Photo by Linda Looney-Bond Chick-fil-A Founder S. Truett Cathy, (in driver’s seat) is introduced to features on his new, 2011 Kia Sorento CUV, Friday, at Chick-fil-A headquarters, in Atlanta.
NEW YORK -- New York drivers are the least knowledgeable in the nation for a second straight year on rules of the road and neighboring New Jersey motorists are almost as bad, according to a study by an insurance company. Kansas drivers ranked tops in the survey, reported Friday by Bloomberg Businessweek.
The national average for the test was 76.2 percent, with below 70 considered failing, according to a statement today from GMAC Insurance, the carrier that American Capital Acquisition Corp. bought from GMAC Inc. New York drivers scored an average of 70 percent, and New Jersey motorists averaged 70.5 percent. Kansas drivers ranked first, with an average score of 82.3 percent.
Applying the test results nationally, almost 20 percent of licensed drivers, or about 38 million motorists, “may be unfit for roads” and wouldn’t pass a state-issued written exam if taken today, the study said. The national test average fell from 76.6 percent in 2009, and 78.1 percent in 2008.
“What we have seen pretty typically is obviously New York and New Jersey do poorly, and those areas that have really large urban population centers,” Wade Bontrager, senior vice president of marketing at Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based GMAC Insurance, said in an interview. “You have people that drive in an area that’s much more congested, much more fast- paced, and the rules of the road aren’t quite as top of the mind as somebody driving at a little slower pace.”
The test of 20 questions from state Department of Motor Vehicle exams was taken by 5,202 licensed drivers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C., motorists were third from the bottom, with an average score of 71.9 percent. Connecticut ranked No. 34 this year, with an average score of 76.3.
New Jersey also scored second from the bottom last year. Idaho and Wisconsin tied for first last year.
“I don’t think anywhere in the Midwest they have driving like you see in New York City as far as the volume of cars to people, with jaywalking and traffic,” said Kenneth Halperin, a lawyer at the personal-injury firm Wingate, Russotti & Shapiro in New York. “When you’re cruising at 60 on an open country road, it’s a hell of a lot different than driving in Manhattan.”
Nationally, 15 percent of drivers knew the correct answer to what to do at a traffic light with a steady yellow signal -- stop if it is safe to do so -- according to the study. About 25 percent of participants admitted to driving while talking on mobile phones, eating and adjusting the radio or selecting songs on an iPod.
The aggressive nature of driving in cities can lead to wrong answers on the test, Bontrager said.
“You think about the questions that were missed, like what is a safe following distance,” he said. “The answer to that is three seconds. You’re not going to get to follow three seconds behind a car if you’re in Manhattan, you’re going to get run over if you’re doing that.”
The frequency and severity of accidents are also correlated with driver speeds, seat-belt usage, and the quality of roads and cars, factors not measured in the insurance company study. The latest fatality study by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows New York state’s rate for every 100 million miles traveled is 0.92, better than the national average of 1.25, according to 2008 statistics.
Drivers in the Northeast had a failure rate of 25.1 percent, the highest in the nation. Motorists in the Midwest had the lowest rate, 11.9 percent. Males received higher scores than females, averaging 78.1 percent versus 74.4 percent.
“Our whole point to this thing is, people need to know the rules of the road, even if the conditions make it more challenging to follow those rules,” Bontrager said. “Every year I get threatened to get beat up by New York and New Jersey people but it is what it is.”