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May 26, 2011

Maryland drivers test 49th out of 51

Maryland motorists may not be the nation's worst, but they seem to be close contenders.

The state's drivers scored third from the bottom this year in an annual written test of knowledge of the rules of the road, according to GMAC Insurance.

Maryland drivers placed 49th out of 51 in the company's seventh annual National Driver's Test, with a score of 73.3 percent, trailing only Hawaii (73 percent) and the basement-dwelling District of Columbia. Rounding out the Feckless Five were New Jersey in 48th and Massachusetts in 47th.

Leading the pack was repeat champion Kansas, where the 82.9 percent score was 5 points above the national average. Following close behind were Iowa, Colorado and  Minnesota. Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana and Missouri tied for fifth.

How important the results are in terms of actual traffic safety are unclear. In terms of actual road deaths, Maryland is far from the bottom. And even a GMAC representative agreed that the survey is subject to sampling errors.


Maryland's race to the bottom this year followed a 2010 in which it was one of the success stories of what GMAC calls "the benchmark for America's driving IQ." Last year it soared to 20th place after placing 41st in 2009. Its 29-place plunge in the rankings  this year was exceeded only by Alaska, which dropped from 10th to 40th. But Maryland's percentage-point decline was even greater at 4.9.

Scott Eckman, chief marketing officer for GMAC, said it's hard to believe the education level of Marylanders has fluctuated so wildly from year to year. He said individual state scores can change with sampling variations but that regional performance remains consistent over time.

"It  is interesting that the Midwest states always do better and the Northeastern states always do more poorly," he said. In the most recent survey, the Midwest was the highest-scoring region and the Northeast the lowest.

The annual survey polled 5,130 drivers aged 16-65 from across the country, asking 20 questions taken from each state's driver's license exam. Nationwide, motorists improved their average score from 76.2 percent to 77.9 percent.

In terms of outright failures, New York and the District took the lead for that dubious honor. In both jurisdictions, 34 percent received less than a 70 percent passing grade. Wyoming, where only one in 20 didn't get a 70 or above, had the smallest percentage of failures.

Eckman said the nationwide results indicate that U.S. drivers "are forgetting some of the basic rules of the road."

Among them, he said, are the basic guidelines for how much stopping distance a driver should allow between his or her vehicle and the one in front. But the most frequent;y missed question, according to Eckman, had to do with how to respond when a stoplight turns yellow just as a car is reaching an intersection. He said that only 15 percent answered correctly that the driver should continue through rather than abruptly braking.

Some drivers expressed skepticism about the significance of the results. Ron Miller, a personal injury attorney, said he sees the worst results of bad driving in his practice and that it is seldom the result of ignorance.

"The extent to which we know the driving laws is of very little consequence," he said. Miller, of the law firm of Miller & Zois in Glen Burnie, said "bad choices" such as drunk driving and distracted driving are the main causes of injuries.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:21 AM | | Comments (72)
Categories: On the roads


Empirical evidence driving around Baltimore supports these results. You literally take your life in your hands driving...

I'd like to see the whole test.

An observation: The highest scoring states all have "keep right except to pass" laws.

Is there a correlation between having laws that actually make sense and work and the people in these places understanding and following them?

I suspect this is so and that applies to all manner of things aside from driving law.

I'm shocked, just shocked that MaryLand wasn't at the bottom.

I'm shocked, absolutely shocked... to hear there were two worse states than Md. Have to admit I sure didn't see that coming.

Perhaps it was due to the "New Marylanders" who don't speak or read English so well, but are qualified to get a MD drivers license.( Thanks O'Malley)

I make the road rules up as I drive along. Whatever is good for me, my SUV and my cell phone conversation takes precedence over everything else.

What a horrible article. When you see wild swing (from 20th to 49th)... doesnt it tell you that something is seriously flawed with the survey. We didn't all of the sudden become dumber.

If 5,130 people were in the survey / 51 states (and DC) that means about 100 drivers were surveyed from each state.

Just add it to the list of countless meaningless studies that some one throws out there.

This does not surprise me at all. Everywhere I've traveled in the U.S., driving is easier than in my home state. People complain about Los Angeles, but I found LA to be a joy compared to Baltimore. The traffic is heavy, yes, but people actually know how to drive there. I'm sure driving in this state has shed years from my life.

It doesn't seem to me like this would really show who has the worst drivers - since they use each state's questions, it just shows which states have the most difficult written tests. Having gone through the process in NJ, I can confirm that their test is notoriously difficult.

These results don't surprise me. I just wish Baltimore area drivers would use their TURN SIGNALS. Seriously! Do people think that lever on the steering column is just an option--if it's convenient? Doesn't it make sense that you should let other drivers know if you decide to TURN, or CHANGE LANES--with your two-thousand pound, hundred-plus horsepower missile?

What joke, what idiots took this test anyway. You don't even have to speak english to be able to drive.

@ mytwocents - Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression MD does not/OR did not until recently, have a law that requires the use of turn signals while changing lanes. I'm originally from NJ and I was appalled at the lack of turn signal usage until I learned it wasn't required.

Driving Rules for Marylanders:
- Green means go, yellow means go faster, and red lights have grace periods.
- Turn signals are to be used only mid-turn or after the turn has been completed in order to confirm to other drivers that you just changed lanes.
- Right lane, left lane? They're all lanes, so who cares if I drive 50mph on I95 in the left lane.
- Special rule for Baltimore City: Why park when I can just stop my car in the middle of the road?

I found a GMAC National Drivers Test here:

I've no idea if it's the one used to determine the results.

I scored 95%. The only question I missed had to do with the number of seconds you should be behind the car in front of you. Evidently, I'm too cautious in that regard. The questions are fairly basic questions taken from various states driver's license tests. I'd like to know which questions folks were getting wrong. Maybe we should retest drivers when they renew their licenses. Though there's a difference between knowing the right thing to do and implementing those things while driving.

So this is what the people in Kansas are learning while the rest of us are in Science class?

Totally agree with Mr. Rational.

The left lane is for passing only!! Not cruise control set to 65mph.

Ok, having gone to school in the Northeast and driven up there countless times, we (Marylanders) are NOT worse than New Jerseys or Massholes, hell I'd say Connecticut is even worse than us. There are some bad drivers in this state but the Northeast has some really awful drivers.

This doesn't surprise me even a little. Maryland drivers are so confused about the simplest one here seems to know what to do at a four-way stop sign, for example.

How is ANYONE shocked? I could've told you this 8 years ago when I first moved to Maryland from New York.

As soon as your average Marylander steps behind the wheel, they morph into an inconsiderate, inattentive moron. Did you know that little stick on the left-hand side of the wheel is a turn signal, which is used to warn others about your upcoming actions? And those mirror things are to help keep you aware of your surroundings? Don't even get me started if it's raining or snowing.

Does the MVA not teach you how to parallel park? Or that the left lane is the fast lane? Or that double-parking is illegal and causes traffic jams? Or that you don't have to decide between going 120 and cutting people off, and going 17 and rubbernecking?

Seriously... how hard is this? Is the MVA underfunded or something? I couldn't believe my eyes when I first came here. Now I'm just used to awful drivers.

COMMENT: The MVA doesn't teach. That's largely a function of parents.--MTD

Having lived in several other states I can agree with the survey results. Many of the driving habits I see practiced here do not follow other states' drivers practices. One that comes to mind the most is left hand turns from intersections. I every state that I've lived and driven through it is common practice (and legal) to get into the intersection to make a left hand turn when allowed to do so (i.e. traffic light with left on yield or no specific left hand turn restrictions), yet Marylanders (and I've lived here 2 1/2 yrs now) still sit at the line and wait until all traffic has cleared the other side before even attempting to make a left hand turn, most often not even doing so before the light turns red. This is annoying beyond belief. Come on Marylanders we can do better.

Then again who am I to talk, maybe I shouldn't have been typing this while speeding up I-95 at 80 MPH.

Go O's!

@Cham: You are right to be suspcious. My statistics is a bit rusty, but if there are 100 subjects per state, by my calculation the 95% confidence interval around each state's score is about +/-8%, which means that there is no statistical difference between any of the scores, even comparing the top (Kansas @ 83%) and bottom (DC @ 73%). Nor is there any difference between Maryland's score last year and this year's score.

We should also be suspicious about asking questions "from each state's driver's license exam." Perhaps these results just illustrate which states have harder or easier exams.

An observation: The highest scoring states all have "keep right except to pass" laws.

---this is one of the reasons we have traffic jams people block traffic from passing. had it happen today on rte 100 near arundel mills where this guy zipped from 55 to 60 and down to 55 then gave me a finger and slamming I called 911..

if drivers were required to re-take tests annually it would weed out idiots who should not be on the road, which would be also good for the environment : )

Maryland drivers have developed another bad driving habit in the last few years. They will not stop for stop signs. I'm not talking about a "rolling stop". I'm talking about going through stop signs at highway speeds. They will not stop unless their way is completely blocked by traffic. IMHO it is caused by police depending on speed/red light cameras to do their jobs. Stop sign cameras are needed.
it is difficult to post messages here with the funny words so hard to read

Que? No comprendo.

COMMENT: ¿Ha notado que algunas personas piensan que una persona que habla Inglés es automáticamente más inteligente que uno que habla español?-MTD

I would like to mention that DC should be counted as either part of Maryland or Virginia, not as its own entity, since most of the drivers in DC are from one of those two states (most MD).

So that squarely puts MD at the bottom.

I'm not surprised at all. Competent driving does not receive any emphasis, nor do basic activities such as signaling, lane discipline and maintaining a close following distance, especially when in congested traffic. The police are on the hunt ONLY for 'speeders' and fail, repeatedly, to even have any cognizance of what a driver is doing while they are driving. It is appalling. Put me in charge of the national drivers license program and within 3 years, I'll have it fixed.

I must drive the Baltimore beltway every day to get to and from work. I am convinced that, even if Marylanders knew the rules of the road, they would ignore them. I have lived all over this nation, and never have I seen such incomprehensibly rude, discourteous, inconsiderate, selfish, disrespectful, and flat out dangerous drivers. I shudder for those who live in the states ranked 50 and 51.

Pass left, drive right, signal light when changing lanes, and use a hands-free device when talking on the phone. Come on Marylanders it's not that hard!

Once a MD driver vacated the left lane, without my having to flash my high beams. I nearly had a heart attack.

Real Marylanders know that true driving hell occurs here only when you're A) stuck behind a tourist from Pennsylvania or B) cut off by a driver from one of the New England states.

Interesting. With all the bashing Pennsylvania drivers take from Marylanders, how do the lousy Maryland drivers object to such studies? Oh, I know, the test was flawed, biased, and so on. Face reality...having lived in numerous states, I've witnessed first hand the poor driving habits of most (not all) Marylanders, which are horrible (at best).

It is crystal clear that drivers in Maryland do not know how to accommodate bicyclists on the road and that it is the law to stop for pedestrians and cyclists at cross walks. It is dangerous to bypass cyclists on the road while both are making turns. On the flip side cyclists also need to follow road rules as cars do, including hand signals and stopping at red lights and stop signs. Driving anything in Maryland seems to be a problem.

I could well be one of those drivers @mytwocents is scolding. I use my turn indicator only when using it provides useful information for the safety and well-being of the drivers around me. Using a turn indicator for a lane change when the nearest driver is 300 yards behind me is pointless. Similarly, in general, MY indication that I'm turning left or right is that I'm in the left or right turn lane, respectively, not a blinking light on the back end of my car.

After moving here, one of my biggest frustrations is how many people fail to understand how to use a merge lane. To many people will slow down or stop and wait for a giant gap in traffic to pull into. If you accelerate up to the speed of traffic, you can get into heavy traffic without making people around you slam on the brakes.

I always thought that drivers in this state were merely choosing to ignore the rules of the road... but nope... apparently we just don't know them to begin with!

And people wonder why I use MTA to get to and from work everyday. Maryland drivers are extremely distracted, idiotic and rude. Only Boston has worse drivers in my opinion. I have seen people speed passed police officers doing the speed limit in White Marsh and Towson.

I have always attributed Maryland's wacky roadways to the fact that we are a magnet for people coming from all over the country for jobs. With that, they bring their home state's laws and informal rules of the road that people there follow. What you have then, is a meltdown pot of people all wondering why Jack and Jill don't drive the same way they do. I'd bet anyone that 1/3 to half of the idiots you meet on the road learned to drive somewhere else.

Maryland Drivers only know how to drive when the conditions are absolutely perfect: if it is too sunny, too windy, too cloudy, too misty, a drop of rain, a flake of snow, a pebble of hail, or a person parked alongside the road with their four ways on, THEY FORGET HOW TO DRIVE!!

No surprise at all. Common sense and an understanding of the rules of the road (written and unwritten) are sorely missing from most MD drivers.

This is the result of what happen when the people who makes the rules to accomodate their own lack of driving comon sense. All of the rules that made sense got replaced by rules that don't make sense. If you don't teach me, how am I suppose to know.

@Kem White - your theory has a major flaw. If someone is in your blind spot and you don't use a turn signal, then what? All it takes is one time for you to think you know every car that's around you and you don't use your signal. Is it really THAT much of an effort to flip the signal every time you change lanes? Sounds like laziness to me.

We have Delaware,VA,PA,NJ,and NY drivers all day long on 695 and their doing 45 in the fast lane. When you try to go around them they speed up. It was better before Delaware, PA, NJ, came here to find a job. 695 wasn't that backed up but when you go out today look how many PA tags you see. Need to start charging out of towners fees to work here.

Based on the bottom five being predominantly democratic leaning states, can we conclude democrats make bad drivers. Or, perhaps they are just waiting for someone else to learn the rules for them.

COMMENT: Much as some folks like explaining everything in terms of politics, it doesn't quite hold. Three of the top four states went for Obama. And if you look at the top 20, none is a former Confederate state. Do we conclude that Southerners make bad drivers?

Honestly, I'm surprised Pennsylvania wasn't the worst. Tailgating, slowgating, cutting you off in the speediest traffic, going 80 on I-95 in ice and snow, and all with a friendly finger if you're in their way. And G-d help you in you're a pedestrian in downtown Philly....

Good for you , I'll speed pass the cops doing the speed limit too. Who is the idiot again?

I agree with Cham, there is zero science to this study and the Sun should not be reporting it as such. I explain here:

May I add that some of the worst Maryland drivers are....police officers! Many never use directional signals, drive way above the posted speeds and tailgate. These offenders need to set a better example.

It always seems to me that using a left lane for passing only, is a waste of space and money. Use the damn lane, and if you are a blue haired granny with a permanent turn signal, stay to the right!
PA is a left lane for passing state, and having driven there, they scare the hell out of me way worse than Marylanders.

@LDP, there's no flaw. Because I know that regardless of turn signal on or off, I understand the danger of someone in my blind spot if I change lanes. Which is why I always give a quick look behind me to the right before I change lanes right and I give a quick look behind me to the left before I change lanes left. And if I see someone, I increase the distance and then signal. I know for a fact that the quick look back has saved me from a fender bender more times than just a turn signal.

And I dispute the laziness. Why should I use a turn indicator if the signal does not provide necessary or useful information to any other driver? Consider: I'm driving home late at night. I turn into my neighborhood. There is no other driver around me. What is the point of a turn indicator?

People of MAryland... you CAN pull into the intersection while making left hand turn!

This surprises me not.

I moved from Indiana to MD a few years ago, and immediately discovered that Marylanders don't know how to merge.

Really Kem? Arguing AGAINST using turn signals? God forbid there's a car or bike you didn't see when you are driving home late at night.

So you think it makes more sense to evaluate the situation, ensure there are no vehicles, bikes, or pedestrians who would appreciate knowing what you are doing, then decide to not use the signal than just flick the signal?

Lived in Maryland for several years. THANK GOD I'M NO LONGER THERE. Put a Maryland tag on a car with Maryland driver and they will "hog the left lane at 10-15 mph below the speed limit" adn they still haven't learned what a YEILD sign means. I believe onthe written test, if it's even on there, it reads "Yeild sign indicates means press the gas pedal harder and make the traffic with the right-of-way slow down or stop for you!"

This is not suprising at all. This seems to be one of the states with the most absent-minded, clueless drivers I've ever seen.

How many people in this driver knows who goes first at a 4-way stop sign? How many know what the correct following distance is given your rate of speed? How many drivers know that bikes are regarded as vehicles and the right of way rules still apply to them? How many BIKERS know that THEY are vehicles and must adhere to the rules of the road?

I'd love it if we required drivers to get periodically re-tested.

And no one here seems to understand how to use a circle, or whom has the right of way when stopped at stop signs. And the biggest one of all is when a traffic light is out no one understands that it is a 4 way stop!

as a motorcycle rider, I can tell you we ignore blinking turn signals on cars. We watch the front tires to see what the car driver's true intentions are. Nothing more disappointing than pulling out in front of a left turn signal and the clueless driver goes straight.
When we sit at red lights, we watch you car drivers in our mirrors to see if you are not impaired and capable of stopping. We have already decided on an escape route and are holding the clutch in and ready.

@Murph, I'm not arguing against using a turn indicator. I'm arguing for not using a turn signal when it's not necessary. A driver that consciously and intentionally assesses the situation, decides the signal is of no use, and then maneuvers has better situational awareness and is a safer driver than the driver who mindlessly flips his turn indicator figuring that's all he's got to do.

Jack, I'm a Maryland driver and I have no idea what a "YEILD" sign means. Now there is a sign known as a YIELD sign that I'm familiar with.
Kem, Use the turn signal!
And Marylanders would you please stop slamming on the brakes as you approach the elctronic message signs! Its usually one sentence that needs to be read not a novel!

Kem, considering it takes no effort at all to signal a turn, why not just do it habitually, and then you're covered - you don't even have to think about it.

That's probably what most well-mannered people do, you know, just out of habit, like any number of other cooperative, not to mention law-abiding, behaviors.

Re: yielding on entrance ramps, given the choice between somebody slowing down on the ramp to gingerly poke themselves into traffic vs. speeding up to get a little ahead of traffic and merge in, I'll take the speed-upper 24/7.

What I find really obnoxious is the person driving in the right-hand lane who stubbornly drives along and doesn't allow incoming traffic to "zipper" in.

Almost all highway "flow" problems could be eliminated if people would practice some lane discipline - through traffic mostly stays out of the right lane unless you really want to drove slow and don't mind people continually pulling in front of you getting on and off, center lane for general through traffic, left lane for passing. Anybody that's driven on some of the faster highways down south knows that if people generally stay to the right, using the left lane only for passing, things run much more smoothly for everybody.

Just take a ride on Rt 70 West, you get behind cars from other states, they move to the right. Get behind Maryland knuckleheads, they don't budge from the left lane. "No sir, I'm not moving, this is my lane, even if I am doing 50!" Road Hog!

I'm from the UK and had to do an MD 'driving test' before getting a license. And I was shocked by how easy it was. I think MD drivers would be better if they had to do a proper test and more people failed and were not given a license.

I concur with most people on here, MD drivers regularly:
- Double Park, even when there is a perfectly good space available
- fail to use mirrors
- fail to signal (are you not taught the procedure, mirror, signal then maneuver?)
- weave in and out of traffic at high speed
- speed through red lights
- talk or text on the phone
- struggle to stay in lane
- and more!

The law should be stay right unless passing, but that is common sense and i'm not sure many MD drivers possess such a gift!

I can only come up with two reasons for not using turn signals:

too lazy or

too stupid

I think that covers it

I lived in Baltimore for 3 years 2001 and 2003. MD truly has the worst drivers. You literally take your life in your hands on the roads in MD.

"- Special rule for Baltimore City: Why park when I can just stop my car in the middle of the road? "

Andy, you forgot the other part of this rule: You are REQUIRED to double-park next to an open parking space with more than enough room for your vehicle. Then use your horn generously, instead of knocking. Then, when the party doesn't wander out three minutes later, you call them on the cell phone........

Here's an app that lets you vent your road rage and rate bad driver online.

Why can't people who want to go slower than the posted speed use the right lane instead of delaying traffic in the left? These morons don't know enough of driving courtesy to mover over when someone approaches from behind and wants to get around them. And using turn signals (or lack thereof) is just another example of thoughtless driving in Maryland.

i scored 90 on the gmac test. i practice saftey. i live and breathe b-more. i also drive 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit,pass on the right, and hog the left lane on highways, daily.idont tailgate or cut people off. ipullinto the intersection when turning left. i signal my intentions. i detest rubberneckers and drop of rain rolling backup causers'.I DO NOT SIT AT RED LIGHTS AT 3am IF THERES NO TRAFFIC. NO ONE SHOULD , ITS A WASTEOF TIME AND IT CAN GET YOU CARJACKED

I moved here from Ohio in 1973 and was totally confused about the local driving laws. Two weeks later I received a book from MVA and was shocked to discover MD driving laws were the same as they were in Ohio. I was totally unable to tell by the driving habits of the drivers all around me.

Things have just consistently gotten worse since then.

Also, from the comments I have read, I noticed that some people can never pass up an opportunity to voice their prejudices regardless of the topic of discussion,

I live 4 miles from the PA line. PA drivers are the WORST.
TAILGATE, run yield signs and cut you off, TAILGATE.
Ignorant, aggressive. I do not drive under the speed limit but PA drivers still drive so close you cannot even see the leading edge of the vehicle.
Delaware just pass on the shoulders if you are only going the speed limit. But stop signs do not apply to DE drivers at all.
Driven in all NE states and CA. CA /LA was HORRIBLE but found CT to be the rudest.
For some reason I can mostly deal with MD drivers.
I didnt think vehicles over 30,000$ have turn signals anymore.
And I never hog the left lane- that is just wrong.

How is there two states worse than us? If I had a dollar for every person I have seen run a stop sign, or red light, I could retire tomorrow. Slow drivers in the left lane, people who don't use their signals and especially people who don't yield the right-of-way when they are supposed too. I'd rather have roads full of speeders who use their signals, than inconsiderate slow pokes. STOP means STOP, not keep driving.

It's disingenuous and hypocritical that left-lane speeders disregard the law while berating those who are observing the law. The speeders and tailgaters are the problem and cause the crashes, not the people driving within the law in the left lane.

Lawbreakers deserve no courtesy.

Come up and drive around New York City for the day and tell me that you have worst drivers, I guarantee you'll be singing a different tune.

Take a drive on the LIE or through Garden City, NY ( Where Left on Red is a Sport ) and you'll see that these studies are a complete sham. Seriously.

This is pure crap. There is no possible way to rate the driving ability of one state vs another.

There is also a syndrome called "the grass is greener (or worse) on the other side of the fence. People from state #A always think that people from state #B are worse drivers.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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