ST. LOUIS --- Results from the 2008 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test released this month found that 16.4 percent of drivers on the road --- amounting to roughly 33 million licensed Americans --- would not pass a written drivers test if taken today.
The fourth annual survey, which polled 5,524 licensed Americans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, is designed to gauge driver knowledge by administering 20 actual questions taken from state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) exams. Kansas drivers ranked first in the nation, with an average test score of 84.0 percent; New Jersey drivers ranked last, with an average score of 69.9 percent.
Overall, findings from the 2008 survey indicate that an alarming number of licensed Americans continue to lack knowledge of basic rules of the road. While the national average score improved slightly to 78.1 percent (from 77.1 percent in 2007), in general, geographical regions ranked similarly to previous years, with the lowest average test scores in the Northeast.
Across the board, respondents continued to have difficulty on questions about yellow lights and safe following distances. Eighty-four percent could not identify the correct action to take when approaching a steady yellow traffic light, and 73 percent could not properly identify a typical safe following distance from the car in front of them.
Additional key findings from the 2008 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test include:
-- The older the driver, the higher the test score. Drivers 35+ years old were most likely to pass.
-- While average test scores between the genders were similar, women were more likely to fail the test than men (20 percent versus 13 percent)
-- The Northeast had the lowest average test scores (76 percent) and the highest failure rates (19.8 percent)
-- The Midwest had the highest average test scores (81 percent) and the lowest failure rates (11 percent)
-- Kansas replaced Idaho's 2007 ranking as most knowledgeable; New Jersey replaced New York's 2007 ranking as least knowledgeable
-- New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts ranked within the last five places for the past three years
-- Fortunately, nearly all respondents (98 percent) know what to do when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights approaches, what to do when hydroplaning and the meaning of a solid yellow line.
"It's encouraging to see that scores are beginning to get better, but there is still a lot of room for improvement," said Wade Bontrager, vice president of marketing for GMAC Insurance. "To do this, we all need to make safety our top priority, review the basic road rules and put them into practice every day. By announcing these results and offering a venue to learn proper procedures, it's our goal to help people become more knowledgeable, and therefore safer, drivers."
In addition to the 20-question DMV exam, GMAC Insurance posed subsequent questions exploring drivers' opinions on the current testing process. Bontrager said that each year, people write in asking why there isn't a standard, national written driver's test.
"While each state has their own rules and regulations, we wanted to find out what people really think about the whole process," he said. "We asked if testing should be standardized, if rules should be the same in every state, if you should have to retake an exam, and if so, after what age and how often. While this is sure to spark a healthy debate, it's all in the name of bringing safe driving procedures to the forefront in our minds."
These findings reveal:
-- Approximately three in five (58 percent) believe that permit or license applicants should be required to take a standard, national written drivers test with questions applying to all 50 states
-- Seventy-eight percent believe that each state should have the same basic traffic safety regulations, such as speed limit, parking regulations and pedestrian right-of-way
-- Approximately two in three (63 percent) believe that drivers should be required to re-take the DMV road test after a certain age; 87 percent of those respondents believe it should be no earlier than age 60, and 41 percent think the test should be retaken each year.