Driving in Arizona
From the iconic Route 66 winding through ghost towns and historic districts, to the zigzags and hairpin turns of the Apache Trail Historic Road, Arizona is home to a number of roads that will convince you that driving in this state is as much about the journey as the destination.
But driving in Arizona comes with its own set of problems. The unique climate of the American Southwest – which includes everything from scorching desert temperatures to dust storms and monsoons – can cause damage to your vehicle and make for dangerous driving.
Arizonans should know the specific joys and hazards of driving in the Grand Canyon state before they get on the road. Here's what you need to know before you get behind the wheel in Arizona:
Automobile Insurance in Arizona
Drivers in Arizona are legally required to carry, at minimum, liability insurance that will cover:
- $15,000 for injury/death to one person per accident
- $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person per accident
- $10,000 for damage to property per accident
These minimum liability requirements also apply to drivers of motorcycles, mopeds, and even golf carts. All drivers must carry proof of insurance at all times and are required to show this proof if pulled over by a law enforcement officer or in the event of an accident. Arizona is a tort state, which means that one driver must be declared responsible for the accident.
The minimum liability insurance rules are there to serve as a guideline and some experts recommend a 100/300/50 policy, meaning:
- $100,000 in coverage for injury or death to one person
- $300,000 for injury or death to multiple persons
- $50,000 in damage to property
Currently, Arizona Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, is proposing increased insurance minimums for drivers, but critics fear this increase will drive up costs, leading to an uptick in uninsured motorists.
No matter the outcome of Senator McGee's legislation, it's important for Arizonans to make sure they have adequate insurance to cover losses in the event of an accident.
Vintage Meets Modern: Arizona's Love Affair With Cars
Arizonans love to drive. There are over 3.8 million licensed drivers in the Grand Canyon State – meaning over half of the 6.9 million people living there are drivers. This translates to 668 drivers per 1,000 Arizona residents, as compared to the 618 drivers per 1,000 residents in neighboring Utah. And according to the Arizona Department of Transportation (AZDOT), only two percent of the population uses public transportation for their daily commute, in part due to lack of access. According to Arizona native Rebecca Goodman, "I relied heavily on my car because of a lack of public transportation."
Since they rely on them so much, it's no surprise that Arizonans love cars – especially classic and vintage cars. It's not unusual to see a 1950s- or 1960s-era Impala, Bel Aire, Mustang, GTO, or Camaro pull up beside you at a stop light, since many Arizonans use vintage vehicles for their daily drives.
This love for vintage cars draws enthusiasts from all over the country to Arizona. Each April, more than 3,000 car lovers attend the Copperstate 1000 vintage road rally, which features cars built prior to 1974 traveling a 1,000 mile scenic route through the state. In addition, Scottsdale is home to the world premier Barrett-Jackson Collector Car auction. This annual auction, which takes place every January, attracts over 200,000 car enthusiasts, and has been the site of such notable sales as the 1966 Shelby Cobra, which sold for $5.5 million in 2007, and the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, which sold for over $2.9 million in 2012.
Miles Driven in Arizona
Driving is a crucial part of life for all Americans, but this especially holds true for those living in Arizona, where sweltering heat can make it unwise to bike or walk. This helps to explain why drivers in Arizona rack up over 1,000 miles per year above the number of miles driven by the average American.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, the average American driver logged 13,476 miles per year as of 2014, the last year for which data have been published. In Arizona, however, the average driver logged 14,493 miles behind the wheel.
Those 1,000 additional miles can prove costly for drivers. The increased wear-and-tear on your car can be significant, since the more you drive, the more you will need to spend on both regular maintenance, such as oil changes and new tires, and on irregular maintenance, such as replacing brake pads, spark plugs, and transmission fluid.
According to the financial blog My Money Design, the cost of these kinds of maintenance is approximately $0.26/mile. For an Arizonan driving the average of 14,493 miles per year, that means paying approximately $3,768 in annual maintenance costs.
Rural Roads vs. Urban Roads
Driving in the Grand Canyon State may bring to mind isolated rural roads winding through deserts, but the reality looks a little more prosaic. Almost 77 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in Arizona are on urban roads, which are less likely to resemble an old Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
You might think that Arizonians are much more likely to crash on urban roads than rural roads, but you'd be wrong. In 2015, almost half of all car crash fatalities occurred in rural areas. This is especially surprising when you consider how much smaller the rural population is relative to the urban population. There are an estimated 6.9 million Arizona residents, but only 350,000 live in rural Arizona. The fact that rural car fatalities were almost as high as urban fatalities is a clear indication that rural driving comes with its own set of dangers.
The Cost of a Fill-Up
Gas prices trend lower in Arizona than elsewhere in the country. The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $2.406 as of April 18, 2017 – but The Arizonan average is $2.284. In fact, according to AAA, Arizona's average gas prices have trended 5 percent below the nation's average gas price for the past year.
Lower gas prices are a boon for Arizona drivers, who are more prone to gas-guzzle than to gas-sip because of the desert climate. Turning off the air conditioner to conserve gas is not an option when the outside temperature soars past 100 degrees.
Arizona's Unemployment Rate
As of March 2017, the national unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, whereas the Arizonan unemployment rate was 5.1 percent. Although the unemployment rate of a state may seem unrelated to its residents' driving behaviors, the two factors are actually intimately connected. The lower the unemployment rate, the more people there are commuting to work. On average, employed drivers drive 20 more miles per day than unemployed drivers, partly because of the need to commute to and from work. In addition, lower unemployment indicates a stronger economy. This means more people are enjoying more disposable income, which will often lead to more driving as people go out to dinner, shop, or take in other types of entertainment.
On the other hand, high unemployment rates can also lead to more uninsured drivers. Some unemployed drivers may try to save costs by forgoing auto insurance, even though this is both illegal and reckless. Approximately 10.6 percent of Arizona's drivers carried no insurance as of 2016.
With our cell phones and handheld devices ringing, beeping, and buzzing every few seconds, it's no wonder that so many American drivers are distracted. Answering your phone or glancing at a text message may seem harmless, but distracted driving costs lives.
Arizona has not yet adopted any state-wide commonsense measures to help prevent distracted driving-related deaths. In April 2016, Yavapai County motorcyclist Tom Hall was killed in an accident after a car struck him from behind while the driver was reaching for her cell phone. Because there is no specific law against distracted driving in Arizona, the driver was only issued a speeding ticket and faced no other charges.
The state of Arizona has implemented a limited ban on texting while driving. The ban bars minors under the age of 18 from using any wireless devices while they have their learner's permit and for the first six months they have their full license. Though the law is limited to only minors, many cities in Arizona are taking matters into their own hands by enforcing their own texting while driving laws by issuing fines. Both Phoenix and Tucson prohibit texting while driving, and both cities levy a $100 fine against any driver caught texting and driving. If you are texting while driving in either city and cause an accident, then you will have to pay a $250 fine.
Teens cannot wait to get behind the wheel of their first car. Having the keys to the car signifies freedom for the younger crowd. But, teen drivers are riskier drivers, partly because they lack experience.
Arizona has created a multi-stage licensing process to help keep all drivers safe. This process eases teens into driving over an extended period of time, allowing them to gradually gain experience in complex driving situations. The stages of the process include:
- At age 15 1/2: Teens can apply for a graduated instruction permit. This requires that they pass a written test and a vision test. With this permit, teens are only able to drive with licensed drivers over the age of 21, who are supervising them from the front seat. Teens must drive at least 30 supervised hours, 10 of those at night, before they can apply for the next stage.
- At age 16: Teens who have had their permit for six months and have completed 30 hours of driving practice may apply for a Class “G" License. For the first six months of this license, teens cannot drive between the hours of 12 am and 5 am, unless they are accompanied by a supervising parent or legal guardian with a valid driver's license. The exception to this rule is if the teen is driving to or from a school-sponsored event, a sanctioned religious event, a place of employment, or an emergency. They are also prohibited from driving with more than one non-family member passenger under age 18, unless a licensed parent or legal guardian is seated next to them in the vehicle.
- At age 18: Teens can apply for a Class D driver's license. This license is unrestricted.
This multi-stage licensing process not only helps keep teenagers safe, it also helps other drivers feel more secure sharing the road with teens.
The State of Driving in Arizona
Whether you're driving a classic car through the desert with the wind in your hair, or you're simply commuting and running errands in a four-door sedan, there are many different reasons to hit the roads in Arizona. Recognizing the challenges and hazards of driving in the Grand Canyon State is a necessary part of staying safe behind the wheel.