Dumb and Dumber


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A new study suggests that millions of Americans lack basic knowledge of rules of the road and safe automobile operation. This story is being cited here rather than on another page because it’s obviously not news, at least to those motoring the macadam in the Northeast.

In fact, the study shows that if tested today, one in 10 drivers — nearly 20 million Americans — would fail a state driving test. The study also evaluated Americans’ everyday driving habits, revealing there are a lot of ignoramuses out there behind the wheel. Again, that’s not exactly a newsflash.

The results were part of the inaugural GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test, a study of almost 5,000 licensed drivers nationwide, between ages 16-65 years, designed to gauge Americans’ driving knowledge. Respondents were administered a 20-question written test representative of those used to award state drivers permits or licenses.

Overall, drivers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are the dumbest drivers; 1 in 5 were unable to pass the written driving test. Drivers in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes are the most knowledgeable with a failure rate of only 1 to 3 percent.

Oregon drivers ranked highest on the test with an overall average score of 89 percent (70 percent or higher is required to pass a standard driving test); Rhode Island ranked lowest with an overall average score of 77 percent.

The highest ranking states in the East were Vermont, coming in at number 6, and Virginia, 18. But the East dominates the bottom 10 states in terms of driver knowledge: Illinois, Florida, Connecticut, California, Maryland, District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and, the worst, Rhode Island.

In terms of age, 18-24 year old drivers are most likely to fail a written driving test (78 percent passing rate); drivers 50-64 years are most likely to pass (85 percent passing rate).

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, almost half of all pedestrian injuries and 21 percent of fatal injuries to pedestrians occur in collisions with motor vehicles at intersections. It’s no wonder since at least 1 out of 5 drivers do not know that a pedestrian has the right of way at a crosswalk and 1 out of 3 drivers claim to speed up to make a yellow light even when pedestrians are in the crosswalk.

“The test supports the need to stay abreast of the rules of the road, and to put them into practice each and every day,” says Gary Kusumi, CEO and president, GMAC Insurance Personal Lines. “Part of our job as auto insurers is to educate our customers, empowering them to become better, safer drivers to avoid accidents and to keep their lives moving. ”

At a time when states and public schools are facing budget crunches, driver training often takes a back seat, meaning the involvement of the insurance industry is more important than ever. Clearly, more Americans must be encouraged to walk, not drive, to the nearest driver training class.


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