The Most and Least Car-Dependent States [Complete Study]

Many Americans are dependent on cars for their daily lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average one-way commute time for U.S. workers is 27 minutes. Our study of the car dependency by state took into account how many people commute by car and annual miles driven. The most car-dependent states are Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana, and Wyoming.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Apr 9, 2021

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In America, a driver’s license means greater responsibility and risk, but it also means freedom and flexibility.

Nationally, 85 percent of adults aged 16 and older have a driver’s license. Annually, these drivers log 3.2 trillion miles.

While many of these miles are accounted for by road trips and family vacations, the majority come from daily commutes and day-to-day business operations. This brings up a concept called car dependency. In this article, we will look at car dependency by state.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the average one-way commute time for U.S. workers is 26.9 minutes. That time is up 18 seconds over the previous survey.

The additional time may not seem like much, but it represents an extra 2.5 hours on the road each year. Of course, for workers in urban areas, the commute time can be much longer.

Further, U.S. workers generally commute solo. Despite the rise of public transportation, bike lanes, and ridesharing services, the majority of workers (76.4 percent) drive alone. Only 8.9 percent carpool and 5 percent use public transportation. Combined, less than 5 percent of workers walk, bike, or commute by other means.bar graph comparing mods of transportation used for remote workers in the US

As the U.S. population has grown, so has the number of vehicles on the road. In fact, the increase in the total number of vehicles on American roads has outpaced population growth since the 1960s. Of the 272 million vehicles (including private and public automobiles, buses, trucks, and motorcycles) driven today, 109 million are privately-owned passenger vehicles.chart showing number of vehicles by population in the US


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The more time you spend behind the wheel, the more important it is to have the best auto insurance. We can help you easily compare car insurance coverages from the best providers.


As the number of vehicles per person has grown, so has the average distance traveled per year. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that U.S. drivers log about 10,000 miles per year, up from roughly 7,000 miles in the 1980s. Over the past several decades, the largest increases have occurred in urban areas. As a result, city roads are increasingly congested, prolonging commute times and adding to Americans’ daily stress.

The wasted time spent in the car is also costly. Research firm INRIX found that Americans lose 97 hours a year to traffic jams and slow-moving drivers. The lost hours translate to a cost of $87 billion a year.

That said, the stress and financial strain caused by increased time spent behind the wheel doesn’t impact residents throughout the country uniformly. To identify the most car-dependent states in the U.S., our researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Census Bureau. We created a composite car-dependency index based on the following factors and weights:

  • Annual miles driven per person – 50%
  • Workers who commute by car – 30%
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person – 10%
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license – 10%

This article covers the 20 states: 10 that are the most car-dependent and 10 that are the least car-dependent. This factor plays into car insurance rates for these states. If you’re looking to find car insurance in your community, visit our insurance quote comparison page for access to insurance company reviews and local agents and brokers.

If you live in an area that’s dependent on cars, it’s important to get good car insurance rates. Enter your ZIP code into our FREE online quote comparison tool to find the best rates for your area.

In the frequently asked questions section of this article, we’ll cover additional topics like:

  • Car dependency definition
  • Car-dependent cities
  • How to reduce car dependency
  • Negative impacts of automobile dependency

Now, back to the study. Here’s what we found:

Study’s Key Takeaways

Overall, the car-dependency index ranges from a high of 98.81 to a low of 50.8. The most car-dependent states largely exist in the southern part of the U.S.. Conversely, the least car-dependent states are generally found on the West Coast or in the Northeast.

Rural versus urban density plays an important role in determining car dependency. The least car-dependent states have low percentages of residents living in rural areas. The opposite is true for states at the high end of the index. Residents in rural areas are less likely to have access to public transportation and are more likely to require a car for daily commuting and other responsibilities.

While driving has increased overall, a smaller share of U.S. employees are using their personal vehicles to get to work.

In a 10-year span from 2007 to 2017, Census reported a 1.2 percentage point drop in workers who commute by car.

Among the least car-dependent states, the drop was as great as 5.4 percentage points in the District of Columbia. Conversely, in the most car-dependent states, these numbers generally stayed the same or increased over the same time period.

Among the largest U.S. cities, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco experienced the greatest decreases in car commuters since 2007, at 9.2, 8.1, and 7.1 percentage points, respectively.

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The Most Car-Dependent States

#1 – Alabama

  • Car-dependency index: 98.81
  • Annual miles driven per person: 14,499
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.41
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 100%
  • Workers who commute by car: 94.2%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

Driving more often and during unusual hours can result in accidents as we’ve seen in recent years with the hazards of drowsy driving. Learn more about the dangers of drowsy driving to prevent you from becoming a victim.

#2 – Tennessee

  • Car-dependency index: 91.97
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,247
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.34
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 98%
  • Workers who commute by car: 92.0%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -1.4 percentage points

#3 – Arkansas

  • Car-dependency index: 90.80
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,112
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.30
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 100%
  • Workers who commute by car: 93.2%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

#4 – Mississippi

  • Car-dependency index: 90.49
  • Annual miles driven per person: 13,698
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.27
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 86%
  • Workers who commute by car: 94.6%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: +0.8 percentage points

In Mississippi, not all cars are created equal, at least according to car thieves. Check out our article about the most stolen cars in Mississippi to see if your car is a top target.

#5 – North Dakota

  • Car-dependency index: 90.21
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,863
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.36
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 93%
  • Workers who commute by car: 89.8%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: +1.9 percentage points

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#6 – Oklahoma

  • Car-dependency index: 89.41
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,568
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.34
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 80%
  • Workers who commute by car: 92.1%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

#7 – Missouri

  • Car-dependency index: 87.63
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,417
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.35
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 86%
  • Workers who commute by car: 90.6%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

And you should know: St. Louis, Missouri, is a deadly city for U.S. drivers as it ranks in the top 10 deadliest cities for drivers.

#8 – New Mexico

  • Car-dependency index: 87.46
  • Annual miles driven per person: 14,214
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.29
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 88%
  • Workers who commute by car: 90.0%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

#9 – Indiana

  • Car-dependency index: 86.96
  • Annual miles driven per person: 12,263
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.34
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 85%
  • Workers who commute by car: 91.2%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -1.4 percentage points

#10 – Wyoming

  • Car-dependency index: 86.57
  • Annual miles driven per person: 16,890
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.33
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 91%
  • Workers who commute by car: 88.1%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

The Least Car-Dependent States

#1 – New York

  • Car-dependency index: 50.80
  • Annual miles driven per person: 6,234
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.23
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 74%
  • Workers who commute by car: 59.4%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -2.1 percentage points

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#2 – District of Columbia

  • Car-dependency index: 53.34
  • Annual miles driven per person: 5,354
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.28
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 89%
  • Workers who commute by car: 39.6%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -5.4 percentage points

#3 – Hawaii

  • Car-dependency index: 56.37
  • Annual miles driven per person: 7,529
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.35
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 81%
  • Workers who commute by car: 80.8%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -2.4 percentage points

#4 – Alaska

  • Car-dependency index: 56.67
  • Annual miles driven per person: 7,460
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.23
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 92%
  • Workers who commute by car: 81.1%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: No significant change

#5 – New Jersey

  • Car-dependency index: 57.07
  • Annual miles driven per person: 8,607
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.31
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 85%
  • Workers who commute by car: 78.9%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -2.1 percentage points

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#6 – Illinois

  • Car-dependency index: 58.71
  • Annual miles driven per person: 8,437
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.36
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 82%
  • Workers who commute by car: 80.8%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -2.2 percentage points

#7 – Massachusetts

  • Car-dependency index: 59.70
  • Annual miles driven per person: 9,134
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.32
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 86%
  • Workers who commute by car: 77.3%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -3.9 percentage points

Massachusetts is frequently featured on lists of the states with the best drivers. Part of the credit may go to its rigorous road test and requirements for teens to get a driver’s license.

Additional education is one of many discounts available to younger drivers, who may have very high car insurance rates. Go to our cheap car insurance for young drivers page to find the best insurance for your teenager.

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#8 – Pennsylvania

  • Car-dependency index: 59.71
  • Annual miles driven per person: 7,935
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.34
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 84%
  • Workers who commute by car: 84.7%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -1.4 percentage points

#9 – California

  • Car-dependency index: 62.25
  • Annual miles driven per person: 8,697
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.37
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 84%
  • Workers who commute by car: 83.9%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -1.1 percentage points

California is one of the only states to outlaw the use of non-driving factors to set car insurance rates. See our answer to the question, “How are car insurance rates determined?” for more information.

#10 – Oregon

  • Car-dependency index: 62.36
  • Annual miles driven per person: 8,872
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person: 0.37
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license: 85%
  • Workers who commute by car: 81.4%
  • 10-year change in workers commuting by car: -3.1 percentage points

Full Study Results

RankStatesCar Dependency IndexAnnual Miles Driven per PersonPassenger Vehicles per PersonAdults 16+ with a Driver's LicenseWorkers who Commute by Car10-yr Change: Commuting by Car
1Alabama98.8114,4990.41100%94.2%No change
2Tennessee91.9712,2470.3498%92.0%-1.4%
3Arkansas90.812,1120.3100%93.2%No change
4Mississippi90.4913,6980.2786%94.6%+0.8%
5North Dakota90.2112,8630.3693%89.8%+1.9%
6Oklahoma89.4112,5680.3480%92.1%No change
7Missouri87.6312,4170.3586%90.6%No change
8New Mexico87.4614,2140.2988%90.0%No change
9Indiana86.9612,2630.3485%91.2%-1.4%
10Wyoming86.5716,8900.3391%88.1%No change
11South Carolina85.4911,0460.3493%91.3%-0.8%
12Kentucky84.3311,0550.3784%91.4%-0.9%
13South Dakota83.8311,0880.491%89.0%+1.6%
14Montana83.7312,0370.4294%85.4%No change
15Kansas83.5211,0730.3488%91.2%No change
16Nebraska82.9510,9380.3592%90.8%+1.7%
17Delaware82.7510,8810.4397%89.2%No change
18North Carolina82.4611,6000.3288%89.9%-1.8%
19Wisconsin82.0511,2710.3689%88.8%No change
20Iowa80.8810,6440.489%89.4%No change
21Louisiana80.7810,5080.2991%91.9%No change
22Vermont80.511,9050.35100%84.0%No change
23Georgia79.9911,9600.3385%88.6%-1.2%
24Ohio78.5510,2580.3984%91.0%No change
25New Hampshire77.8410,1890.3797%89.2%No change
26Michigan76.9610,2140.3287%91.2%-0.7%
27West Virginia76.9610,5030.376%91.8%No change
28Maine76.1711,0320.2992%87.9%-1.1%
29Florida74.7110,4280.3786%88.4%-1.7%
30Minnesota73.8410,7540.3876%86.2%-0.9%
31Idaho72.8510,0760.3288%89.3%+1.3%
32Virginia69.9210,0660.3886%86.0%-2.2%
33Texas69.139,6440.2977%90.4%-0.7%
34Utah68.4510,1470.2986%86.8%-1.1%
35Arizona68.259,2740.3491%87.5%-0.8%
36Nevada66.389,2020.3579%88.3%-1.0%
37Connecticut65.788,7790.3687%86.1%-1.3%
38Maryland65.689,9210.3388%82.8%-1.7%
39Rhode Island65.197,5510.3985%88.8%No change
40Colorado64.89,5200.3291%83.4%-1.7%
41Washington64.038,2940.3996%81.9%-2.6%
42Oregon62.368,8720.3785%81.4%-3.1%
43California62.258,6970.3784%83.9%-1.1%
44Pennsylvania59.717,9350.3484%84.7%-1.4%
45Massachusetts59.79,1340.3286%77.3%-3.9%
46Illinois58.718,4370.3682%80.8%-2.2%
47New Jersey57.078,6070.3185%78.9%-2.1%
48Alaska56.677,4600.2392%81.1%No change
49Hawaii56.377,5290.3581%80.8%-2.4%
50District of Columbia53.345,3540.2889%39.6%-5.4%
51New York50.86,2340.2374%59.4%-2.1%
National AverageUnited States65.599,8620.3485%85.3%-1.2%
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Frequently Asked Questions: The Positives and Negatives of Automobiles

Now that we’ve covered the 10 states most dependent on cars and the 10 states least dependent on cars, let’s get to your frequently asked questions. They include:

  • What does car-dependent mean?
  • What are the negative effects of cars?
  • Are cars the leading cause of pollution?

Scroll down for the answers to those questions and many more.

#1 – What does car-dependent mean?

Car-dependent, when referring to an individual, city, or state, simply means that the entity is reliant on cars to get around. Often, a city or state labeled car-dependent has prioritized car travel over other forms of transportation in its area.

#2 – How can I reduce my car dependency?

An individual looking to reduce their car dependency can choose alternate forms of transportation to get around, such as buses or subways. They can also choose physical activity to get from place to place, such as riding a bicycle or walking.

#3 – What are the negative effects of cars?

Some common negative effects of cars include accidental deaths, rise in light and noise pollution, increased damage to a location’s air quality, more urban sprawl, a decrease in strength of the local economy, and more.

#4 – What are the positive effects of automobiles?

Cars enable people to travel from place to place rapidly without the need for physical exertion. This is doubly important for a person who is transporting goods that would be too large to carry by hand.

#5 – Who first mass-produced the automobile?

The 1901 Oldsmobile is considered to be the first automobile that was mass-produced. The founder of the company that did so was Ransome Eli Olds, who also pioneered the assembly line.

#6 – What is the definition of automobile?

The general definition of an automobile is an (often) four-wheel vehicle designed to transport passengers.

#7 – Are cars the leading cause of pollution?

Cars are a leading cause of pollution, pumping contaminants into the atmosphere that affect air quality and can contribute to early, preventable death.

#8 – How much pollution do cars cause?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cars cause around 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution, while other organizations believe cars cause at least one-third of air pollution in the United States and around 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

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Methodology: Determining the Most and Least Car-Dependent States

To identify the most car-dependent states, a composite car-dependency index was calculated based on the following factors and weights:

  • Annual miles driven per person (50%): Annual vehicle-miles traveled divided by the state population.
  • Workers who commute by car (30%): The percentage of workers who commute by car, truck, or van.
  • Number of passenger vehicles per person (10%): Number of privately-owned automobiles divided by the state population.
  • Adults 16+ with a driver’s license (10%): The total number of licensed drivers in the state divided by the population 16 and over. In some instances, the resulting statistic slightly exceeded 100%. This could be the result of certain residents moving out-of-state and not yet transferring their license. For the purpose of this analysis, we capped these values at 100%.

The data used was sourced from the following reports and surveys:

  • Vehicle-miles traveled, vehicle registrations, and driver’s license statistics are from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
  • Commuting statistics and population estimates are from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

Being car-dependent likely means your car insurance rates are higher than typical. Enter your ZIP code into our online quote generator to find the cheapest rates in your area.

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