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With West Virginia being ranked the most depressed state in the nation for the 12th consecutive year last month, I am happy to report a study released earlier this month rated drivers in West Virginia among the nation’s best.

The study, based on the per capita number of accidents, driving under the influence arrests, speeding tickets and other traffic citations issued in each state, ranked West Virginia vehicle operators the nation’s best in 2020.

This year, Mountain State drivers were nudged into the second-place slot by their counterparts in New Hampshire, who produced slightly fewer speeding tickets and other citations, while West Virginia drivers had a significantly lower accident rate.

It may be time for New Hampshire to amend its state motto to “Live Free or Die — But Not Behind the Wheel.”

Maybe the abundance of hilly terrain and narrow, winding roads encountered daily by drivers in West Virginia and New Hampshire helped them rise to the top of safe driving survey.

Such driving conditions can’t be found in Iowa, the state the study deemed to be populated by the nation’s worst drivers. Perhaps the tedium of driving mainly on flat, straight roads had something to do with drivers in the Hawkeye State producing the nation’s fifth-highest rate of speeding tickets and second-highest per capita number of other traffic citations.

North Dakota, another state where pool table terrain dominates, was determined to be home to the nation’s second-worst drivers, according to the study, commissioned by the insurance intermediary QuoteWizard.

Terrain was not an apparent factor for drivers in Virginia, the state ranked just below North Dakota. Virginia’s drivers “don’t really stand out in any particular category,” according to the study’s summary. “They’re just kind of equally bad in all of them.”

But drivers in east Virginia were deemed to be only slightly worse than those in California, where four cities made 2021’s Top 10 List in a QuoteWizard study ranking U.S. cities with the worst drivers. California drivers had the nation’s fifth-highest DUI rate, and were rated fourth from the bottom in both traffic citations and accidents.

But Golden State drivers exceeded the national average in one safety category — speeding — in which only 12 states garnered fewer tickets.

“Our guess is that they just can’t speed because of the traffic,” the summary snarked.

West Virginia drivers have a good chance of reclaiming No. 1 status in highway safety by being especially alert in the next two months as we face a challenge unmatched in other states.

The whitetail rutting and bowhunting seasons are underway, with the firearms season for bucks beginning Nov. 22, combining to create a peak period for close encounters with deer along roads and highways.

For a number of years, West Virginia has led the nation in another category: Collisions with deer. According to State Farm Insurance, West Virginia drivers have a one in 37 chance of their vehicles colliding with a deer this year, while in Montana, the state with the second-highest deer strike odds, drivers face a one in 39 chance.

With more than 7,000 car-deer collisions, potentially deadly for people as well as deer, occurring annually in the state, let’s be careful out there.

Rick Steelhammer is a features reporter. He can be reached at 304-348-5169 or Follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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