Driving in Idaho
Idaho offers drivers some of the most beautiful vistas in the country. When you get behind the wheel in the Gem State, you can enjoy wide open skies, gorgeous mountain views, crystalline lakes, and even the sight of an occasional moose or two. Driving the open roads of Idaho – whether you're in one of the state's bustling cities, or enjoying the lonesome beauty of an empty road – is a memorable and enjoyable experience.
But it's important that drivers don't allow the natural charms of Idaho to distract them from the hazards and challenges they will face on the road. Here's what you need to know about the potential risks and difficulties of getting behind the wheel in Idaho:
Auto Insurance Requirements in Idaho
Idaho requires some minimum auto insurance coverage in order to legally drive. The mandatory minimum liability insurance you must carry includes:
- $25,000 for bodily injury to one person in a single accident
- $50,000 for total bodily injury to two or more people in an accident
- $15,000 for property damage
Idaho's regulations require that car insurance include uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in your liability policy. While state law mandates uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury at the same minimums as your liability coverage, there is no requirement for property damage coverage, which means you may have to purchase additional coverage for uninsured motorist property damage.
Many drivers will also choose to increase their liability coverage and purchase additional collision coverage and comprehensive coverage, since the state minimums are relatively low.
Outdoor Recreation and Bumper Stickers: Idaho's Car Culture
Being able to get out to enjoy nature is an important part of Idaho's car culture. According to Noah Salzman, a recent Idaho transplant, "Cars in Idaho seem to mostly be about getting people to outdoor recreation opportunities, such as towing a boat or a camper or driving mountain bikes to a trailhead." This helps to explain the relative popularity of the Subaru Outback in Idaho, as calculated by Popular Mechanics in 2015. This all-wheel drive vehicle sells at 275 percent of the national average in Idaho – meaning the individual demand for these outdoorsy vehicles is much higher in the Gem State than elsewhere in the country.
Of course, there are plenty of other vehicles that Idahoans like to drive to get to their favorite outdoor pursuits. According to Miranda Marquit, "there are a lot of trucks and a lot of crossovers on the road." She has also noticed that drivers use their vehicles to show their passions: "You see a lot of bumper stickers and other accessories. There is a lot of patriotic display, too, including flags flying from trucks."
Miles on the Odometer
Many Idahoans probably choose to wear their hearts on their bumpers because of how much time they spend behind the wheel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the average American drove 13,476 miles per year as of 2014, while drivers in Idaho racked up an impressive 15,318 miles per year on their vehicles.
It makes sense that Idahoans put nearly 2,000 more miles on their vehicles than the average American. Not only is Idaho a large state with a great number of rural areas that can only be reached by car, but even its cities are fairly car-centric. According to the statistics blog FiveThirtyEight, Boise City ranks 251 out of 290 cities for public transit usability. As of 2012, the statisticians at FiveThirtyEight calculated that there were 4.1 trips on public transit in Boise City per resident. In comparison, the New York metro area, which ranked number one for public transit, averaged 229.8 trips on public transit per resident.
Though all that extra driving is a necessary part of getting around Idaho, it is important to remember that additional miles on your vehicle increase the wear-and-tear on it. You'll need to plan ahead for both the regular maintenance and increase in irregular repairs you will need more of due to the increased extra amount of time you spend behind the wheel. According to the financial blog My Money Design, such maintenance costs approximately $0.26/mile, which means 15,318 miles per year will cost approximately $3,983 in annual maintenance on your car.
Of course, the roads you drive on can affect your vehicle maintenance costs, and unfortunately, Idaho's roads can increase that cost. According to the Washington Post, 27 percent of Idaho's roads received a poor rating in 2015, which means the roads "have so many major ruts, cracks, and potholes that they can't simply be resurfaced – they need to be completely rebuilt." When more than one out of every four roads is in such tough shape, it can put some serious damage on your vehicle – to the tune of an additional $519 in annual maintenance costs for Idaho drivers.
Rural vs. Urban Driving
Although nearly 71 percent of Idahoans live in urban areas, that does not mean most driving in the state occurs in cities and other urban environments. In fact, according to a 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation report, 58.1 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in Idaho occurred on rural roads.
Unfortunately, driving in rural areas is often more dangerous than driving in cities. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled is 2.6 times higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Not only are drivers more likely to speed on rural roads because of the lack of traffic or other types of road congestion, but rural areas are also less to have nearby emergency services in the event of a car accident.
Altogether, this means that as of 2010, there were almost four times as many traffic fatalities in rural areas in Idaho as compared to those in urban areas: 79 percent of the state's 209 traffic fatalities occurred on rural roads that year.
However, even though urban driving is statistically safer, drivers should still be cautious on the road in urban areas. Thankfully, according to Salzman, most Idaho drivers embrace safe practices on urban roads – particularly the interstates: "Drivers here tend to be very polite, and are not aggressive. They tend to merge well in advance of a lane drop. Speeding is also fairly rare, although I-84 has an 80 mph speed limit for most of it, which may have something to do with that."
The Cost of Gas
Depending on the cost of fuel, filling up your tank may be a costly part of owning a vehicle. As of Nov. 29, 2017, the national average cost of a tank of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.499 per gallon. However, Idaho gas prices were a bit higher at $2.648 per gallon.
While paying more than average at the pump can take a painful bite out of your wallet, there is a potential upside to higher gas prices: when gas is less affordable, people drive less to help save money. That means less traffic on the road and fewer accidents.
However, this is often a double-edged sword in Idaho, considering how little public transportation is available in the state. For Idahoans, higher gas prices may mean having to choose between staying home to save money or simply paying the higher prices, since there are fewer ways to get around without your own wheels.
The Unemployment Rate
As of October 2017, Idaho's unemployment rate was an impressively low 2.9 percent, making it the sixth most employed state in the nation. For comparison, the national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent during that same time period. Idaho's unemployment rate has a direct impact on its citizens' driving behavior. That's because the lower the unemployment rate, the higher number of drivers are on the road. Employed residents not only have to commute to and from work, but they also have disposable income to use on their leisure time, which also often translates to more driving.
The good news for Idahoans is that even with a highly-employed populace, the average commute time for workers remains lower than the national average. The average commute time in Idaho is only 20 minutes one way, while the national average is 25.5 minutes one way.
Because of the many enormous life benefits we have seen from mobile technology, we can have trouble realizing how dangerous it is to use our mobile devices while driving. It can seem like such a simple thing to quickly check your phone or device when an alert buzzes, but that momentary distraction can be fatal. According to the site Distraction.gov, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in distracted driving-related traffic accidents all across America as of 2015.
Idaho takes the dangers of distracted driving very seriously, and has implemented several laws to mitigate the problem. Specifically, there is a ban on texting and driving for all drivers. The ban is a primary offense, which means law enforcement can pull you over just for violating it – although texting and driving is not considered a moving violation, which means getting pulled over for it will not result in points on your license. Fines for texting and driving start at $85.
Teen drivers are also banned from any handheld or hands-free cell phone use, although veteran drivers may use their phone as a handheld device for phone calls, and may use hands-free technology for both phone calls and text messages.
Teen Drivers in Idaho
Idaho has an excellent reason for making stricter mobile device bans for teen drivers. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes." Since teens are new to the complex skills necessary for driving, it makes sense to support novice drivers with common-sense rules that will help keep them safe on the road. Idaho offers a graduated licensing program to provide this support. Before receiving an unrestricted license, teens in Idaho must follow these steps:
- Driver Training Instruction Permit: Teens between the ages of 14 and a 1/2 and 17 who wish to take a state approved driver training program must first get a driver training instruction permit from their local driver exam office. Upon successful completion of a driver training program, teens may then apply for the supervised instruction permit.
- Supervised Instruction Permit: Teens can return to their local driver exam office to apply for a supervised instruction permit. On this six-month permit, teens may only drive while accompanied by a licensed adult driver supervising from the front seat. Permit-holders must complete 50 hours of supervised driving, with 10 of those hours occurring at night.
- Intermediate License: Teen drivers may apply for an intermediate license if they are at least 15 years old, have held the supervised instruction permit for at least six months, and have completed their 50 hours of practice driving. To receive this license, teens must pass driving, vision, and knowledge tests. 15-year-old license holders may only drive in daylight, unless accompanied by an adult driver supervising from the front seat. Upon reaching age 16 on the intermediate license, teen drivers may drive at night without supervision.
- Full Unrestricted License: As early as age 16, teens who have successfully completed all of the previous licensure steps may apply for the full, unrestricted license. On this license, the state does not place any night driving or passenger limitations on teen drivers, although parents are encouraged to make and enforce their own driving safety rules.
The State of Driving in Idaho
Enjoying the scenery of the open road in Idaho is part of the driving experience there, but don't underestimate unique challenges and hazards you face anytime you get behind the wheel. Understanding what to expect on the road in the Gem State can help you to make the best and safest driving decisions.