Raleigh is top city in US for driving, Durham 15th, despite low infrastructure scores

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by Jason Parker

Five North Carolina cities rank in the top 15 on a new report that tracks the best places in the United States to drive a personal vehicle, with Raleigh topping the list. But don’t jump to the conclusion that Raleigh won top honors due to excellent highways and low commute times.

The cost of ownership and maintenance, including the acquisition cost and the local price of gas were also big factors in how cities ranked, according to the methodology used in the WalletHub study.

However, Raleigh did not score well in infrastructure, placing 38th. Better scores across other criteria in the study lifted North Carolina’s capital to that top spot.

Greensboro and Winston-Salem are ranked third and fourth, respectively.

Two other North Carolina cities ranked in the top 15: Charlotte ranked 14th and Durham ranked 15th, according to the study.

“Raleigh ranked first due to the fact that it has the second lowest auto maintenance costs in the country, as well as very low extra vehicle operating costs per driver at just $348 per year,” WalletHub analys Jill Gonzalez told WRAL TechWire. “The city also ranks high in terms of road quality. In the safety category, Raleigh scored points for having the highest share of adults who always or nearly always wear a seatbelt at 98.4%, and for having a low share of uninsured drivers, just 7.4%.”

But there were trouble spots, too. Raleigh did rank 52nd of 100 for congestion (Durham was 42nd) and Raleigh ranked 64th for commute time (29.23 minutes) with Durham ranking 48th (27.63 minutes).

“In terms of traffic congestion, Raleigh ranks 52nd, with 25 hours spent annually in traffic per auto commuter,” Gonzalez said. “While this is slightly below average, it’s just one of the 30 metrics used to compile the ranking.”

The rankings report, 2021’s Best & Worst Cities to Drive In, notes that nationally, 87% of daily trips occur in personal vehicles, and that used car sales have increased 9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to that same quarter last year.

The report tracked 30 different metrics in four categories in the 100 most populous cities in the United States, then rank orders the composite scores to identify the best place to be a driver of a personal vehicle.  A higher composite score, the better the city is for driving, and the maximum score is 100.

Why did five North Carolina cities end up ranked in the top 15 cities in the nation?

A lot has to do with where each city ranks with regard to the cost of vehicle ownership and vehicle maintenance, compared to other cities in the nation. Here’s the data:

  • Raleigh scored 67.52, and ranked fourth in the category of cost of ownership and maintenance, and sixth in the category of safety.
  • Greensboro scored 66.01, and ranked first in the category of cost of ownership and maintenance.
  • Winston-Salem scored 65.62, and ranked third in the category of cost of ownership and maintenance.
  • Charlotte scored 60.62, and ranked seventh in the category of cost of ownership and maintenance.
  • Durham scored 60.56, and ranked eighth in the category of cost of ownership and maintenance.

The individual metrics in that broad category of cost of ownership and maintenance accounts for 30% of a city’s total score. Those categories include the cost of a new car, the average gas price in the city, the average monthly premium for legal car insurance, maintenance costs for a vehicle, extra vehicle operating costs per driver, and the average parking rate.

That ranking comes even as the global semiconductor chip shortage continues to contribute to increasing the acquisition cost of new and used vehicles, which has increased this year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The index for new vehicles rose 1.7 percent in July and has now increased 5.4 percent over the last 3 months,” the most recent report from BLS reads.  “The index for used cars and trucks rose 0.2 percent in July after rising at least 7.3 percent in each of the last 3 months,” the report from BLS reads.

Energy costs have also risen dramatically, compared to the prior year, when few drivers were on the roads due to the transition of many companies to remote work as uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic was high.

“The energy index rose 23.8 percent over the past 12 months,” the BLS report reads.  “The gasoline index rose 41.8 percent since July 2020.”


  1. Raleigh, NC
  2. Lincoln, NE
  3. Greensboro, NC
  4. Winston-Salem, NC
  5. Corpus Christi, TX
  6. Boise, ID
  7. Jacksonville, FL
  8. Scottsdale, AZ
  9. Tampa, FL
  10. Austin, TX
  11. Plano, TX
  12. Orlando, FL
  13. Buffalo, NY
  14. Charlotte, NC
  15. Durham, NC

Original Source: WRAL TechWire