Believe it or not, Minnesota has the best drivers in the nation.

That came as a big surprise to me, since on a daily basis I see motorists cut off other drivers, tailgate, drift into other traffic lanes, chat or text away on their cellphones, and engage in countless other menacing behaviors that don’t epitomize “Minnesota Nice.”

But those were not the criteria that looked at when it published its 2014 Worst Drivers by State in mid-December. Instead, the online resource for people to compare features of various automobile insurance companies used fatal crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to compile its rankings of drivers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The website looked at the fatality rate per number of vehicle miles traveled, percentage of fatal crashes involving alcohol and percentage of deaths that were speed-related. It also looked at the number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities per 100,000 population. The website also factored in the percentage of fatal wrecks that involved motorists who ran red lights and broke other traffic laws, were not wearing seat belts or driving with invalid licenses.

For the record, Iowa was a close second to Minnesota for states with the safest drivers, followed by New Hampshire, Alaska, Connecticut and Oregon.

With their high rates of drunken-driving fatalities and number of deaths per mile traveled, Montana and South Carolina hold the dubious distinction of being the worst places to be on the roads. Texas, North Dakota and Delaware round out the worst five. Another neighbor to the west, South Dakota, had the 16th worst drivers while to the east, Wisconsin had the 22nd worst.

Low fatality/miles ratio

Minnesota’s highest score came for its low fatality rate per number of vehicle miles traveled; only one state had a better mark. The state’s lowest scores came in the categories of deaths resulting from traffic violations and drunken driving, with 15 states having better scores than Minnesota in both categories.

I don’t put a lot of stock in these lists since it takes only one misbehaving motorist to put me in peril. These types of lists titillate us and may give us bragging rights or embarrassment. Still, there is a useful purpose for such lists, says Tyler Spraul, the website’s vice president of public relations.

Motorists “can gain insight into the kinds of stats that insurance companies have access to and utilize in determining their rates,” Spraul said. “Insurance companies aren’t going to use our rankings specifically, but they are going to be using the same kind of information and monitoring it all the time to determine premiums in different areas.”

Insurance rates are complicated. First there is the type of coverage you have. Then there is the deductible and the amount of coverage you have. And just like real estate, your location matters.

Insurance companies also look at claim frequency, the number of cars that are reported stolen, and the type of vehicles hijacked, along with a host of other factors. But the risk of having an accident is most likely going to mean higher premiums, Spraul said.

There is a lot we can’t control on the roads, but surveys like this show that good driving habits and following driving laws can be beneficial both on the roads and in the pocketbook.