Parents of teenagers have commented that watching 16-year-olds cramming to earn their “L“ designation is a reminder of how much skill and knowledge safe driving requires. While it may be reassuring to see young drivers studying hard and then passing their exams, how much of this “book learning” is retained long term? Is some of the information quickly forgotten?
A recent study in the United States has attempted to find the answer. GMAC Insurance administered a 20-question test similar to the traditional licensing tests at the local Department of Motor Vehicles to 5,288 drivers. Results were tabulated for each state. Overall the results would seem to indicate that, as in many educational programs, the graduate may be most knowledgeable on graduation, and then will soon forget much of the training.
Nearly 10% of America’s licensed drivers would not pass a DMV licensing test if they had to take it today. Perhaps you are thinking 10% doesn’t sound too bad. But also consider these results: At least 20% of drivers don’t know when to use their bright lights, how to follow directional arrows or when highways are the most slippery. At least 20% do not know that a pedestrian has the right of way at a marked or unmarked crosswalk. A whopping 33% admitted that they do not usually stop for pedestrians even if the pedestrian is in a crosswalk and the light is yellow.
This said, however, the breakdown by age is consoling and more in line with what you might expect – that knowledge of the rules will be reinforced by experience. Drivers older than 35 were more likely to pass the test and less likely to treat their time behind the wheel as “down time.” Younger drivers reported doing everything from applying makeup to fiddling with iPods, at much higher rates. About 25% had sent text messages from a cell phone and 8% had changed clothes while driving.
So young drivers may have the benefit of recently acquired knowledge but, either quickly forgotten it or chosen not to apply it. Perhaps one conclusion to be drawn from this survey is that graduated licensing programs, which most states and provinces have adopted, may need even further refinement.
The state-by-state results may also be surprising. Drivers in the heavily urbanized northeast scored the worst with Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, The District of Columbia, and Rhode Island bottoming the list. (More than 25% of Rhode Island drivers sampled failed the test.) California was not too bad – 14th (out of 50), surpassed by mostly rural states. Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Idaho, South Dakota and Montana were the top five – obviously, states with new drivers who generally take driving seriously.
Gary Kusumi, CEO and president of GMAC Insurance-Personal Lines commented on these survey results as follows: “The rules of the road should not be something you learn once when you are 16 years old. We want to remind everyone that they need to work on their driving skills every day.”