For most Americans, the daily commute is a job in itself. The vast majority of us — 84% — drive to work daily. And we're behind the wheel a half hour longer each day compared to 30 years ago.

But time on the road isn't only causing gridlock. It's also taking a toll on our happiness, health, and wallets. While commutes are generally getting worse nationwide, there are, however, some bright spots on the map. Across the country, there are glimmers of hope for improvement as people take advantage of options like flexible work schedules and alternative methods of getting to work. These efforts show promise in the way of alleviating wear and tear on our cars (and on us).

So which areas of the country are winning the race to a better commute? We analyzed all 50 states to find the ones making the biggest strides in improving commuter experiences — and how they stack up — with our Esurance Smart Commuting Index.

state-by-state rankings

Our composite indexing method, validated by a transportation expert, uses several factors to identify the states making progress and those that are stuck in the breakdown lane.

Looking at the time people spend commuting, how they commute, how safe they are on the road, and their overall work-related happiness and well-being, we hereby announce the winners for commuting in America.

The envelopes, please ...

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Best overall score: the Northwest, with Alaska coming out on top

In general, the Northwest is the best place to be a commuter, based on our Index, with 7 of the top 10 states located in that region. That may sound surprising given heavy commuter states like California. But surrounding states are making noteworthy progress. And even California itself shows potential for improving commutes.

Our best-scoring state is Alaska — and it wasn't close. Ranking at the top across the categories, Alaska boasts short commute times that have bucked national trends and remained steady over the years. There's also been a 40% increase in the number of people who walk to work and a 20% increase in the number of people working from home over the past 10 years.

Utah is second in our rankings, reflecting its ever-improving commute times, good marks for safety and happiness, and the growing number of people seeking alternatives to driving. In fact, they've increased carpool usage by more than 8% in the past 10 years, taking more than 12,000 cars off the road during commute times.

Most room for improvement: the East Coast, with Delaware at the bottom

The East Coast scored the lowest in the Index, with 8 of the bottom 10 states losing ground in overall commuter experience. Delaware ranks last in our results. Across the board, the Diamond State scored low on critical categories for commute time and limited use of alternative transportation methods. Delaware commutes increased by almost 9% from 2007-2016. Its best score was for safety, where it ranks 34th.

Overall highest-scoring states
1 Alaska
2 Utah
3 Montana
4 South Dakota
5 Wyoming
6 Idaho
7 Wisconsin
8 Hawaii
9 Colorado
10 Minnesota
Overall lowest-scoring states
41 New Hampshire
42 Alabama
43 Connecticut
44 Maryland
45 Rhode Island
46 Tennessee
47 New York
48 South Carolina
49 New Jersey
50 Delaware

Best States for Commuting Experience

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Esurance Smart Commuter Index

To see how your state fared, click here.

Overall highest-scoring states
1 Alaska
2 Utah
3 Montana
4 South Dakota
5 Wyoming
6 Idaho
7 Wisconsin
8 Hawaii
9 Colorado
10 Minnesota
11 Iowa
12 New Mexico
13 Arizona
14 North Dakota
15 Kansas
16 Nebraska
17 Arkansas
18 Nevada
19 Missouri
20 North Carolina
21 Oregon
22 Vermont
23 Kentucky
24 Washington
25 Ohio
26 Oklahoma
27 Michigan
28 Indiana
29 Illinois
30 West Virginia
31 Maine
32 Louisiana
33 Virginia
34 Georgia
35 Texas
36 Massachusetts
37 Mississippi
38 California
39 Pennsylvania
40 Florida
41 New Hampshire
42 Alabama
43 Connecticut
44 Maryland
45 Rhode Island
46 Tennessee
47 New York
48 South Carolina
49 New Jersey
50 Delaware

Now that we've looked at the overall trends, let's delve further into the progress some states are making to improve commuting within each category of the index.

Want to see more? Download the full graphs and overall rankings here.

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Greatest improvements in commuting time: Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia

Not surprisingly, the states with the most improved commute times are generally those that are less densely populated, have few metropolitan areas, and are clustered mainly in mountain regions.

Our winner in this category, Wyoming, shaved off over 9% from its average daily commute, giving residents an extra 15 hours per year. In fact, Wyoming is 1 of only 4 states in the country that's seen decreased commute times over the past 10 years. (Way to go, Montana, West Virginia, and Alaska!)

Most-improved commute times
1 Wyoming
2 Montana
3 West Virginia
4 Alaska
5 Louisiana
Least-improved commute times
46 Massachusetts
47 North Dakota
48 Oregon
49 Delaware
50 Vermont

States with Most Improved Commute Times: Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia

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Esurance Smart Commuter Index

To see how your state ranked, click here.

Most-improved commute times
1 Wyoming
2 Montana
3 West Virginia
4 Alaska
5 Louisiana
6 Arizona
7 Missouri
8 Utah
9 Arkansas
10 Mississippi
11 South Dakota
12 New Mexico
13 Idaho
14 Alabama
15 Wisconsin
16 Illinois
17 Michigan
18 Nevada
19 Ohio
20 Kansas
21 Colorado
22 Hawaii
23 Iowa
24 Oklahoma
25 Indiana
26 North Carolina
27 Kentucky
28 Georgia
29 Maine
30 Minnesota
31 Tennessee
32 Maryland
33 Nebraska
34 Florida
35 Pennsylvania
36 Texas
37 New York
38 New Hampshire
39 Virginia
40 New Jersey
41 South Carolina
42 Connecticut
43 Washington
44 California
45 Rhode Island
46 Massachusetts
47 North Dakota
48 Oregon
49 Delaware
50 Vermont

Vermont scored the lowest in this category. Commuters there have added an equivalent of almost 3 extra work days per year to their time on the road. What's more, the East Coast is experiencing significant increases in commute times. Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, South Carolina, and New Jersey all rank in the bottom 10.

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Most improved use of alternative transportation: Hawaii and Massachusetts

One of the best ways to alleviate traffic is by using alternative means of transportation. And it's not limited to buses or subways. Here's how states measure up when it comes to carpooling, walking, biking, and working from home.

Hawaii topped the list in this category. They earned the top score for the number of commuters who walk and second place for the number of commuters who bike. In fact, 70% more Hawaiians walk or bike to work than 10 years ago. One contributing factor: Honolulu built and then expanded the 2-mile King Street Protected Bike Lane, increasing the number of people who can bike safely to work each day.

Coming in strong at #1 in the country for increased bike commuting is Massachusetts. Nationally, less than 2% of workers bike to work. But in the Massachusetts communities of Somerville and Cambridge, it's at 5% and 7%, respectively. Incidentally, Massachusetts ranks 17th out of the 50 states in our happiness score, so maybe all that 2-wheeling reduces stress as well.

Most-improved for alternative method
1 Hawaii
2 Massachusetts
3 Colorado
4 Virginia
5 North Dakota
Least-improved for alternative method
46 Missouri
47 Wyoming
48 Maine
49 Mississippi
50 Alabama

Hawaii and Massachusetts Are Most Improved for Alternative Transportation Use

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Esurance Smart Commuter Index

How did your state do? Click here to find out.

Most-improved for alternative method
1 Hawaii
2 Massachusetts
3 Colorado
4 Virginia
5 North Dakota
6 Alaska
7 Washington
8 Utah
9 Texas
10 Kentucky
11 California
12 Florida
13 New Hampshire
14 North Carolina
15 Connecticut
16 Oregon
17 Maryland
18 Georgia
19 Minnesota
20 South Dakota
21 South Carolina
22 Vermont
23 Wisconsin
24 Michigan
25 Nevada
26 Pennsylvania
27 Tennessee
28 Rhode Island
29 New York
30 Kansas
31 Indiana
32 Illinois
33 Arizona
34 Nebraska
35 Ohio
36 Oklahoma
37 West Virginia
38 Delaware
39 Iowa
40 Montana
41 New Jersey
42 New Mexico
43 Arkansas
44 Idaho
45 Louisiana
46 Missouri
47 Wyoming
48 Maine
49 Mississippi
50 Alabama

Alabama ranks last overall in this category. In fact, the number of Alabamans using alternative transport has decreased by 18% over the previous 10 years.

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Safety best score: Minnesota, closely followed by Hawaii, Illinois, Washington, and New York

When looking at factors like seat belt use, crashes, and fatalities, Minnesota ranks first for safety. The North Star State had 2.3 times fewer accident deaths than the worst-ranked state in the Index. And, at over 93%, it boasts the 10th highest rate of seat belt use.

Hawaii, Illinois, Washington, and New York are also high on the safety list, while southern states don't fare well. Six of the bottom 10 include Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. These states have the highest number of fatal collisions for cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians, along with generally low seat belt use.

Highest scores for safety
1 Minnesota
2 Hawaii
3 Illinois
4 Washington
5 New York
Lowest scores for safety
46 Arizona
47 Kentucky
48 Louisiana
49 South Carolina
50 Florida

Best Scores for Safety: Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, Washington and New York

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Esurance Smart Commuter Index

See how your state did on safety measures by clicking here.

Highest scores for safety
1 Minnesota
2 Hawaii
3 Illinois
4 Washington
5 New York
6 Nebraska
7 Rhode Island
8 Massachusetts
9 New Jersey
10 Connecticut
11 Utah
12 Alaska
13 Virginia
14 Wisconsin
15 Pennsylvania
16 Maryland
17 Iowa
18 Indiana
19 Oregon
20 Ohio
21 Vermont
22 West Virginia
23 California
24 New Hampshire
25 Michigan
26 South Dakota
27 Maine
28 North Carolina
29 Kansas
30 Idaho
31 Tennessee
32 Georgia
33 Alabama
34 Delaware
35 Missouri
36 North Dakota
37 Texas
38 Nevada
39 Colorado
40 Oklahoma
41 Wyoming
42 Arkansas
43 Montana
44 New Mexico
45 Mississippi
46 Arizona
47 Kentucky
48 Louisiana
49 South Carolina
50 Florida

That said, Georgia ranks #1 in the country for seat belt use, with over 97% of drivers buckling up. Their success isn't attributable to one cause, but it could be the result of multiple factors, including the state's Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law. In 2017, state police officers gave out 141,707 safety belt citations. Click it or ticket, indeed.

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Workplace happiness and well-being best scores: the Northwest wins again, topped by Alaska and North Dakota

Money doesn't buy happiness, but it's a factor in the Esurance Smart Commuting Index. That's because variables like income, number of hours worked, and job satisfaction affect how people feel about their commutes and work lives in general.

Less-populated states with open spaces rule the happiness rankings, with Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Utah topping the charts. Montana isn't sweating the small stuff either. With a high level of job satisfaction, they're smiling their way to #5.

Highest scores for happiness
1 Alaska
2 North Dakota
3 Minnesota
4 Utah
5 Montana
Lowest scores for happiness
46 West Virginia
47 Ohio
48 Alabama
49 Kentucky
50 Louisiana

The Northwest Wins for Workplace Happiness and Well-Being, Led by Alaska and North Dakota

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Esurance Smart Commuter Index

Click here to see how your state did for happiness and well-being.

Highest scores for happiness
1 Alaska
2 North Dakota
3 Minnesota
4 Utah
5 Montana
6 Colorado
7 Vermont
8 Hawaii
9 South Dakota
10 Idaho
11 Nebraska
12 Washington
13 California
14 Maine
15 Iowa
16 Wyoming
17 Massachusetts
18 Arizona
19 New Mexico
20 Wisconsin
21 Oregon
22 Virginia
23 Nevada
24 Rhode Island
25 New Hampshire
26 New Jersey
27 Missouri
28 Pennsylvania
29 Kansas
30 Texas
31 Maryland
32 Arkansas
33 Connecticut
34 New York
35 Florida
36 Indiana
37 North Carolina
38 Tennessee
39 Illinois
40 Georgia
41 Oklahoma
42 South Carolina
43 Delaware
44 Michigan
45 Mississippi
46 West Virginia
47 Ohio
48 Alabama
49 Kentucky
50 Louisiana

The bottom 5 are again clustered in the South, with 4 of the 5 least-happy states: Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, and West Virginia. Ohio, which ranks 47th, is the only northern state in the bottom 5. (Cheer up, Ohio!)

commuting improvements you can make

Of course, we all hope commutes eventually improve from sea to shining sea. But there are certain things we can do to make them more manageable today. If you happen to live in a state that scored poorly on our index, try these ideas for a less painful ride. Who knows — you may even help raise your state's ranking!

Reduce wear and tear on yourself

  • Leave earlier. Sounds simple, right? But merely being realistic about the time it takes to get to and from work and allowing a cushion can change your whole outlook on the commuting experience.
  • Make sure you have a place of rejuvenation and relaxation that you love coming home to. "A fortifying home life provides insulation against a lot of things, including commute stress," says Dr. Ray Novaco, professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine.
  • Learn something new. Listening to public radio, audiobooks, or podcasts can help you learn a new language, hear new ideas, and stay entertained.
  • Stretch it out. All of the seated time between your office chair and car seat can be terrible for your shoulders, chest, hip flexors, and posture. Spend 5 minutes stretching to clear your mind and prepare for driving.
  • Above all, put safety first. Being on the road during peak traffic times increases the likelihood of an accident. In 2016, 16% of fatal accidents happened between 3 pm and 6 pm, and 10% occurred between 6 am and 9 am, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Reduce the impact on your wallet

  • If you adopt another method of transportation or work from home more and commute less, you could save on gas, parking, car maintenance, and tolls. Also, reach out to your insurance company. Commuting is one of the factors in determining your rate, so your insurance costs may go down!
  • Consider carpooling. Not only will the time go by faster with someone to talk to, but you'll save on expenses as well. Your commute could become one of the bright spots in your day.
  • Make your good driving pay off. Like with Esurance DriveSense®. In fact, you can receive a personalized discount based on your driving habits.

While we can't all move to Alaska for a better commute, we can do more to improve our day-to-day trek to work, whether we push our communities to adopt high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or find a way to add flexibility to our schedules. One thing's for sure: there's lots of room for improvement across the country. From the Redwoods to the Gulf Stream, we can all pitch in to cut down our time behind the wheel and create safer, less congested roads for everyone.

Methodology

To create the Esurance Smart Commuting Index, we combined a variety of sources to develop 6 indexes, which we then aggregated to generate an overall index. For time and method scores, we used data from US Census Bureau's American FactFinder. For safety scores, we used data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For happiness scores, we combined data from the US Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster/Brandwatch Social Data study, and Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. For the final rankings, we weighted time ranks 4x, method ranks 2x and safety and happiness ranks 1x to place more value on time and method scores. This methodology and the report were reviewed by a transportation expert.

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