Basic driving knowledge lacking, survey finds

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Without critical driving comprehension, many drivers run the risk of increased accidents or near accidents, where they often come to the realization of their lack of knowledge on rules of the road.” –Scott Eckman, chief marketing officer, GMAC Insurance

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When it comes to knowing the rules of road, we all think we’ve got it down pat … right? Well, that might be so for most truck drivers (lord knows, driving is their livelihood, after all) but it seems that ain’t the case for a good chunk of the “four wheeling” populace out there – nearly 1 out of five of them, to be exact.

At least, that’s what the 2011 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test survey purportedly determined.

The seventh annual such survey conducted by GMAC polled 5,130 licensed drivers ages 16-65 across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The company said its 2011 test gauged driver knowledge by administering 20 questions taken from state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) exams – a test administered online by TNS, the world's largest custom research agency.

GMAC noted that national data got weighted to the percentage of state population, age, gender and ethnicity.

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The results are startling, to say the very least: nearly 1 in 5 drivers on the road today cannot meet the basic requirements to get a driver's license. In sum, that means 36.9 million American drivers – roughly 18% of the overall driving population – would not pass the written drivers test if taken today, GMAC noted.

While the average score of all drivers in GMAC’s survey increased from 76.2% in 2010 to 77.9% this year, the overall results suggest that a great number of people on the road still lack basic driving knowledge, said Scott Eckman, chief marketing officer for GMAC Insurance – and that leads to dangerous driving habits.

For example, 85% of the test takers could not identify the correct action to take when approaching a steady yellow traffic light, and only a quarter were aware of safe following distances, he noted.

Here are some other results:

Are men better drivers? If driving knowledge is any indication of driving habits, men are better drivers than women, as 1 in 4 women failed the test – a failure rate of 27.2% versus 13.6% for men, GMAC said. Overall, males out-performed females with an average score of 80.2% versus 74.1% for women. [Let it be known, however, that I will NOT be sharing this factoid with my wife, for I would prefer to go on living without the shape of a frying pan imprinted on my skull.]

The northeast is worst driving region with an average scoring at 74.9%. By contrast, the Midwest is best driving region with average scoring at 77.5%.

The older, the wiser. Oldest drivers tested, ages 60 to 65, continued to have the highest average test scores at 80.3%.

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Be careful in the Empire State and driving along D.C.’s Beltway as 1 of 3 (some 34%) of all drivers in New York and Washington, D.C. failed the test. The state with the lowest percentage of failures is Wyoming, with only 1 of 20 (4.5%) failing the test.

New York is no longer in last place. New York moves to 45th after placing last three years in a row with a score of 75.3%. Care to guess which part of the U.S. replaced the Empire state? Yep, our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. By the way, Kansas continues to hold onto first place with a 82.9% average score, while Washington D.C. sews up the bottom with a 71.8% average score.

Biggest gains and losses. After ranking 24th place in 2010, Colorado moves to third place with an 82% average score. Alaska plummeted 30 spots from tenth place in 2010 to 40th place this year. Their average test score decreased from a 79.8% average to a 76% average.

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