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10 Best and Worst Cities for Driving in California

Cars in Traffic

California, a state renowned for its scenic highways and vibrant cities, houses a complex interconnection of driving conditions that vary from one urban center to another. This study analyzes the ten most populous cities in the state using a methodology considering population, crash data, and daily vehicle miles traveled (DVMT) in order to provide a nuanced understanding of the drivability of each city. As we navigate through the rankings, it becomes evident that comprehending the driving conditions in California is not merely an exercise in statistics; it is key to fostering safer roads and informed decisions for residents and travelers alike.

Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, this examination aims to shed light on the driving landscape, helping you navigate the roads with informed awareness. Here are the best and worst cities for driving in California – a guide to the roads less traveled and those better left unexplored.

How We Ranked Each City: Breaking Down Our Scoring System

Car Crash Chart California

To assess each city’s safety and potential risks, we conducted an analysis with data obtained from the California Office of Traffic Safety. The analysis involved comparing their total population and the total number of car accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities. Next, we compared this information to the corresponding averages of the ten cities in question and examined the DVMT per city to establish their overall scores. 

This approach allowed us to make direct city-to-city comparisons while accounting for population differences, ensuring that Los Angeles, for instance, wasn’t unfairly ranked lower simply because of its larger number of drivers.

Based on our formula, here is the final rank each of the ten major cities received. We broke them down into two lists: the safest five and the most dangerous five.


  1. Fresno
  2. Los Angeles
  3. San Jose
  4. San Diego
  5. Bakersfield


  1. Oakland
  2. Anaheim
  3. Long Beach
  4. San Francisco
  5. Sacramento

Recognizing the significance of evaluating both car crashes involving fatalities and injuries is paramount in comprehending the overall safety landscape. While fatal accidents capture the most severe consequences of road incidents, injury-inducing crashes offer a nuanced understanding of the broader safety spectrum. By incorporating both metrics into our analysis, we ensure a more comprehensive and balanced assessment of each city’s driving conditions. 

This approach acknowledges that adequate safety measures extend beyond preventing fatalities; it encompasses the prevention of injuries that can have lasting impacts on individuals and communities. Striking a careful balance between these two aspects accurately reflects a city’s overall commitment to road safety. It underscores the need for holistic approaches to enhancing traffic safety measures.

Fresno CA Van Ness Ave
Fresno CA Van Ness

The Safest California Cities for Driving

Cities and metro centers often get a bad reputation for congested driving, aggressive maneuvers, and angry interactions. While this is certainly true for some California cities, not all suffer from that stereotype. Our study analyzed California’s ten most populated cities and found that quite a few had a relatively clean driving record to boast about.  

Here is an in-depth look at the five safest cities in California for driving, the safety measures contributing to their safe reputation, and data points that help explain their placement on our list. California offers unique driving characteristics, but these five cities highlight the state’s best population centers for drivers.

1. Fresno

fresno ca population crashes dvmt chart

Fresno, securing the top spot on our list as the safest city for driving in California, owes its ranking to a combination of meticulous urban planning and proactive safety measures. The city has strategically invested in traffic management infrastructure and robust law enforcement to ensure a secure driving environment. Its safety includes well-maintained roads, clear signage, and a comprehensive traffic control system

Additionally, Fresno has prioritized public awareness campaigns, fostering a culture of responsible driving among its residents. Enhanced community engagement, coupled with effective law enforcement strategies, has contributed to a significant reduction in both fatal and injury-inducing crashes. 

The city’s commitment to road safety is underscored by ongoing initiatives prioritizing education, enforcement, and engineering measures, making Fresno a model for other urban centers aiming to improve their driving conditions.

2. Los Angeles

los angeles ca population crashes dvmt

Los Angeles being the second safest city of California’s big ten for driving, might shock some. It grapples with the challenges inherent in being one of California’s most populous and bustling cities. However, the extensive road network and high vehicle density don’t seem to hinder its dynamic driving environment. There is certainly a high number of accidents reported compared to other cities, but when analyzed next to the number of drivers on the road at any given time, this number becomes much smaller.

Factors contributing to its ranking include the sheer volume of drivers and the integration of its traffic laws. Notable safety measures include a focus on traffic management systems, heightened law enforcement presence, and ongoing public awareness campaigns

While the city contends with traffic-related challenges, its proactive approach to safety initiatives and continuous improvements in road infrastructure contribute to mitigating risks. As Los Angeles continues to grow, a commitment to innovative safety measures and community engagement remains crucial to maintaining and enhancing road safety within this dynamic urban setting.

3. San Jose

San Jose CA Population crashes dvmt

San Jose, claiming the third position on our list, stands out as a city that has implemented commendable safety measures to address its unique driving challenges. Factors contributing to its ranking include a combination of effective traffic management strategies and a commitment to urban planning that prioritizes road safety. 

San Jose has proactively invested in smart traffic control systems, contributing to smoother traffic flow and reduced accident risks. The city’s focus on improving road infrastructure, including well-maintained roads and clear signage, has positively influenced its safety ranking. 

Additionally, San Jose has implemented community-driven initiatives, encouraging responsible driving behaviors through continued driver education courses and campaigns. As a result, the city has experienced a notable decline in both fatal and injury-inducing crashes. San Jose’s dedication to comprehensive safety measures showcases a proactive approach to creating a secure and efficient driving environment for its residents.

4. San Diego

San Diego CA population-crashes dvmt

Securing the fourth position on our list, San Diego is marked by its commitment to ensuring road safety amid the challenges posed by its thriving urban landscape. Factors influencing its ranking include a balance between a significant population and effective traffic management measures. San Diego has prioritized investment in infrastructure improvements, focusing on road maintenance and the implementation of modern traffic control systems. 

These efforts contribute to a smoother flow of traffic and a reduction in accident risks. The city’s extensive public transportation system also plays a role in mitigating road congestion. San Diego’s safety initiatives encompass physical infrastructure improvements and educational programs that foster responsible driving habits among residents. 

The city’s proactive stance on safety and ongoing improvements in traffic management positions San Diego as a commendable example of how urban centers can navigate the complexities of road safety in a bustling metropolis.

5. Bakersfield

Bakersfield CA population crashes dvmt

Bakersfield, holding the fifth position on our list, faces unique driving dynamics within its urban landscape. Contributing to its ranking is a combination of factors, including a notable population size and efforts to address specific safety challenges. Bakersfield has implemented targeted initiatives to improve road safety, focusing on both infrastructure enhancements and extensive driver education courses. 

While the city grapples with higher accident rates compared to some counterparts, proactive measures such as traffic management enhancements, law enforcement efforts, and community-driven safety programs have contributed to a more secure driving environment. 

Bakersfield’s commitment to addressing the specific challenges it faces and implementing comprehensive safety measures underscores the city’s dedication to ensuring the well-being of its residents on the roads. Continued efforts in both infrastructure development and public education will be crucial for further improving road safety in Bakersfield.

Oakland CA City Aerial Photo

The Most Dangerous California Cities for Driving

While Fresno shows the best of what California has to offer drivers, not all cities within the state can reach those shining heights. There’s a reason why city centers are often tagged as stressful and anxiety-inducing for drivers, and these five cities will show you why.

Let’s look at what causes them to be so difficult to drive in and ongoing efforts to curb the dangerous conditions. From Oakland to Anaheim, some California cities leave much to be desired by regular drivers. Whether you’re a visitor to the Golden State or an inhabitant, these five California cities will cause you a headache behind the wheel on the best of days. Here are the five worst cities in California for drivers.

6: Oakland

oakland ca population crashes dvmt

Oakland finds itself in the sixth position and first of the worst, facing distinct challenges that influence its ranking as one of California’s more challenging cities for drivers. Contributing factors include a higher density of drivers and a road network that grapples with traffic congestion. The city has identified infrastructure improvement as a key focal point, with ongoing efforts to enhance road conditions, optimize traffic flow, and implement advanced traffic management systems. Despite these initiatives, Oakland contends with a higher incidence of accidents, both fatal and injury-inducing, emphasizing the need for continued and targeted safety measures.

Ongoing efforts within the city include community-driven campaigns to raise awareness about responsible driving behaviors and the importance of adherence to traffic regulations. Law enforcement plays a pivotal role in enforcing traffic laws and contributing to accident prevention. As Oakland actively works towards creating a safer driving environment, these multifaceted initiatives highlight a commitment to addressing the specific challenges faced by the city. Continued collaboration between city authorities, law enforcement, and community members will be crucial in building upon these efforts and fostering a safer road culture in Oakland.

7: Anaheim

anaheim ca population crashes dvmt

In the seventh position on our list, Anaheim contends with several population-specific factors contributing to its classification as one of California’s more challenging cities for drivers. The city faces complexities associated with a considerable population count and a tightly congested traffic grid. Anaheim recognizes the need for targeted interventions, with ongoing infrastructure enhancements and traffic optimization efforts. Initiatives include road maintenance projects and the implementation of advanced traffic control systems to improve overall road conditions and reduce accident risks.

Despite these measures, Anaheim grapples with a higher incidence of both fatal and injury-inducing accidents. The city is actively addressing these challenges through community engagement and awareness programs, emphasizing responsible driving practices. Law enforcement efforts play a crucial role in enforcing traffic regulations and contributing to accident prevention. Anaheim’s commitment to ongoing safety initiatives demonstrates a proactive approach to navigating the unique driving challenges within the city. Continued collaboration and sustained efforts across various fronts will be essential to improve driving conditions in Anaheim further.

8: Long Beach

long beach ca population crashes dvmt

Long Beach grapples with unique driving challenges that contribute to its classification as one of California’s more demanding cities for motorists. The city’s intricate road network and substantial population density have prompted a strategic approach to enhance road safety. Noteworthy initiatives include ongoing infrastructure improvements, road maintenance, and advanced traffic management systems integration.

Despite these proactive measures, Long Beach contends with a higher incidence of accidents, encompassing both fatal and injury-inducing incidents. The city is lacking in its campaigns to curb traffic accidents, with little to no public efforts being implemented. Law enforcement is struggling but continues to play a pivotal role in accident prevention, contributing significantly to overall road safety in Long Beach. A sustained commitment to collaborative efforts and a focus on safety measures will be crucial for Long Beach to further enhance its driving conditions.

9: San Francisco

san francisco ca population crashes dvmt

Poorly synchronized traffic signals in San Francisco exacerbate congestion, leading to frustrating delays and inefficiencies for drivers navigating the city’s intricate road network. Additionally, inadequate signage and road markings contribute to confusion, prompting sudden lane changes and last-minute decisions that further disrupt the flow of traffic. The city’s hilly terrain amplifies these challenges, highlighting the need for precise traffic management to alleviate the unique complexities posed by San Francisco’s topography.

Moreover, San Francisco grapples with insufficient integration of public transportation systems, forcing a higher reliance on personal vehicles and intensifying traffic congestion. The lack of coordinated connectivity between buses, trains, and other modes of public transit hinders the city’s ability to offer a viable alternative to private car usage. Addressing these specific issues, adopting smarter traffic technologies, and prioritizing pedestrian-friendly infrastructure are crucial for San Francisco to navigate its traffic challenges more effectively and enhance the overall transportation experience for residents and visitors alike.

10: Sacramento

sacramento ca population crashes dvmt

Securing the last place spot on our list, Sacramento stands out as the most challenging city for drivers in California, grappling with many driving hazards that position it at the bottom of the ranking. A detailed analysis of Sacramento’s driving infrastructure reveals a problematic combination of factors contributing to its low distinction. The city contends with a dense road network, marked by an alarming prevalence of both fatal and injury-inducing accidents, underscoring its status as the most dangerous driving environment in California.

Sacramento’s undesirable driving conditions stem from specific trends, including alarming accident rates and overpopulated small roads that have solidified its position as the worst city for driving in the state. Urgent attention is required to address these unique challenges, emphasizing the necessity for targeted safety measures tailored to Sacramento’s distinct driving landscape. As the city endeavors to confront these issues, a comprehensive and adaptive approach to safety initiatives becomes imperative to rectify the specific driving trends that have landed Sacramento in the tenth and least favorable position on our list.

Cars in a Traffic Jam

Summing up our examination of California’s driving scenarios, the rankings have spotlighted critical insights into city-specific safety trends. Improvement calls for concrete actions for cities with lower standings—adopting safety initiatives, enhancing urban planning, and encouraging responsible driving.

Beyond the numbers, the responsibility for safe roads lies with each driver. Whether your city leads the pack or has areas to enhance, prioritizing safe driving practices is crucial. Abiding by traffic rules, staying focused, and practicing defensive driving all contribute to a safer driving environment. Let this analysis be a practical guide, motivating communities and individuals to actively contribute to safety on California’s roads.

***Disclaimer: This webpage has been crafted by Heidari Law Group solely for educational purposes. The content of this article aims to offer a broad comprehension of the law and does not constitute specific legal advice. By accessing this site and perusing its contents, no attorney-client relationship is established between you and any member of Heidari Law. Additionally, it’s important to note that the legal landscape is subject to continuous change, rendering some of the information provided herein potentially outdated or no longer applicable.

Sam Heidari

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