Driving in New Hampshire
You can get a sense of the scenery you'll spot on a drive through New Hampshire by considering the state's four nicknames, each of which emphasizes a different facet of its natural beauty. New Hampshire is known as the Granite State because of its many granite rock formations, and also as the White Mountain State due to the mountain range that bears that name. It's also sometimes dubbed the Mother of Rivers – or, if you prefer, the Switzerland of America.
"It's a beautiful state to drive through," says Kelsee Hankins, a writer and traveler who recently spent a summer living and driving in New Hampshire. She especially enjoyed motoring through the ski areas and small towns.
"No matter which direction you look, there's greenery, mountains, water, rocks, and many other natural sights to see," Hankins says. "There's something for everyone."
But driving in the state isn't exactly a breeze. One of the biggest difficulties New Hampshire drivers face is the winter weather, according to Wyatt Knox, special projects director for Team O'Neil, a driving and motorsports school in Dalton, N.H.
"When the freezing rain starts, when it gets snowy and icy, that's when it really does become challenging," he says, adding that even people from other snowy states like Michigan and Minnesota can have a hard time driving in New Hampshire. "When you get ice plus hills it gets a lot trickier," he says.
New Hampshire Auto Insurance Law
The state's "live free or die" motto is reflected in its auto laws. Unlike almost all other states, New Hampshire does not require auto insurance for all drivers. However, the state does require drivers to cover costs of bodily injury and property damage for an accident they cause. Of course, the best way to cover those costs is to carry insurance.
"The Division of Motor Vehicles strongly recommends and urges all owners of motor vehicles to carry standard liability and property damage insurance," the New Hampshire Department of Safety stresses on its online page on financial responsibility.
Drivers who purchase insurance in New Hampshire must get a policy that includes at least: $25,000 in bodily injury coverage per person, $50,000 in bodily injury coverage for an accident involving multiple people and $25,000 in property damage coverage. The policy also must include at least $1,000 in medical payments coverage to pay your own medical bills in an accident.
There are some exceptions to the rule, however, and the state does require drivers in the following groups to show proof of insurance:
- Drivers who have been convicted of a DWI. For a first offense, the driver must provide proof of insurance for three years after the date of the conviction. For subsequent offenses, they will be required to show proof of insurance for a longer time period, depending on the number of convictions.
- People convicted of certain offenses, such as leaving the scene of an accident or a second conviction for reckless operation. In other cases, drivers might be required to show proof of insurance for a certain time period in order to retain their driver license or, if it has already been suspended, get it restored.
- Drivers who have been determined to be at fault for an auto accident and who did not have insurance at the time. They're required to show proof of insurance for three years after the crash. That time period can be extended in certain cases – for example, if someone involved in the accident gets a judgment against the driver.
Drivers who have been required to show proof of insurance and believe they no longer should have to do so must contact the state's Bureau of Financial Responsibility to request a review of their record.
Fortunately, the lack of a requirement for most drivers to purchase auto insurance hasn't resulted in a high number of uninsured drivers in the Granite State. In fact, New Hampshire does not rank in the top ten states for uninsured drivers. Oklahoma takes the top spot, with over 25 percent of its drivers failing to carry auto insurance, and New Hampshire comes in at number 34, with slightly over 9 percent of drivers uninsured.
New Hampshire Car Culture
The types of roads and the weather affect car culture in a state, and New Hampshire drivers love rugged vehicles that can handle hilly roads and bad weather. In fact, the most popular car in New Hampshire is actually a pickup truck – the Chevrolet Silverado 1500. There are also a lot of Subarus and Audis on the roads, Knox says. Locals favor four-wheel drive vehicles and know when to switch to snow tires, he says.
And the snow doesn't seem to slow these drivers down. New Hampshire drivers have a reputation for plugging on through the snow to get to their destination – and wanting to get there quickly, Knox says.
In fact, when Hankins lived in New Hampshire, she remembers seeing a lot of SUVs barreling down the roads. Signs that advised slower traffic to keep to the right didn't seem to matter, Hankins recalls. No matter how fast she drove, she was never speedy enough to satisfy the drivers behind her. "They would always be on my tail waiting to pass me," Hankins says.
But not everyone in New Hampshire is in a hurry. The state also has a thriving classic car culture, where member of clubs like the Car Nutz, in Newport, New Hampshire, get together to compare notes on restoring old cars and cruise around in their classic rides.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
Throughout the United States, there are more auto traffic deaths on country roads than on city streets and highways. In 2015, the rate of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.84 for rural roads, and just .71 for urban roads. Overall, 49 percent of crash deaths happened on rural roads, and 44 percent on urban roads. For the rest, location was unknown.
However, those numbers vary quite a bit from state to state. In New Hampshire, 58 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths occurred on rural roads compared with 42 percent on urban roads.
A 2017 study on rural roads by TRIP, a national transportation research group, found that nine percent of rural roads in New Hampshire are in poor condition, and 37 percent are in middle-of-the-road condition. Thirteen percent of bridges in the state are structurally deficient, the state ranks as the 14th worst in the country for bridge condition.
The roads in northern New Hampshire are in worse condition than those in the southern part of the state due to a higher number of rural roads in that region, bad weather that causes roads to crumble more quickly, and less funding for improvements.
The good news? In 2017 the state legislature passed a measure to provide extra funding for road and bridge repair in the state.
Miles Driven in the Granite State
Drivers across the United States are hitting the road more. In 2016, the total mileage driven increased for the fifth straight year in a row, hitting 3.2 trillion last year.
New Hampshire drivers are driving more too, like drivers in 70 percent of all states, but not much more. The state saw just a 1 percent increase from 2011 to 2014 in miles driven per capita. In contrast, the state with the biggest increase, Oregon, saw a 19 percent increase in driving during that time period.
When the number of miles driven in an area increases, that tends to lead to more accidents. Auto insurers, in turn, use that data when setting car insurance rates. So more miles driven in a state can lead to higher insurance costs.
The average yearly cost for car insurance in New Hampshire in 2014 was $983, just slightly higher than the national average of $907.
New Hampshire Driving and the Cost of Gas
The average price of gas in New Hampshire in early April 2018 was $2.57 a gallon, just a few cents lower than the national average gas price of $2.66 a gallon.
Even with those low gas prices, drivers in New Hampshire can also stretch how many miles they get in between fill-ups with gas savings tips, such as keeping your tires properly inflated.
New Hampshire had the lowest gas prices in the region, with the pumps ringing up higher totals in all surrounding states. For example, the cost in neighboring Vermont averaged $2.75 a gallon while residents of nearby Connecticut were paying an average of $2.87 a gallon.
The cost of gas affects driving and safety on the roads because lower gas prices may spur more drivers to take to the roads, and more miles driven means more accidents.
Despite a longtime downward trend, traffic deaths are now on the rise, with a 14 percent increase in road fatalities nationally between 2014 and 2016, according to the National Safety Council.
During that same two-year period, New Hampshire saw the biggest increase in road deaths in the nation with a 49 percent increase. It was followed by Vermont, which had a 45 percent increase, NSC data shows.
Unemployment in New Hampshire
Believe it or not, the rate of joblessness also has an impact on the miles driven and hence on the number of accidents in a state. When people have jobs, they not only drive to and from work but also tend to hop in the car more to go out on the town or head out on road trips for vacation.
The New Hampshire unemployment rate was 2.8 percent as of July 2017. That was slightly lower than neighboring Maine (3.7 percent), Vermont (3.1 percent) and way below the national average of 4.3 percent. In fact, New Hampshire had the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the nation.
Tackling Distracted Driving
Distracted driving makes U.S. roads much less safe. The causes of distracted driving include talking and texting on cell phones, eating behind the wheel and even talking to other passengers. Fortunately, state laws can help prevent distracted driving.
In 2015, New Hampshire enacted a ban on using handheld cell phones while driving. Drivers who violate the "hands-free rule" could get hit with a fine of $100 the first time, $250 the second time and $500 each time after that. Drivers can talk on the phone as long as they're talking hands-free.
The state also bans texting while driving. It's a primary law, which means a police officer can pull you over solely for texting while driving.
Teen Driving Regulations
New Hampshire is one of many states with graduated driver licensing for teens. New drivers between 16 and 21 years old, who meet the requirements to get a driver license, receive a Youth Operator License.
Youth Operator Licenses look different from regular driver licenses and contain a notice that the license holder is "under 21 until" followed by the date of their 21st birthday.
A holder of a Youth Operator License in New Hampshire must abide by the following three special rules:
- No driving between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.
- For the first six months of holding the license, no driving with more than one passenger under age 25 who is not a member of your immediate family, unless a licensed adult 25 or older is also riding in the car.
- The number of passengers must not be greater than the number of available seat belts.
Youth operators who get more than two speeding tickets in the first two years they hold the license will be required to show proof of auto insurance for three years following the date of the second speeding hearing.
As teens develop their driving skills and judgment, parents play a key role in helping to keep their child and others safe. One smart move for New Hampshire parents: monitor teen driving by using technology and tracking devices to ensure that your teen follows the rules of the road even when you're not in the car.
The State of Driving in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a beautiful state with plenty of scenery to offer. For example, you can take the famous Mt. Washington Auto Road, which takes you through Pinkham Notch and views of the Great Gulf Wilderness and Presidential Mountain Range. And Jefferson Notch Road offers "a crazy beautiful drive," Knox says.
But don't get distracted by all that beauty. Pay attention when driving, equip yourself properly with four-wheel drive and snow tires and slow down, Knox recommends.
"Adjust your driving for weather conditions," he says. "If it's snowing, don't try to do 60 or 70 mph – even if you have snow tires."