Houston Is a Stressful Place to Drive, but We Knew That Already

Houston ranks as the 10th worst city to be stuck in traffic in the nation.

By Shelby Stewart August 23, 2022


I-69 in Houston is the 10th most stressful place to drive in the nation. 

Image: Trong Nguyen

Living in Houston comes with its particular set of challenges, and for most of us, weather and traffic are up there among the worst. If you’ve ever found yourself stressed out in mile-long traffic sitting on any Houston road, some new data may help put that anxiety into perspective. 

Auto insurance company HiRoad conducted a recent study to find out where drivers are the most stressed behind the wheel, and—spoiler alert—Space City is high on the list. To make its determinations, HiRoad collected driving-related tweets posted all around the country and analyzed them using an AI tool called TensiStrength, which detects stress levels in short pieces of text and assigns them a stress level score from -5 (very stressed) to +5 (very relaxed).

The data, fueled by tweets from drivers across the nation, found that Portland, Oregon, roads are complained about by drivers more than those of any other city in the US, and that Chicago’s I-90 highway catches the most flak. Now, as Houstonians, we may be puzzled by this information, because as we all know 5 o’clock traffic begins at 3 o’clock here—but shockingly, the data shows that Houston is actually only the 10th most stressful place to drive in the nation. 

Cities with the highest and lowest percentage of stressed tweets 

Of 1.3 million stressed-related driving tweets surveyed, the analysis found that Portland had the highest level of stressed-related tweets from drivers, at 47.6 percent. Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, and Seattle followed closely behind. If we may be so bold as to editorialize, that’s not to say we Houstonians aren’t stressed on the road, because it’s already a given if you’re a resident—perhaps we’re just conscientious enough not to tweet about it. 

On the other end of the scale, the cities with the lowest percentage of stressed tweets include Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida, at 32.7 and 36.1 percent, respectively. Surprisingly, Fort Worth made the list of low percentages of stressed tweets, too, coming in at No. 7, at 37.5 percent. 

Top factors in driving stress

Americans can collectively agree that rain, snow, and other bad weather conditions are stressors when driving, and they all made the top five in the HiRoad data. Each of these stressors can lead to accidents, and according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), one in five road crashes every year are due to weather conditions. Still, across the nation, drivers hate traffic the most in the majority (27) of states, followed by speeding. For Texas in particular, motorists’ biggest pet peeve is drivers speeding on the road. 

Additionally, issues like cell phone use while driving and fog made the list. Potholes ranked at No. 7, but a few Houston streets—we’re looking at you, Bissonett and Beechnut—surely cause more than their share of pothole-related stress. 

The most stressful day of the week

The data further analyzed the worst days to be on the road across each state. For Texas, Wednesday is the one that plagues us the most, so we humbly recommend taking that day for some “me time” every week (your boss will thank you later). 

If you can’t steer clear of the roadways completely, give yourself extra leeway: try to leave earlier to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic, or show up to the office with some doughnuts so you’re not actually “late” to work.

Highways with the most complaints

Chicago’s I-90 was the highway with the most complaints. VP Steve Harris at HiRoad said in a statement that “while every highway in our analysis of Twitter data saw at least one-third of related tweets registering as stressed, I-90 causes more stress than any other highway in the country. I-90 passes through Chicago, reflecting our discovery that Chicago is the worst city in the country for traffic.” To be fair, I-90 also passes through Buffalo, Cleveland, Sioux Falls, and Billings on its route from Boston to Seattle—but it’s not Sioux Falls and Billings causing the complaints, Chi-Town.

So while we can safely pinpoint Chicago as the single worst spot on the single worst road, we should note that Los Angeles flooded the list with seven different local highways represented among the most stressful. Houston isn’t free from critique, either: I-69 rounded out the list at No.10, with 41.3 percent of tweets registering as stressed—and unlike Chicago with I-90, we can’t try to blame cities like Boston or Seattle. The “pleasures” of this highway are pretty much ours alone—counting I-69 through Houston as US Route 59, which it really is—unless you want to try to pass the stress off onto Lawrence (Kansas), St. Joseph (Missouri), or Fergus Falls (Minnesota, but you knew that, right?). 

Worst cities to be stuck in traffic

HiRoad also created a ranking system that gives each city a score based on the percentage of stressed driving-related tweets posted there and how congested the local traffic is. Chicago ranks as the worst city, with an index score of 4. New York City (5), Philadelphia (11), and Portland (11) also ranked high on the list. Houston came in at No. 10, with an index score of 30. That may come as a shock to anyone who’s been stuck in anguish on a Houston freeway around 4:30 p.m. on a random weekday, but let’s look at the bright side: perhaps it means we’re less whiny, high-strung, or entitled (or all of the above) than the residents of the cities higher up on the list. 

That doesn’t change the fact that after reading all of this information, the data doesn’t truly underscore our experience driving in Houston. And maybe it’s OK for us to not take the number one spot in the US this time. Our best guess as to the discrepancy? A few tweets couldn’t even begin to explain the full scope of what we endure on Houston’s roads on a daily basis. Because, quite simply, everything is bigger in Texas. 


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