Traffic headed to the Bay Bridge in Oakland. (KQED)
Traffic headed to the Bay Bridge in Oakland. (KQED)

I love it when data, or alleged data, attempts to shed light on what we take to be the real world. So here’s a brand-new survey that shows that San Francisco is one of the most courteous cities in the country when it comes to driving.

The AutoVantage Driver’s Seat Road Rage Survey, which was conducted in late March and early April, found that drivers in Portland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis were more courteous than those in San Francisco; Charlotte motorists were No. 5 in driving courtesy. The rankings are based on a) what drivers report seeing other drivers do on the road (speeding, running red lights, texting, and such) and the kind of road-rage behavior they admit to (cursing other drivers, flipping them off and other acts of endearment).

Portland ranks first, the survey says, because drivers there are least likely to honk the horn at another driver, least likely to speed, and least likely to cut off other drivers with stupid lane changes. (My observation, from driving a little in the Beaver State, is that drivers there don’t change lanes at all and may not know about automotive devices like horns and accelerators. On the other hand, the first Road Rage survey, five years ago, also ranked Portland at the top of the courtesy list, so maybe drivers up north really are that polite.)

AutoVantage says San Francisco drivers are least likely to have talked on their cellphone while driving, and second least likely to observe another driver doing the same; they’re the fourth least likely to have observed another driver tailgating.

The least courteous driving cities? Houston is reported to be the worst, the survey says, with drivers being the most likely to see another driver cutting them off and most likely to admit performing this behavior, most likely to see someone else slam on their brakes and most likely to admit talking on their phones while driving.

The rest of the Discourtesy Top 5: Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

The casual statistician in me doesn’t put a lot of stock in these rankings. I would guess that the sample size — 2,500 drivers across the entire United States — might allow one to come to general conclusions about national trends but would be unlikely to provide much really meaningful information about each of the 25 cities the report says were surveyed.

And although, yes, I have a little swelling of pride when I read that my native Chicago is ninth least courteous, with drivers there being the most likely to curse or shake their fists at other drivers, the findings for San Francisco — drivers least likely to have talked on the phone while at the wheel — just don’t seem to jibe with what I see every day on the streets. Which is, in short, all sorts of the kind of jerky behavior that I assume goes along with driving a car anywhere. I plead occasionally guilty to the above-named offense.

It’s true that these are relative findings: Fewer San Francisco drivers say they talk on the phone while driving compared to Houston, for instance (a finding that may reveal Houston as a capital of honesty and self-knowledge). I’m not driving in all those other cities, so maybe San Francisco really is more courteous.

But courtesy in this case doesn’t equate with safety. And we’ve got the numbers to back that up, with at least seven pedestrians killed by vehicles so far this year.

  • Cammy

    Where does Los Angeles play out in this list? I thought they were pretty bad. I’ll never forget a guy sticking his hand out of the sun roof of his jaguar to flip me off.

  • bajjer

    Toxic isolationism & the passive in passive-aggressive explain self-ratings of this nature.

  • SFNoCell

    I call BS re: SF drivers to Houston. Were they comparing them with what they thought was correct, in order to exonerate themselves, or valid statistical data? Too many people in the city with their hands to their heads….

  • Sam

    SF drivers are the worst!! No one pays attention to anything. I can’t tell you how many times I have to wave and shout STOP!!! STOP!! don’t hit me. Ughh. Clearly, these survey makers don’t live here.

  • Nikanoru

    I’ve been in probably 20 out of the 50 states… California drivers have always been the worst. You know that sign “Slow traffic move right”. California is literally the only state I know if that people completely IGNORE that sign.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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