Scoring drivers

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When we began this campaign five years ago, we embarked on a mission to help drivers become more aware of the rules of the road. We've seen the results ebb and flow, and this year, scores are down. This reiterates the fact that each and every one of us need to continually be brushing up on safe driving practices.” –Wade Bontrager, senior vice president-affinity division, GMAC Insurance.

GMAC Insurance recently polled more than 5,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to try and gauge automotive driver knowledge by administering 20 actual questions taken from Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) exams used across the country.

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Now, before we get started discussing the results – which are startling, to say the least – let’s lay a few caveats out on the table. First, it’s my belief that the score one gets on written tests doesn’t necessarily correspond directly to driving skill. While written testing is important part of a driver’s education – you’ve got to know the rules, and there’s no better way to find out if you know them or not than by testing you about them – it’s not the end-all and be-all of separating the good drivers from the bad.

Second, the type of questions that make up these tests is critical, too. One of the reasons I believe there is such ignorance by car drivers of the operating characteristics of big rigs is that the DMV written tests they take lack information about them. So what kinds of questions these tests ask is something that needs to be looked at closely.

Ok, with all that being said, GMAC’s survey still dug up some pretty surprising facts: such as 20.1 percent of licensed Americans – amounting to roughly 41 million drivers on the road – would not pass a written drivers test exam if taken today. The poll also found that drivers in the Northeast had the lowest average test scores (74.5 percent), drivers in the South had the highest failure rate (41 percent), while drivers in the Midwest had the highest average test scores (79 percent) and the lowest failure rates (15 percent).

[If you’d rather “watch” the survey results instead of read about them, view the video below.]

Overall, findings from GMAC’s fifth annual “driver knowledge” survey indicate the number of drivers with knowledge of basic road rules is decreasing, with this year's test scores lower than last year's (76.6 percent vs. 78.1 percent).

Idaho and Wisconsin drivers tied for first in the nation, with an average test score of 80.6 percent; New York drivers ranked last, with an average score of 70.5 percent. This is the second time Idaho ranked first and the third time New York has ranked last in the survey's five-year history, GMAC noted.

The survey – administered by TNS for GMAC – constructed a representative national comprised of 5,183 licensed drivers in the U.S., aged 16 to over 60 and reported at least one factoid I think no one will find surprising; the older the driver, the higher the test score. Drivers 35 years and older were most likely to pass, while young adults aged 18 to 24 recorded the highest failure rates. White males older than 45 received the highest average score, the study noted.

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When comparing genders, men are still more likely to pass the test than women. However, the gap is considerably smaller in 2009 (81 percent of males versus 79 percent of females) than in 2008 (87 percent of males versus 80 percent of females).

What conclusions can we draw from the data gathered by GMAC’s survey? Bluntly, we’ve got more work to do in terms of better educating car drivers out there. Because – to my way of thinking – a more knowledgeable driver can eventually become a safer driver. That doesn’t mean book learning translates into better driving skills; not by any means. But better and more thorough knowledge of the rules of the road can help them improve significantly.

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