In broad testing, GMAC insurance found that about 18% of drivers could not pass a written drivers test. The sample included 5,130 licensed drivers from 16 to 65 in all 50 states; if the ratio holds up at larger scale, that suggests a total of 37 million failing drivers nationwide. Yikes.
The 20 questions were taken from actual DMV tests in various states. Among the questions most likely to stump respondents: Eighty-five percent of those surveyed did not know what to do when approaching a steady yellow light, and 75% did not know safe following distances. (For the answers -- and the full test -- go to gmacinsurance.com.)
Here are some highlights of the test results:
- Older drivers did better. With an average score of 80.3%, drivers 60 to 65 scored better than other age groups. Apparently years of observing the rules of the road count, even on written tests.
- Men scored higher. Males seemed to know the rules better, with an average test score of 80.2 % vs. 74.1% for women. Among female test takers, 27.2% failed, scoring below 70; 13.6% of men got a failing grade.
- Heartland drivers know more. The Midwest had the highest average score, with 77.5%. The Northeast was the worst, with 74.9%. Kansas had the highest state score, with an 82.9% average, while the District of Columbia was last with 71.8%.
Avoid distractions. Increasingly, police are finding drivers in accidents were distracted by cell phone calls or texting. But less obvious hazards that take your eyes off the road may involve changing the music player, talking to passengers or dealing with children. If you have voice commands or steering wheel buttons that control your radio or iPod, use them. Concentrate on driving.
Don't speed. Sticking strictly to the speed limit is a matter for you and the Highway Patrol. But for sure avoid going faster than the general flow of traffic. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety says that speeding contributes to one-third of all accidents, including some 11,675 traffic deaths a year.
Don't tailgate. Sticking on the bumper of the car ahead gives you little room to react if something happens. Keep several car lengths back. (Need more convincing? Tailgating also tends to cut your gas mileage because you are constantly hitting the brakes and then speeding up again.)
Pay attention to weather conditions. Any prudent driver will slow down on icy or snowy roads. But even a light rain can make roads slick. Slow down if roads are wet, and be careful not to go through turns too fast.