Traffic Light

    by: Kevin Ransom | AOL Autos

    If you spend any amount of time behind the wheel, the results of a recent national drivers test should scare you. And if they don’t, they should.

    In late May, GMAC Insurance reported that nearly 1 in 5 drivers -- or about 38 million Americans -- could not pass a written drivers test if they took it today.

    That’s according to the insurer’s annual National Drivers Test survey, which was conducted by polling 5,202 licensed drivers from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey posed 20 questions that were culled from various state Department of Motor Vehicles exams.

    The general upshot of the results is that a shocking number of licensed American drivers continue to demonstrate a woeful lack of knowledge when it comes to the basic rules of the road. The national average score for the latest survey dropped slightly from 2009 -- from 76.6 percent to 76.2 percent. In ’07, the average score was 78.1 percent, says Wade Bontrager, senior vice president of GMAC Insurance.

    If respondents got less than 70 percent correct, that was considered a “failing” score. Pedestrians also have every reason to be afraid -- very afraid -- after hearing that fully 85 percent of those surveyed could not accurately identify the proper action to take when coming up on a yellow traffic light. Especially since one of the “answer options” for the question was: “Go through the intersection before it turns red.”

    Also, 73 percent did not know the safe following distance, says Bontrager -- not surprising, given how often we see high-speed tailgating on any freeway in any major metropolitan area during rush hour. The correct answer is actually not measured in distance, but in time. “You need three seconds to come to a safe, complete stop,” said Bontrager. “So, the actual distance you travel during those three seconds depends on how fast you’re driving.

    "It’s very discouraging that overall test scores are lower than last year’s,” Bontrager said. "Driving safety must be a top priority, and drivers just have to be aware of the rules of the road at all times.

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    “Being an insurance company, we see, every day, what happens when people make mistakes on the road -- they end up in accidents, some of them very serious -- and these are accidents that could have been avoided if they followed these rules,” muses Bontrager. “Decisions made in a split-second can determine whether or not you’re able to avoid an accident.”

    GMAC began conducting the survey six years ago as a way of raising awareness of the importance of driving safety, and to “spark interest” in drivers improving their knowledge, he says.

    The survey tabulates the results regionally as well as on a state-by-state basis and ranked the states in terms of their average scores. Respondents in the Northeast lagged behind their Midwestern motoring brethren. The Northeast had the lowest average test scores -- 74.9 percent -- and the highest failure rate, at 25.1 percent.

    Meanwhile, the Midwest region had the highest average test scores -- 77.5 percent -- and the lowest failure rate, at 11.9 percent.

    And when ranked on a state-by-state basis, New York drivers were cellar-dwellers. Drivers in the Empire State ranked dead last, with an average score of 70 percent -- just barely a passing grade.

    And, what state ranked Number One? That would be Kansas, with an average score of 82.3 percent.

    Still, even that 80-percent-plus score in the Jayhawk State is nothing to shout about, because that translates into 20 percent of the drivers surveyed not having enough basic driving knowledge. “Until we start seeing scores of 95 or 100 percent coming out of every state, we still need to see a lot of improvement, across the board,” says Bontrager.

    And isn’t just a lack of knowledge that concerns driving-safety experts.

    Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, also laments the careless disregard for basic driving rules even by those drivers who do know the rules. “Drivers do need to know the basic rules of the road, but knowing them isn’t the same as obeying them,” said Rader. “Even when we know the speed limit, for example, we still break it. That’s why speeding is a factor in a third of all highway deaths,” adds Rader.

    “Drivers also know they shouldn’t run red lights,” yet hundreds of people are killed and thousands are injured by red light runners every year, notes Rader -- who adds that motorists also know that cell phones are a distraction, yet they continue to yak into their phones while driving. “Our highways are a lot like Lake Wobegon (the fictitious town created by NPR's Garrison Keillor) -- most drivers think they’re ‘above average’; it’s all the other ‘idiots’ out there that need to hit the books.

    “Research shows that law enforcement (in the form of traffic tickets) may be the best driver education program yet invented.” On the GMAC National Driver’s Test, there was also a “gender gap” of sorts -- men had a higher average score than women -- 78.1 percent, compared to 74.4 percent. The gap was wider when it came to the failure rate -- 24 percent for women, versus 18.1 percent for men.

    And, overall, among survey respondents, a significantly higher percentage of women, compared to men, engaged in various "distracted driving" behaviors, like talking on cell phones, adjusting the radio, eating, fiddling with their iPods or applying make-up -- the latter of which is obviously a more gender-specific activity. (Generally speaking, anyway.)

    Overall, fully 25 percent of those surveyed said they engaged in these kinds of distracted driving behavior. This was the first year the survey included distracted-driving questions, so there’s no way of knowing whether there was an increase or decrease in this kind of behavior in 2010, compared to previous years.

    “But 25 percent is way too high,” admonishes Bontrager.

    One consolation is that only five percent said they texted while driving, which suggests that state laws against this wildly dangerous practice -- as well as TV-public-service announcements warning about its hazards -- are having some impact.

    So, do you think you’re smarter than the average driver when it comes to knowing the rules of the road? You can find out by going to www.gmacinsurance.com, where you can take the test, see the full state-by-state rankings, play a driving game, and challenge friends to top your score.

    Also, Facebook users can go to National Drivers Test Facebook quiz and challenge their FB friends, while Twitter users can follow the Drivers Test Twitter page for updates on state rankings and get some tips on safe driving habits.

    Top Safety Picks 2010 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
    Buick LaCrosse
    Ford Taurus
    Hyundai Genesis (built after 1/2010)
    Lincoln MKS
    Mercedes E class (built after 1/2010)
    Volvo S80

    Honda Civic (4-door (except Si) with optional ESC)
    Kia Forte (built after 10/2009)
    Kia Soul
    Nissan Cube
    Scion xB
    Subaru Impreza (except WRX)
    Toyota Corolla
    VW Golf (4-door)

    Audi A3
    Chevrolet Malibu (built after 11/2009)
    Chrysler Sebring (4-door w/optional ESC)
    Dodge Avenger (with optional ESC)
    Hyundai Sonata (2011 models)
    Mercedes C class
    Subaru Legacy
    Subaru Outback
    Volkswagen Jetta (sedan)
    Volkswagen Passat (sedan)
    Volvo C30 (2010-11 models)
    Dodge Journey
    Subaru Tribeca
    Volvo XC60
    Volvo XC90

    Honda Element
    Jeep Patriot (w/optional side torso airbags)
    Subaru Forester
    Volkswagen Tiguan

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    1 - 20 of 344 Comments
    edromar2 Dec 30, 2010 6:12 AM
    First, laws and thus test questions must be state (and country) specific and clear. All the questions and comments I read related to this arti9cle faile.g.: Safe driving distance includes road and weather conditions. And a yellow blinker just means "caution despite your intention or conditions! The only thing this insurance industry propaganda shows is that they culle3d out questions to make good driver4s and good readers fail!--and to0 show that commenters are generally stupid!
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    vlady1000 Oct 17, 2010 9:20 PM
    Geeze.., pretty sad, I have not taken a test is over 20 years and got a 95%. But then after seeing so many idiots on the road I always think "if they can not even drive how can they be of any use to an employer". Driving is about the easiest thing to do in life!!!
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    spamrejectforme Oct 17, 2010 7:45 PM
    This is something to ponder. As a UK national that lives in the UK and therefore has never had any US driving instruction I have just taken the test ( just for the fun of it, Yeh I'm sad I know) and got a score of 75%. All the questions I got wrong are US specific as in what to do at a diamond sign ( we don't have such things in the UK) so the fact that a significant number of US drivers wouldn't pass the test is a little concerning. As far as the comments that the questions are not real life and therefore not valid is even more worrying. All the questions that I was asked appeared to me to be based on what was safe and not commercially advantageous, how can you break driving rules safely if you don't even know what they are? Now before every one starts to hunt me down to give me a piece of there mind's I'm sure given that if the same investigation was carried out in the UK we would have similar results perhaps the comment that having to retest every few years would be a good thing, at least every one would have to check that they knew the current rules.
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    gunman1f16 Oct 17, 2010 3:21 PM
    What does it mean if you're passed on the right? It menas you're driving in the wrong lane! All traffic should be as far right as they can get, move left to pass, then back right! That's how our highways are designed> The "slow traffic move right" signs don't say "slow traffic move to the middle of the road"!!
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    gunman1f16 Oct 17, 2010 3:19 PM
    Speed doesn't cause accidents.... that's the insurance companies and police departments making money. Increased speed limits decrease accidents and save lives,it's been proven in real life time after time. Insane traffic laws, like artifically slow speed limits serve to cause a rift between police and civilains that shouldn't exist....
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    sykamenitz Oct 16, 2010 10:56 PM
    I drive my vehicle mostly in New Jersey. Mostly on Route 9. I would like to see driver's keep to the right, & pass on the left. One additional thing, I wish the POLICE would issue ticket's to ALL the driver's that use their CELL PHONE while driving. If U can't keep two hands on the steering wheel when it is needed, the CELL PHONE in one hand most cases cause accident's when an Emergency condition present's itself.
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    davenadir Oct 16, 2010 5:46 PM
    Lousy instrument - Whoever wrote it should fail themselves and find a new line of work. Which of these is a safe following distance: 3, 10 or 20 seconds? (Uh, if 3 or 10 are safe, then 20 is too.) What do you do at a yellow? "Prepare to stop?" (No, not if you're not going to stop!) The only right answer is to be advised that the light is changing from green (when you're allowed to enter the intersection if it's safe) to red (when you're not allowed.) Is it legal to pass on the right? (Yes, and it's not dangerous nor rude if you're in England.)
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    mt1975 Oct 16, 2010 12:22 AM
    I live in Iowa, so I know that I could pass the test with flying colors, we drive on icy road conditions and such, and if you don't know what you're doing driving in those conditions, it could be very distrastrous. The following distance becomes very crucial to survival which also takes speed into account. In driver's ed many many eons ago, I was told use the 4 second following distance rule. You visualize an object the previous car passes, and you count 1 Mississippi and onto 4 Mississippi and you should not be passed that object yourself until the full 4 seconds later. I also only drive 5 MPH over the posted speed limit ever, and yes I have flew past the Iowa State Patrol here several times doing so, and they didn't even bat an eye when I was doing 70 in a 65.
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    us41 Oct 15, 2010 5:47 PM
    Listen, if you're so sure, of your coment: put an example tet on the screen for those of us who are cnfident enough to show we are right.....not you!
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    rewalkerandco Oct 15, 2010 4:19 PM
    yeah I was in augusta georgia on gordon hwy a city truck passing ME I was in right hand lane an I got the ticket for speeding just wait till i have jury duty hope it's for shooting a cop (NOT GUILTY) wil be my vote cops think they god an can make up the laws as they go along
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    infinitestealth Oct 15, 2010 3:34 PM
    The yellow light means prepare to stop, pure and simple! There are those that are going to try to change that fact within their own manner of mental deduction however it does not change that fact. Observance of this simple rule of safety can save lives and save you money. Your choice.
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    everest1jb Oct 15, 2010 3:31 PM
    Failing scores are because driving tests do not reflect driving reality, just like all tests. Probably most drivers who drive for a living wouldn't pass, but that does not make them bad drivers. It is about getting there using as little fuel as you can, like going through an intersection on yellow rather than stopping and having to reaccelerate, getting 2-3 mpg until getting back up to speed. Traffic control devices and laws should be based on the least consumption of fuel for the most amount of vehicles, instead of some random limit or device placed just as a revenue gathering tool.
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    klasakt Oct 15, 2010 2:47 PM
    Dang, I got a 90. I should have gotten a 95. Duh, it just hit me for one of the two I missed. Crapadoodle!!
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    missmargiecan Oct 15, 2010 2:29 PM
    Yellow lights, stop if you can do so safely, or proceed with caution. Explain this to police and judges when you take it to court. Of Course the judge will side with the cop..they make up rules as they go, may they all burn in hell!!
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    ft00000000051772 Oct 15, 2010 2:24 PM
    I believe the yellow light means Caution, that you are about to stop
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    scuables Oct 15, 2010 2:22 PM
    In Los Angeles its horrible Drivers block intersections all the time! so No they dont know what YELLOW means! Another issue is the Carpool lanes (require two or more people per vehicle) its anoying when your stuck seeing break lights and see many idiots abusing those lanes! where the hell is the damm Highway Patrol!!! I'm not the best driver but not the worst either .. just READ the signs && use your common sense as Humans!!!
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    rohrscheibcroh Oct 15, 2010 2:20 PM
    i dont have a permitt. how ever the ones that do seam to forget the 101 rule . walkers have the right of way specially at the crosswalk. they should be made to walk for a week an deal with what i do every day.not an hr ago i saw a fool cut across the whole street an trun left. an remind you. i dont have the permit here. what a joke
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    gr8bsn Oct 15, 2010 2:18 PM
    One more thing, I roll my eyes every time I see the obligatory cell phone comments. Guess what? Cell phones are a piss poor excuse for bad drivers. Take your statistics and go to hell with them! If every last cell phone disappeared from earth this very second, traffic wrecks would go down by about 1%. Why? Because bad driving is bad driving. You can't fix stupid. People need to be taught how to drive, it needs to be harder to get a license, and a real test of road skills needs to happen every few years. Make it expensive to get a license. I think it costs almost $2000 in Germany. Funny, they have no speed limit on most of the Autobahn and yet it is the safest highway in the world (there goes your "speed kills" argument). The fines are much higher, so people want to pay attention to what they're doing. It's also time we start making people take care of their cars. Know what scares the hell out of me? Busted old cars with bald tires, bad brakes, and smoky exhaust flying down the freeway. Safety inspections on cars should be strict and thorough. You can drive an old car (I have 2 1968 VW Bugs), but it needs to be taken care of. Driving is not a right, it is a privilege. Too poor to take care of your car and learn to drive properly? Take the damn bus. That's ********* there for.
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    shaykay1 Oct 15, 2010 2:16 PM
    I thought I could easily pass a written test until I read soome of these comments. I am out of date. Traveling distance, was 1 car length per 10 miles per hour. What is with the seconds? How to judge? We all should get a new book to study if five years since last test. I sure am going to.
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    lawiston Oct 15, 2010 2:14 PM
    The author uses the yellow traffic light as the main theme of his article - but never explicitly states what exactly the rule is when approaching a yellow light (I believe that when approaching a yellow light you are to come to a full stop at the light. If however, you are proceeding through the intersection when the light turns yellow, you are to continue through the intersection).
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    1 - 20 of 344 Comments
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