Study Says American Drivers Suck

If you've driven around America much lately, as we have, you have undoubtedly experienced some mighty poor driving.  Now there is more than anecdotal evidence that American drivers are woefully in need of refresher courses in basic driving skills.  The results of the second annual GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test suggest that licensed Americans "lack basic driving knowledge and exhibit alarming behaviors on the road." The study revealed that one in 11 drivers -- nearly 18 million people -- would fail a state drivers test if one were administered to them today. Furthermore, the study shows drivers deliberately disregard pedestrians and treat driving as the new "down time," where they catch up on the day's activities, diverting their attention from the road.

The startling results come one year after GMAC Insurance first set out to gauge the knowledge of the American driving public, when licensed drivers were administered 20 questions found on a typical DMV written drivers test. Reinforcing last year's discoveries, the new findings indicate drivers still do not have adequate knowledge of basic rules of the road, and they exhibit bad habits behind the wheel.

"The rules of the road should not be something you learn once when you are 16 years old," said Gary Kusumi, CEO and president, GMAC Insurance Personal Lines. "We want to remind everyone that they need to work on their driving skills every day. If we're all diligent, we can avoid many accidents and stay safe."

Perhaps the most dangerous behavior discovered by the study regards drivers' concern for pedestrians.  The fact is, there isn't much for concern for pedestrians, according to the study. Roughly one in three drivers usually do not stop for pedestrians even if they're in a crosswalk or at a yellow light.  At least one out of five drivers do not know that a pedestrian has the right of way at a marked or unmarked crosswalk. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), pedestrians constitute the second largest category of motor vehicle crash deaths after vehicle occupants, accounting for 11 percent of fatalities.  (Of course, the analytical thinker might question where else victims might be if they are neither in a vehicle nor at roadside? In blimps?  Below manhole covers?)
Be that as it may, 43 percent of all pedestrian injuries and 22 percent of fatal injuries to pedestrians occur in collisions with motor vehicles at intersections. In addition, many pedestrians are killed on sidewalks, median strips and traffic islands.  (None, however, was reported killed on "Fantasy Island."  Good news.)
Of equal concern is a growing trend in which Americans treat driving as a time to catch up on activities they didn't get to in their hectic day. Results show that while driving, American drivers engage in a variety of distracting behaviors, including chatting on a cell phone, sending text messages, e-mailing friends, selecting songs on iPods, applying makeup, changing clothes and reading. Drivers aged 18-24 are the most likely to engage in these distracting -- and dangerous -- behaviors.
For the second year in a row, Oregon drivers ranked highest on the test, with an average score of 91 percent (70 percent or higher is required to pass a standard drivers test), and Rhode Island's drivers ranked lowest, with an average score of 75 percent. Overall, drivers in the Northeast region are most apt to fail the test, with state failure rates of 16 percent or more.  Drivers in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest regions are the most knowledgeable, with state failure rates ranging from one percent to seven percent.

If you'd like to see how you would do, the drivers test administered in the study is available to the public online at GMAC Insurance.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley frequently visits the United States in his quest to report on the auto industry and the human condition.  He lives in Villeperce, France.