Though D.C. Has the Worst Drivers, It's Pretty Safe to Walk There

You may be better off walking than driving in the nation's capital

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Washington D.C. has notoriously bad motorists. But, for a metro area consistently at the top of annual "worst" drivers surveys, it ranks lower in a pedestrian fatality study than one might presume. Meaning, commuters may be failing to understand basic road etiquette, but they aren't necessarily taking out as many pedestrians while they're doing so.

This was our reasoning after noting that two widely-covered studies on knowledgeable drivers and pedestrian fatalities were released this week--one by GMAC Insurance and the other by the think-tank Transportation For America. Both seem to have their underlying assumptions (Cars are unsafe, buy insurance! and Cars are unsafe, we need better pedestrian safeguards! respectively), but share interesting data on America's commuting culture.

In the GMAC survey, which ranked which cities have the "most knowledgeable" drivers by polling them with DMV exam questions, D.C. ranked dead last in the country. This finding fits in with several years of similar, well-documented Allstate Insurance studies that deemed the city as having "worst" drivers. One might assume that having consistently bad drivers would translate into more pedestrian fatalities, but D.C. doesn't seem to do nearly as bad on that count.

The newly released Transportation For America study culled ten years of fatality data to produce a ranked list of the metro areas most "dangerous" for pedestrians. Washington D.C. places at number 34 out of 52 large metro areas, which appears to be a relatively decent score for having terrible drivers. One possible reason for the sharp divergence in "worst" drivers rankings and not-as-bad-seeming fatalities rating might be that the Transportation study grouped Washington D.C., Arlington and Alexandria Virginia together as a "metro area." But being No. 1 in "worst" drivers and 34 in fatalities are still very different placements.

When we asked Transportation For America communications director David Goldberg about D.C.'s ranking in the fatalities study, he remarked that the city had invested in larger sidewalks, signalized crossing and marked pedestrian crossings. The metro area has "more pedestrian safety infrastructure than a lot of other places," he figured. Which could be an additional reason why D.C. pedestrians are able to shield themselves from D.C.'s poor drivers.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.