AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – While communities across the United States vary drastically in population, climate, history, and traditions, there is at least one topic that seems to bring people from all walks of life together; a hatred of traffic and their neighbors’ driving habits.
Amarillo, the largest city in the Texas Panhandle and High Plans region, is no different in that respect. Most people who talk about traffic in the region will likely hear several common complaints and sentiments, including those critical of the amount of traffic and the speed and skills (or lack thereof) of other drivers on the road.
However, those who have spent time in the Amarillo area also know that it is a particularly unique city both in Texas and the US due to its geographic location, climate, culture, and development. The way that Amarillo is and why also contributes to its traffic – who drives there, where, when, why, and how.
This means that Amarillo drivers can experience certain circumstances on the road in a different way than many other places, and in some ways, it can give fuel to the argument that Amarillo drivers are worse than in other communities.
Are Amarillo drivers worse? Here’s a look at a few of the reasons people may think so, and how they hold up against other areas.
‘Where did you learn to drive?’
Amarillo is the largest metropolitan area in the Texas Panhandle and High Plains region, standing as the 14th-largest city in Texas and the “center city” of the Texas stretch of Historic Route 66. To get from the Amarillo area to a larger city, it’s necessary to drive at least 122 miles due south to Lubbock – meaning Amarillo is the economic and population center of an area larger than West Virginia.
Even so, as noted in previous reports on MyHighPlains.com, Amarillo has a population of just over 200k people, with an economy focused on agriculture and cattle as well as oil, petroleum, aerospace, and aviation. All of those industries require vast amounts of space, meaning that Amarillo and its satellite communities have remained fairly spread out and rural even as it developed.
Meanwhile, census information noted that most people who move to Amarillo are from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. That data, as well as testimonials from local drivers, showed that Amarillo is pretty well split between people who learned to drive in very small communities and country roads and those who learned to drive in densely packed metropolitan highways.
As noted by drivers’ education agencies and the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, rural drivers and city drivers tend to get used to very different circumstances, including:
- Rural driving
- Unpaved and uneven surfaces
- Animals, livestock, and farm vehicles in the road
- Fewer lanes and safety barriers
- Steep slopes and drastic curves
- Higher speed limits
- Longer drives with fewer changes
- City driving
- Sudden changes in speed limits and road width
- Frequent intersections and stopping
- Parked vehicles and pedestrians in the road
- Distracting sounds and signs
- Higher-density traffic
- More frequent construction, unexpected closures and detours
Alongside local drivers, Amarillo has also been a major avenue of product transportation since the beginning of the US Highway System. Because of its placement and its own production output, Amarillo roads see a high number of freight trucks and commercial vehicles from across the country. The city is also a “halfway” point to many drivers on their way to New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Due to its status as an interstate and intrastate thoroughfare, the roads in the Amarillo area see their share of drivers from other states. Not only can those driving habits differ due to whether the skill was taught in a rural or metropolitan area, but every individual US state has its own assortment of drivers’ education curricula and traffic laws.
Amid those different traffic laws and regional driving habits, Amarillo drivers also encounter ‘problem drivers’ from other states more often.
According to a Forbes Advisor study, some of the most confrontational and aggressive drivers in the country come from Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that New Mexico leads the country in the number of drivers who excessively speed, and ConsumerAffairs identified Albuquerque, N.M. as one of the top three cities in the US with the worst drivers.
With Amarillo right in the middle of that five-state region and sharing the road with a significant number of those drivers each year, particularly from Oklahoma and New Mexico, those habits and issues can compound those that are already native to the area.
Amarillo, alcohol, and speeding
Although New Mexico may have been identified as the state with the most speeding drivers, it’s still a major issue in the Lone Star State. As previously reported on MyHighPlains.com, the Texas Department of Transportation advised that speed is the number one contributing factor in traffic crashes in Texas.
In Amarillo, TxDOT reported that the top contributing factors for crashes in 2022 were:
- Failure to drive in a single lane
- Alcohol or drug intoxication
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
TxDOT also previously reported that Amarillo is the number three city in Texas for the most fatality and serious-injury crashes caused by alcohol, despite being the 14th-largest city.
Whether or not the driver was taught to drive on city streets, TxDOT and other local organizations have noted their ongoing efforts for the much-needed improvements in Amarillo’s driving habits regarding speed and alcohol. While Amarillo drivers day-to-day may know how to drive objectively, data has shown that Amarillo area drivers are often going too fast to drive safely or too often too drunk to drive.
Traffic patterns and outside factors
Another set of contributing factors to roadway frustration in Amarillo, according to local drivers and reports from ConsumerAffairs, includes when and where drivers are on the road.
According to ConsumerAffairs, aggressive driving – including speeding, tailgating, running red lights, cutting off other vehicles, weaving in and out of lanes, and honking or rude gestures – happens more often during times of heavy traffic, especially when drivers are running late to work or rushing to get home.
Aggressive driving behaviors, according to the study, tend to increase the most on Mondays, Fridays, and during the afternoons when traffic is heaviest and slowest. In Amarillo, local drivers have noted another compounding factor in high traffic hours is the location of schools.
In the Amarillo Independent School District, many school campuses are located less than two blocks away from high-traffic thoroughfares, such as 34th Avenue, Western Street, I-40, and I-27. The abrupt need to slow down more drastically than a driver otherwise might in school zones on or near these roadways can contribute to less predictable traffic, sudden stops, and traffic back-ups in the afternoon hours that can add extra fuel to the fire of driver frustration.
Another factor that can impact traffic in Amarillo and add to driver frustration is construction. Although road maintenance and construction are a necessary part of a community’s infrastructure system, the Amarillo area has multiple projects currently ongoing that are expected to continue at least until 2024.
Previously noted on MyHighPlains.com, Amarillo also has particularly volatile weather compared to other regions of Texas, with the possible sudden developments of snow and ice, heavy winds, hail and dust storms, fires, and flooding. Differences in how roads are prepared for weather conditions like an overnight freeze across the city, as well as drivers’ own preparation and experience in dealing with these conditions, can contribute to road safety and how a driver might view the other people on the road.
Overall, are Amarillo drivers worse than other areas? No – or at least statistical and traffic reports haven’t come to that conclusion. However, depending on where else a particular driver has traveled and for how long, they can certainly feel that way.
Still, whether or not Amarillo is officially considered to have worse drivers than other areas, there are unique ways and reasons drivers may experience difficulties on the road, and area-specific ways and reasons for them to consciously work to adopt safe driving practices – both for their own benefit and for the community.