Tennessee cities with the worst drivers

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a car crash scene in a tennessee road

Tennessee's population grew by 1.1% between July 2022 and July 2023, making it one of the top eight fastest-growing states in the U.S. With this kind of rapid growth, an increase in vehicles on the road can lead to more traffic and, unfortunately, more accidents.

Understanding which cities have the worst drivers in your state can help you stay alert and informed. It can also help you choose an auto insurance policy and decide if you want an extended auto warranty, which ensures you are covered for unexpected repair bills.

To determine the Tennessee cities with the worst drivers, we analyzed crash data in cities with a population of 50,000 or more. We reviewed data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to identify which Tennessee cities you may want to steer clear of.


Key insights

Memphis ranks No. 1 as the city with the worst drivers in Tennessee. It has the highest number of crash fatalities per 100,000 people, at 36.19. This is well above the national and state averages of 12.84 and 18.98, respectively.

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Eight Tennessee cities are above the national average for crash fatalities per 100,000 people.

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Franklin is the safest major city for drivers; it has only 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 people.

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Tennessee's largest city, Nashville, ranks in the middle of the pack for worst drivers, finishing sixth out of 13.

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Top Tennessee cities with the worst drivers

In this section, we cover how each Tennessee city performs in terms of their “crash scores,” which we used to determine their rankings. We analyzed the following five factors to create our comprehensive crash score:

  • Number of fatalities due to crashes per 100,000 people
  • Number of crashes due to bad driving per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to speeding per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to driving under the influence per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to positive blood alcohol content per 100,000 people

Notably, Memphis not only has the worst drivers in the state, but also in the nation, according to a 2023 study by ConsumerAffairs.

1. Memphis

Crash score: 77.30

Recent data from FARS highlights the concerning driving conditions in Memphis. Memphis' crash score is significantly higher than other cities in the study, at 77.30.

Memphis’ high crash score calls attention to its troubling driving statistics, such as the 36 crash-related fatalities and 16.5 crashes due to bad driving per 100,000 people in 2022. The fatalities number is nearly three times the average across the U.S., while fatal crashes due to bad driving are over three times more than the nationwide average.

2. Knoxville

Crash score: 43.26

Knoxville faces challenges in road safety that make it stand out from other cities in Tennessee. In 2022, Knoxville reported 20.85 crash fatalities per 100,000 people.

Additionally, the city had 10 fatalities in crashes involving a positive blood alcohol concentration per 100,000 people, second highest after Memphis.

3. Kingsport

Crash score: 41.51

According to our analysis, Kingsport's number of fatalities per 100,000 people in crashes is the second highest in the state, at 27.07. This is over two times the national average of 12.84.

However, Kingsport recorded zero fatalities due to driving under the influence or speeding in 2022. These statistics suggest the need for targeted interventions to reduce the combination of drinking and driving in the state’s 11th-largest city.

4. Chattanooga

Crash score: 39.72

Chattanooga, known for its scenic beauty along the banks of the Tennessee River, may be gaining a new reputation for bad drivers. One of the most concerning metrics is its high number of fatalities due to speeding (6.07 per 100,000 people), nearly twice the statewide rate.

5. Smyrna

Crash score: 35.34

Smyrna, located about 23 miles southeast of Nashville, exhibits concerning statistics that contribute to its place among the top five cities with the worst drivers in Tennessee.

In total, seven fatalities occurred due to crashes in Smyrna in 2022, with four resulting from speeding. The resulting rate of 7.44 fatalities due to speeding per 100,000 people is the highest in the state.

6. Nashville

Crash score: 34.50

Nashville's bustling urban environment contributes to increased risks on its roads. The capital of Tennessee — and its largest city — had 112 total fatalities from crashes in 2022, but its rate of fatalities per 100,000 people was 16.37, which was fifth highest in the state and below the Tennessee average of 18.98.

7. Johnson City

Crash score: 33.94

Johnson City presents a mixed picture in terms of driving safety metrics. While it boasts one of the lowest rates of bad driving crashes per 100,000 people in the state, at 4.24, other statistics point to problems. The number of fatalities due to driving under the influence in 2022 was 4.24 per 100,000 people, the highest on our list, and Johnson City is fourth in fatalities due to speeding.

8. Clarksville

Crash score: 28.00

Clarksville’s rate of 13.70 crash-related fatalities per 100,000 people in 2022 was well below the state average but slightly above the national average. It is one of only four of the cities we looked at that had no fatalities attributed to driving under the influence. (There were, however, 10 fatalities involving a positive blood alcohol concentration.)

9. Jackson

Crash score: 20.59

Jackson's driving safety metrics reveal both strengths and weaknesses. The city had no deaths in 2022 attributed to driving under the influence or speeding. However, Jackson’s number of crashes due to bad driving per 100,000 people in 2022 was 7.35, fourth highest on our list.

10. Murfreesboro

Crash score: 16.94

Murfreesboro, despite its growing population and traffic demands, demonstrates relatively favorable driving safety metrics compared with other cities in Tennessee. The city reported just four crashes attributed to bad driving, equal to a rate of 2.61 per 100,000 people, second lowest in the state. Murfreesboro’s rate of fatalities from crashes and deaths related to driving under the influence, positive blood alcohol and speeding are all below state and national averages.

11. Hendersonville

Crash score: 14.61

Hendersonville, about 17 miles northeast of Nashville, is one of the safer cities in Tennessee for drivers. It had only five fatalities from crashes in 2022, with none attributed to driving under the influence. Only one of the deaths was due to speeding.

12. Spring Hill

Crash score: 11.69

Spring Hill distinguishes itself among Tennessee cities as particularly safe for drivers, with one of the lowest rates of bad driving crashes (3.90 per 100,000) and fatalities (3.90). Notably, it’s one of only four cities we looked at with no deaths in 2022 due to speeding.

13. Franklin

Crash score: 1.20

Our analysis revealed Franklin as the leader in driving safety among cities in Tennessee. The suburb south of Nashville finished with the lowest crash score by a long shot. That’s because in 2022, there was only one death in a motor vehicle crash — and it wasn’t due to driving under the influence or speeding, and no alcohol was involved. There were also no crashes attributed to bad driving.

Comparing Tennessee's worst drivers with America’s

When comparing the cities with the worst drivers in Tennessee with those in the U.S., Memphis really stands out. Memphis is not only the city with the worst drivers in Tennessee but also ranks first nationwide, according to a 2023 study by ConsumerAffairs.

Tips for driving in cities with notoriously bad drivers

Driving in Tennessee can be challenging, especially with bad drivers on the road. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Stay alert and focused: Keep your attention on the road and avoid distractions to allow you to react quickly to sudden changes. This includes forgoing checking or using your phone for any reason. Pull over to a safe area to talk on the phone.
  • Use defensive driving techniques: Anticipate potential hazards and maintain a safe following distance to give yourself ample time to react.
  • Avoid aggressive driving: Stay calm and resist the urge to engage in aggressive behavior, focusing on safe and courteous driving instead. Aggressive driving endangers everyone on the road, including yourself and your passengers.
  • Maintain your vehicle: Regularly check your car for any issues to ensure it’s in optimal driving condition.
  • Stay updated on traffic conditions: Use traffic apps or local news to stay informed about road conditions and plan your routes accordingly.
  • Invest in a dashcam: Having a dashcam can help you monitor road conditions and provide valuable evidence in case of accidents.

Crash score data by Tennessee city

The table below shows crash scores and score components for each of Tennessee’s cities with a population of 50,000 or more. Data is from 2022.

Methodology

To determine the top Tennessee cities with the worst drivers, the ConsumerAffairs Research Team looked at cities in Tennessee with a population of 50,000 or more. We analyzed the most recently reported crash data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is from 2022.

We looked at five crash factors, adding them together to create a “crash score.” These factors are:

  • Number of fatalities due to crashes per 100,000 people
  • Number of crashes due to bad driving per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to speeding per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities due to driving under the influence per 100,000 people
  • Number of fatalities involving positive blood alcohol content per 100,000 people

Examples of “bad driving” included:

  • Aggressive driving/road rage
  • Careless driving, inattentive operation, improper driving, driving without due care
  • Driving on wrong side of two-way road (intentional or unintentional)
  • Driving wrong way on one-way road
  • Failure to yield right of way
  • Following improperly
  • Improper lane usage
  • Improper or erratic lane changing
  • Making other improper turn
  • Operating the vehicle in an erratic, reckless or negligent manner
  • Operator inexperience
  • Passing where prohibited by posted signs, pavement markings or school bus displaying warning not to pass
  • Passing with insufficient distance or inadequate visibility or failing to yield to overtaking vehicle

For questions about the data or if you'd like to set up an interview, please contact acurls@consumeraffairs.com.

Reference policy

We love it when people share our findings! If you do, please link back to our original article to credit our research.


References

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).” Accessed June 11, 2024.Link Here

Figures

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