown chattanooga
While traffic in downtown Chattanooga is relatively calm for its size, intestate traffic in Chatanooga is another story, at least during rush hour (photo by Marcus E Jones/shutterstock.com)

Are Chattanooga drivers that bad?

The confluence of I-75 and I-24 has been a nightmare for 30-something years. It seems like Tennessee has been working on that intersection for at least that long. Essentially, you’ve got 24 which runs up to Nashville. Interstate 59, out of Alabama, feeds into that not far from the Chattanooga City limits. And then you’ve got 75 running north and south. A lotta people are trying to get through there and they ain’t ridin’ the choo-choo. But guys, I’ve spent a lot of time off the interstates in Chattanooga. It’s a perfectly fine city in which to drive. Certainly not worse than cities much farther down the list. 

Look, the numbers that they’ve chosen are correct and they highlight a serious problem. However, they are insufficient to determine the stated goal. Regardless, we have way too many people who overestimate their abilities behind the wheel. We have way too many people who underestimate the damage a serious car wreck can do. Also, we have way too many people willing to put their lives – and others – at risk to shave five or 10 minutes of a six-hour drive. Are there more of those people in Chattanooga or Knoxville or Clarksville? I don’t think so. 

memphis tn interstate
In a recent study, Memphis was ranked #1 for having the worst drivers in the country (photo by Steve Heap/shutterstock.com)

What about Memphis?

Is Memphis the worst city in which to drive in the country? Honestly, that’s hard for me to say. While I live in Tennessee, Memphis is a good six-and-a-half-hour drive away. Major cities closer to me include Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Washington D.C. is 18 minutes farther from my front door than Memphis is. 

Therefore, I’ve only done a little interstate driving and a small amount of tourist driving in Memphis. But I doubt that it’s worse than cities like Miami, Atlanta, Tampa, Charlotte or D.C. I did a quick count. I’ve driven in something like 35% of the top 100 worst cities on the list. I wouldn’t put Memphis in the Top 10. 

“The fact of the matter is simple. Bad driving exists all over. It exists in big cities and small towns. We need to work to improve bad driving habits.”

– John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com

The numbers cited in the report are accurate but only represent a relatively small portion of the totality of bad driving. They also seem to focus on cities on major travel routes – like I-75 or I-40. But it doesn’t appear to consider drivers just passing through. What if a bad driver travels from Macon and causes a horrific crash in Knoxville? Should that crash count against Knoxville?
The fact of the matter is simple. Bad driving exists all over. It exists in big cities and small towns. We need to work to improve bad driving habits. Drivers need to focus on reducing fatal crashes across the board. 

Do you think Tennessee has some of the worst drivers in the country? If so, let us know in the comments.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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