Driving in Wyoming
Wyoming is vast, covering almost 98,000 square miles, nearly half of which are owned by the federal government. Some of America's best known national parks, like Yellowstone and Grand Teton, can be found here, but you won't find many people: Wyoming is the least populous state in the nation. This rural region offers few public transportation options and features rugged terrain and fierce weather that can make getting from Point A to Point B quite a challenge.
Of course, not all of Wyoming is national forests, desolate plains, and lonesome roads. The metro area of Cheyenne, the capital, and other cities like Casper, have office buildings and shops like anywhere else in America. And destinations like Jackson, known for ski resorts and other attractions, draw tourists from all over.
But everyone who lives and works in Wyoming, in its livelier locations or its most remote small towns, relies heavily on their cars and trucks to get them where they need to go. Whether you're a city commuter or a wilderness adventure-seeker, here's what you need to know about driving in the Cowboy State:
Auto Insurance in Wyoming
In Wyoming, the minimum auto insurance coverage required is as follows:
- Bodily Injury Liability: $25,000 per person up to a total of $50,000 per accident
- Property Damage Liability: $20,000
Liability insurance covers you in the event that you are at fault in a crash. Uninsured motorist coverage, with a minimum of $25,000 for bodily injury coverage per person and $50,000 per accident, is included in all policies in Wyoming unless the customer rejects it in writing. Drivers may also choose to purchase additional coverage as well as other types of insurance such as collision coverage or rental reimbursement – which could come in handy if you hit a deer, elk, or antelope – a possibility the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says increases in cold, snowy conditions.
Wyoming's Car Culture
Wyoming's official nickname is the Equality State, but the nickname you'll see used more often is the Cowboy State. These days, its residents are just as dependent on their vehicles as the cowboys of old West were on their horses. Not that horses are a thing of the past; ranching and riding are still big here, and the state's official trademark is a cowboy on a bucking bronco – he's even on Wyoming's license plates.
And those license plates get around, because Wyomingites drive a lot, covering more miles annually than residents of any other state in the nation.
This state has 28,993 miles of public roadways, and so much to see that it would be impossible to keep people at home, even though the weather and elevation here can make for hazardous driving conditions. From famous sites like Devil's Tower National Monument to more obscure destinations like the ghost town of Piedmont with its ancient-looking charcoal kilns, Wyoming is full of things to discover.
Your Mileage May Vary
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Wyoming residents drive more than residents of any other state, racking up an average of 21,821 miles per year. To get an idea of just how much ground Wyomingites cover, the average American drives 14,425 miles per year. Even Wyoming's large and sparsely populated neighbors – Montana (14,556), Idaho (15,318), South Dakota (15,505), Utah (15,442), Colorado (13,443), and Nebraska (15,128) – don't come close to matching that number. The state that comes closest is Georgia, with 18,920 miles, which leaves Wyoming in a car-loving class of its own.
But despite the whopping mileage, Wyoming workers have what U.S. News & World Report calls one of the shortest commute times in the nation: just 19 minutes. They also point out that the state ranks second to last in public transportation usage. Indeed, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that 87.9 percent of Wyomingites drove to work, 77.1 percent of them alone and the rest in a car-, truck-, or van-pool arrangement. Despite the state's reputation for winds that can launch anything that's not tied down into the next county, 4.6 percent walked to work.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that in 2015, 82 percent of Wyoming's traffic fatalities were the result of rural crashes, while 17 percent took place in urban areas. The high percent of rural crashes is no surprise, given that 17 of Wyoming's 23 counties have fewer than six people per square mile, the number most federal agencies use to qualify an area as “frontier." In other words, as the Wyoming Department of Health puts it, "with the exception of people living in Cheyenne and Casper, the remaining population lives in rural areas."
The Price of Gas
As of early December 2017, the average gas price in Wyoming was $2.50 a gallon, just a bit higher than the average gas price in America, $2.47. How much Wyoming drivers will actually pay can vary a good deal depending on what part of the state they're in when they stop at the gas station. In some counties, like Teton, Carbon, and Niobrara, prices were higher, while a few southern counties like Laramie and Uinta had prices lower than the state and national average.
But even if you live in a relatively low-cost area, buying tank after tank of gas can really add up – especially when you live in a large and car-loving state like Wyoming. Fortunately, you can lower your gas budget by changing your driving habits. Even some small changes can help increase the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
The Unemployment Rate
In October 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) , the unemployment rate in Wyoming was 4.2%. That was in line with the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.1%, but higher than the rates in neighboring states, which ranged from 2.7% in Colorado and Nebraska to 3.9% in Montana. However, rates of employment varied in different parts of the state, with the BLS reporting 3.6% unemployment in the Cheyenne metropolitan area and 4.8% in the Casper area.
The unemployment rate in a state or region can affect local drivers. A lower unemployment rate means more traffic, as more people head off to work, and more disposable income to spend on large purchases – like a new car – as well as smaller treats like a visit to a national park or a weekend road trip along one of Wyoming's scenic byways. And even if it's unlikely that major traffic jams will ever be a feature of life in the Cowboy State, the more people who can afford to travel, the greater the impact on tourism – one of Wyoming's main industries – and local residents.
Distracted driving – i.e., driving while doing anything that takes your eyes and attention away from the road – is a serious problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that crashes involving distracted drivers kill approximately 9 people and injure over 1,000 every day in the United States. While Wyoming's distracted driving laws are not as strict as those in some other states, the Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol do look out for dangerously distracted drivers. In early 2017, the state launched a pilot program that introduced less conspicuous patrol cars as a means of better observing impaired and distracted drivers; and during special events, like holiday weekends and the recent solar eclipse, officials make an effort to warn the public against unsafe behaviors like distracted driving.
In Wyoming, texting behind the wheel is prohibited for all drivers, and considered a primary offense. Other cellphone use is allowed, however laws may be different in certain jurisdictions. For example, handheld cellphone use is banned in Cheyenne, though talking on a hands-free device is legal.
Teen Drivers in Wyoming
If you're a teenager who wants to drive in Wyoming, you'll first have to apply for a learner's permit. There are two types of permits; a restricted learner's permit or “hardship permit" is for 14- to 15-year-olds who meet certain requirements to do with schooling and employment, and a regular learner's permit is for 15- to 16-year-olds.
After you've completed 50 hours of driving and turned 16, the next step is an intermediate permit. To apply, you'll need to pass a skills test and a vision test. The intermediate permit must be held for at least six months or until you turn 17. All permits have specific restrictions on the hours that teens may drive and who may accompany them. Contact the Wyoming Department of Transportation for details.
At that point, if you have completed a driver education course, you're ready to apply for a full driver's license. To receive full driving privileges, you must be at least 16 1/2 years old.
If you're a parent whose teen is just starting to drive, you may be able to be in the car with them – in a sense – even when they're finally allowed to drive alone. Some tracking devices, as well as features already built into some vehicles, let you monitor your teen's driving remotely. This technology can even allow you to do things like limit the volume on the car's sound system or send your teenager's incoming calls straight to voicemail.
The State of Driving in Wyoming
Drivers in Wyoming face different issues than those in more populated parts of America. Here, you're probably more likely to encounter a treacherous mountain pass or a highway closed due to snow than you would a serious traffic jam. But some driving concerns are universal: everyone wants to be safe, protect their vehicle from damage, and get where they need to go. And whether you're driving around your small town, zooming down I-80, or going anywhere a scenic byway might take you, knowing the local laws will help keep you safe on the roads of the Cowboy State.