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San Francisco home to California’s most dangerous drivers

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We’re not number one in any accident category, but study finds us terrible overall

Blurred lights from San Francisco cars driving at night. Ekaterina Pokrovsky

In news that will have many locals nodding their heads in agreement, a Southern California-based data agency found that San Francisco drivers are California’s most dangerous. And yet, we didn’t actually do all that bad when it came to any individual ranking.

The study, commissioned by San Diego-based personal injury lawyers, ranked the state’s 65 largest cities in categories like crash rate, traffic deaths, DUI-related accidents and hit-and-run incidents, as well as contributing factors like rainfall and traffic infrastructure. The data is from 2015.

San Francisco gets the dubious number one spot, Berkeley comes in fourth, Oakland 24th, and San Jose an impressive 49th.

Oddly, the city’s actual performance in any of the nine categories isn’t as bad as our dismal ranking might suggest. For overall crash rate, we rank 13th, better than Oakland.

Michael Urmann

For fatalities we’re ninth, better than Fairfield.

For injuries we’re sixth, and for speeding 18th, which is better than Berkeley. In fact, we didn’t come in first in any category except population density, and our worst performance in any one category was sixth.

The catch is, while we weren’t the worst at any one thing, we were certainly never the best either.

San Francisco drivers are not notably terrible at any one thing, but rather just generally bad across the board.

Brian Beltz, the research lead on the study, said that the results surprised him. “I’ve done a lot of things with this data set, and typically LA is the leader,” he said.

He points out that assessing traffic safety involves hundreds of potential variables, and narrowing it down to just nine involves some judgment calls.


For example, in 2009 San Francisco ranked number one in traffic deaths if measured per vehicle miles driven, but only seventh if measured by population. (Beltz’s data measured on a per mile basis.)

One could make a case that “worst in California” is a relative term. And yet, it wouldn’t matter that much, because while Beltz’s findings may be argued with, they can’t be argued away; driver-related accidents are still happening.

In the 2016 calendar year, San Francisco saw 29 traffic fatalities, which is down from the previous two years, although only by two. But for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, we had 38.

“The goal is to make sure people are aware,” says Beltz. “It’s about relative risk. We don’t want to say that San Francisco is five times more dangerous than this place or 12 times that. I’d just say that people should adjust their driving habits accordingly.”

Be careful out there.