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.
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 ...
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.