Buckle Up, Atlanta And Georgia! How Both Deal With Dangerous, Drunk and Distracted Drivers

A speeding car on a residential street

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

At the end of May, the site “WorkTruckOnline” posted warnings about which cities were the most dangerous for driving in America. Diving into the city and state data, I report where Atlanta and Georgia rank in comparison to the others. I also look at how Peach State politicians have attempted to address the twin problems of distracted driving and drunk driving.

According to WorkTruckOnline, the worst problems can be found in the Sun Belt. Atlanta ranks 16th on their list, with Birmingham being 12th. But it’s worse in the Sunshine State, where Florida sports four cities in the top 10 for worst driving. You can also find Memphis, Nashville, Richmond, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City as places where you’d better buckle up.

Forbes’ measure of dangerous driving cities with data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau provides more details on Atlanta’s ranking just outside the top 15 in America. There are 14.22 fatal car accidents per 100,000 residents. Moreover, of these, there are 3.77 fatal car crashes involving a drunk driver per 100,000 people in Atlanta.

On the drunk driving measure, I compared Atlanta with other Southern cities. Atlanta is well behind Memphis, one of the leading cities in deadly driving cases and drunk driving fatalities, which is roughly twice as deadly as Atlanta. The city is well behind every Texas city but San Antonio (El Paso, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin), and behind Jacksonville, with comparable scores with Nashville and Charlotte. Only Tampa has lower scores than Atlanta for DUI deaths.

That’s probably because of Georgia’s tough anti-impaired driving laws. With jail time, stiff fines, and license suspension, it gets even tougher with each new offense. The blood alcohol content rating of 0.08 is even lower for drivers under 21, or any driver operating commercial vehicles (even as low as 0.02).

Georgia also passed some stringent laws designed to deter distracted driving. According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, “The use of phones behind the wheel remains the predominant form of distraction in Georgia and is responsible for a majority of traffic crashes in the state and nation. The rising number of traffic deaths is one reason why the state of Georgia enacted a “Hands-free” law in July of 2018. Georgia’s hands-free law prohibits drivers from using a phone in their hand or supported by their body when on the road, this includes vehicles that are stopped on a road at a traffic signal or stop sign. Drivers using a hands-free device can talk on their phone and watch the screen for navigational purposes.”

In-depth reporting by Forbes, covering data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Arity, and the Department of Transportation shows that Georgia thankfully did not make the top ten for a metric that includes the rate of crashes as a percentage of the population, as well as separate measures for distracted driving, drowsy driving and cases of speeding.

Georgia was 27th in this Forbes database. The evidence showed the state had a relatively low rate of distracted drivers, as compared to other states, and a rate of “drowsy drivers” that appeared lower than others in its quintile (20-29). But, as you might guess if you are driving on Atlanta roads in general, and Cobb County as well, speeding is an issue. Georgia even tops Florida in this category, as well as Tennessee. And that includes times during rush-hour driving and after sporting events like the Atlanta Braves game, as fans back in Truist Park and the surrounding attractions year-round.

Georgia seems to be doing pretty well for deterring drunk driving and distracted driving. Perhaps taking on some of the excessive speeding cases might move the state even further down the rankings of dangerous driving nationwide.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His “X” account is JohnTures2.