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1 in 5 not qualified to drive cars

By Claes Bell ·
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

It's not your imagination; a lot of your fellow drivers are dangerously unqualified to drive their cars.

This year's edition of the National Drivers Test sponsored by auto insurance provider GMAC Insurance shows a lot of U.S. drivers lack the basic knowledge needed to operate a car safely. From the press release:

Results revealed that 1 in 5 drivers on the road today cannot meet the basic requirements to get a driver's license, meaning that 36.9 million American drivers -- roughly 18 percent -- would not pass the written drivers test if taken today. Kansas continued their reign in first place (82.9 percent average score), while New York was bumped from last by Washington, D.C. (71.8 percent average score).

That many American drivers are incredibly bad is not really news. Having lived in South Florida for more than 8 years now, I can tell you a lot of South Florida drivers have an incredibly poor grasp of the concepts of a safe following distance, right of way and signaling, among other things. What's sad is that, according to the study, these test results actually represent an improvement over last year's results. This year the average score on the test was 77.9 percent, up from 76.2 percent.

Apparently Midwest drivers are the safest. Of the top five spots, three were occupied by Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota, with other being Western states Colorado and Oregon.

The bottom five spots were dominated by East Coast states. Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts rounded out the bottom five.

Some other interesting tidbits from the survey:

  • If driving knowledge is any indication of driving habits, men are better drivers than women. 1 in 4 women failed the test (27.2 percent versus 13.6 percent for male).  Overall, males out-performed females with an average score of 80.2 percent versus 74.1 percent for females.
  • The oldest drivers tested, ages 60-65, continued to have the highest average test scores at 80.3 percent.
  • One of 3 (34 percent) 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 percent) failing the test.
  • Biggest gains and losses: After ranking 24th place in 2010, Colorado moves to third place with an 82 percent 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 percent average to a 76 percent average.

On a side note, I think it's pretty brilliant for an auto insurance provider to sponsor a study like this. Nothing makes you want to beef up your auto insurance quite like finding out nearly 1 in 5 drivers in your area aren't qualified to operate a motor vehicle.

What do you think? Are male and older drivers really better drivers? Do you think your state is better or worse than they're ranked by the study?

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Claes Bell
June 07, 2011 at 3:15 pm

That's a good point, Jeremy. Good judgment is often more important than driving knowledge or ability when it comes to avoiding accidents, but it's harder to quantify.

Jeremy Stein
June 07, 2011 at 3:11 pm

It's a huge leap to assume that proficiency on a written test equates to driving capability. Insurance companies know that while boys may do better on the written exam, girls are less likely to race other cars on the freeway. Actuary tables don't lie.