Drive to the bottom

Drive to the bottom

At least on paper, Californians are really crappy drivers

By Jennifer Hadley 06/10/2010

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I have never been accused of being a good driver. My record and the condition of my car serve as testaments to this fact. And, although I’m not particularly proud of it, I rarely lose sleep over it. 
However, what I may be losing sleep over now is the fact that on paper, nearly 30 percent of Californians don’t know the rules of the road. Sadly, the results of the 2010 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test suport this, making California the 48th worst state in the nation for driver knowledge.
The recently released results of the survey show that a whopping 28.4 percent of drivers in California would fail a written driver’s exam. For this survey, a score of 70 percent or higher on the 20-question test was passing. California’s average score is 73.3 percent, making us slightly more knowledgeable than drivers in the District of Columbia, New Jersey and New York. By contrast, when compared to drivers in Kansas, the top-ranked state with an average score of 82.3 percent, we look like a bunch of fools.
As Californians, we may also want to hang our heads in shame in regards to specific unsafe behaviors behind the wheel. About 9 percent of Californians are guilty of texting while driving, meaning that we text more than anyone, save for folks in Louisiana and Alabama. Of course, this is also troubling as texting is illegal here, whereas in states where no ban exists, people text less. 
As far as eating while driving, Californians are almost exactly middle of the road compared to drivers in other states, with 20.4 percent of us chowing down while cruising around. More of us apply makeup while driving than residents of 42 states. Roughly 15 percent of us chat on cell phones while driving, which I concede is at least better than Indiana, where the number leaps to 38 percent.
While I am guilty of texting, eating, applying makeup and talking on the phone while driving, I am proud to say that I don’t count myself as one of the nearly 3 percent of Californians who apparently like to change their clothes while driving. Um, I don’t even know what to say about that.  
Unfortunately I do happen to fall under the category of female drivers, who fared far worse on the written exam than male drivers. But before you start snickering, fellas, consider that you only scored a 78.1 percent, which would only get you a “C” if this was a college exam. Women also got a “C” or average with a score of 74.4 percent. Of course, this does mean that for this written driving exam, only about 18 percent of men would fail, where as 24 percent of women would fail.  
Still, these statistics have me bothered, because I took the test, available at The test includes scenarios such as, “A pedestrian is crossing your lane but there is no crosswalk.” The options are: “Make sure the pedestrian sees you, but continue driving,” “Stop and let the pedestrian cross the street,” or “Carefully drive around the pedestrian.”
Maybe I’m a total brainiac, but seriously? This test is not difficult. Continue driving? And what? Mow down the pedestrian? Or drive around the pedestrian? Like up on a curb or into oncoming traffic? Sigh.  
Even if I’m not a good driver in application, I am on paper, as I scored a 95 percent. Now isn’t that scary? I’m an admitted bad driver, yet still probably a more knowledgeable driver than you. Zoiks. 

Contact Jennifer Hadley at


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