Americans need crash course in driving

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- One in five licensed drivers -- some 38 million Americans -- lack the knowledge necessary to pass a written driving test, and even more are distracted while driving, according to a survey released Thursday.

The annual GMAC Insurance National Drivers test polled 5,202 licensed drivers from 50 states and the District of Columbia with a 20-question test derived from state department of motor vehicles exams. A passing grade was 70% or better. The survey also asked additional questions about distracting habits such as texting while driving.

Overall scores dropped from a year ago. Licensed drivers posted an average score of 76.2% versus 76.6% in 2009.

"It's discouraging to see that overall average test scores are lower than last year," said Wade Bontrager, senior vice president of GMAC Insurance, in a prepared statement.

Nearly three out of four couldn't identify safe following distances and some 85% incorrectly responded to questions about what to do when approaching a steady yellow light. This signals that licensed drivers lack knowledge of fundamental road rules, GMAC Insurance said.

Test performance varied widely by region. Drivers in the Midwest scored 77.5% on average, the highest among all regions, and had the lowest failure rates at 11.9%. Conversely, the Northeast scored the worst with an average score of 74.9% and had the highest failure rate of 25.1%.

Drivers in Kansas topped the nation with an 82.3% average score, while New Yorkers were last on the list with a score of 70%.

Even more alarming is that Americans are increasingly multi-tasking while behind the wheel, the study found. About 25% of those surveyed admitted to driving while talking on a cell phone, eating, or adjusting their radios or iPods.

While only 5% of drivers said they texted while driving, Bontrager said that the "surprisingly low" number is still higher than it ought to be, adding that drivers may not have responded honestly to this question.

"The really sad thing is that you see [texting while driving] more and more in young drivers," said Bontrager. "They are not only the least experienced, but also need to pay the most attention to the road."

According to Bontrager, historic data supports that women tend to have fewer accidents than men, but the survey found that they were more likely to engage in distracting activities while driving than their male counterparts. And women also scored nearly four percentage points lower on the overall test than men, who averaged a score of 78.1%.

Although complete knowledge of the rules of the road won't shield drivers from all accidents, being informed helps to ensure that they are more prepared to deal with unexpected events, Bontrager said.

"An informed driver is a safer driver, period," he said.  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,804.80 26.65 0.15%
Nasdaq 4,765.38 16.98 0.36%
S&P 500 2,070.65 9.42 0.46%
Treasuries 2.18 -0.03 -1.27%
Data as of 3:32am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 17.62 0.09 0.51%
Apple Inc 111.78 -0.87 -0.77%
General Electric Co 25.62 0.48 1.91%
Intel Corp 36.37 -0.65 -1.76%
Microsoft Corp 47.66 0.14 0.29%
Data as of Dec 19

Sections

New York Magazine reporter Jessica Pressler, who has been caught up in controversy this past week, will not be moving on to a new job at Bloomberg News. More

Investors beware: These 5 global crises are likely to rattle the stock market and world economy. More

Forums in dark corners of the web sell the kinds of hacks that befell Sony. More

Unilever sued Hampton Creek over its egg-free mayonnaise spread Just Mayo. But the company behind Best Foods and Hellman's mayonnaise has now dropped the lawsuit. More

The income of the top 1% jumped significantly in 2012, far outpacing inflation. Not only did this group make a larger share of the country's income, their share of total taxes also jumped from 35% to 38%. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.