According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the nation's worst drivers are in the south.

Six of the top 10 worst driving states are in the Deep South with Louisiana leading the pack, having a top five ranking in three different categories – Failure to obey traffic signs, ticketing rate, and careless driving. It was followed by South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama.

Being ranked at or near the bottom affects insurance rates. Louisiana drivers pay the highest premiums in America, according to the independent industry site Insure.com.

It's noteworthy that those ranked at the bottom are large, rural states where, in many cases, there is little public transit and there are longer distances between major population centers. Many of the safest states, meanwhile, are smaller in size in the Northeast and Midwest where people aren't driving longer distances. Vermont has the best drivers, followed by Utah, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Oregon.

The survey ranked Pennsylvania as the 15th worst driving state. That included a 22nd ranking in Careless Driving and 18th in ticketing rate. Drivers in the District of Columbia were the best in obeying traffic signals and seat belt law. Drivers in Kentucky were the last in those categories, followed by Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

In traffic fatalities, a 2010 survey showed drivers in the District of Columbia had the lowest rate with Massachusetts ranked as the best state. Pennsylvania was 28th with 1,208 fatal car crashes resulting in 1,324 fatalities, 33 percent of which involved a drunken driver.

Of the 15 states with the best drivers, only four ranked in the bottom half for careless driving, meaning drivers in these states were more attentive to the road and were not being distracted by things like cellphones and text messaging.

As part of last year's transportation funding bill, drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be allowed to travel at a 70 mph speed limit on the stretch between the Blue Mountain Interchange (Exit 201) and the Morgantown Interchange beginning this Wednesday. The Keystone State joins 36 other states which have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher on interstates or other limited-access roads. Turnpike officials are expected to detail more speed-limit changes across the Turnpike's 550-mile system in the near future.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in a news release that studies have shown that the design of the statewide system in this area can safely accommodate the higher speed limit. State police, meanwhile, say they're planning strict enforcement of the 70 mph limit which we assume means it won't be as loosely enforced as the 65 mph limit.

It is illegal in this state to use your cellphone while driving to send or receive texts, emails, or messages of any kind. It's not illegal to make phone calls while driving, but if you must make or receive a call while driving, drivers are encouraged to pull off road when possible or use a hands-free device.

The higher speeds will reduce driver reaction times, which makes it paramount that the cellphone law is strictly enforced.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com