Monday’s press release seemed plausible.

It said Maine drivers are among the best in the nation, according to a website that compares auto insurance rates.

They rank seventh overall, and get fewer traffic tickets than drivers in all but five other states.

Southern states are among the worst, with Louisiana drivers ranked dead last overall by carinsurancecomparison.com.

The rating for Maine seemed to make sense to Vikki Jeffries, who now lives outside Augusta, after living in Texas, Washington state, Colorado and North Carolina.

“Maine drivers are some of the better ones. I think they’re courteous,” said Jeffries, whose husband’s military service explains the multiple moves.

Some of the rankings, however, didn’t square with her experience. Take, for instance, Massachusetts drivers ranking four spots better than Maine’s.

“Boston drivers are awful fighting for position,” she said. “And more timid drivers are at the mercy of anybody else who might let them in” at roundabouts, interchanges or merging lanes.

David Littlefield, head of legislative affairs for the Maine Professional Drivers Association, drove a truck for 12 years. He said, “Massachusetts has always been a challenge. I just think the people get into more traffic down there and have less patience and are more likely to take chances than they are up here.”

And he hasn’t found Southern drivers to be a reckless bunch.

“We’ve gone I-95 from one end to the other several times, and once you get below Richmond, Va., I thought it was a really relaxing ride,” he said.

It turns out that the carinsurancecomparison.com rating system wasn’t a scientific analysis, but ranked states in various categories based on data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the American Motorists Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

For example, while Florida got hit with 50 points – and ranked last – for having the most traffic tickets issued, Georgia got 49 points for having the second-most, regardless of the difference between the two states. Efforts to reach the report’s author Monday were unsuccessful.

The report ranked Maine sixth in the number of tickets issued. Montana drivers had the fewest tickets, but the highest fatality rate per million miles driven.

Russ Rader, vice president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said contrary to many people’s impressions, the more rural a state, the higher the fatality rate. “We may think of city drivers as being more reckless, but the lower speeds of cities make it less likely that when a crash happens, it will be serious,” Rader said.

Rural states with many miles of two-lane, high-speed roads are more likely to have serious crashes.

And for all the aggressive city drivers, many more people in Boston aren’t driving at all.

Massachusetts, despite its reputation, has the lowest fatality rate in the country, according to carinsurancecomparison.com.

Maine definitely has things going for it in safe driving, said Lauren Stewart, head of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

“Maine has very good laws for drunk driving, drugged driving and distracted driving,” she said, and seat belt use has jumped from 59 percent in 2004 to about 82 percent now.

Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, meaning relatively few young drivers. Young drivers, statistically, have more crashes because of their inexperience, Stewart said.

Stewart says she doesn’t put much stock in the rankings, and prefers more precise measures of performance and safety.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: dhench@pressherald.com