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Driver’s test to N.J.: You flunk

Jersey drivers, you flunked again — but not as badly as last year.

A GMAC Insurance nationwide drivers test found that New Jersey drivers who were surveyed scored 48th in their knowledge of questions found on the typical written test.

Take heart, because that was better than last year’s placing of dead last in the nation, a spot taken this year by drivers in Washington, D.C. Our friends from New York state took the 49th place.

But in a state where seat-belt use rates have hit a 14-year high and the rate of fatal crashes is in a multiyear decline, are New Jersey drivers getting a bum rap?

Yes, said the state Motor Vehicle Commission and AAA. But there is a lesson to be taken from such tests : You’re never too old or too smart to pick up (or click on) the driver’s manual for a rules-of-the-road refresher.

“Making the judgment that we have some of the worst drivers based on a knowledge test isn’t fair,” said Tracy Noble, AAA MidAtlantic spokeswoman. “We’ve had a decrease in crashes, less (highway) deaths, 96 percent seat-belt usage and we’re one of the most densely populated states in the nation. We are absolutely doing something right.”

Both Noble and the MVC questioned how accurate the GMAC survey could be, with a national poll of 5,130 licensed drivers from 50 states, who were given a 20-question exam taken from state motor vehicle exams.

“The national driving test is GMAC’s annual marketing promotion, where all New Jersey motorists are very broadly and unfairly painted as some of the least knowledgeable in the country after sampling only a very small number of our 6 million licensed drivers,” said Michael Horan, state Motor Vehicle Commission spokesman.

The GMAC test results concluded that nationally, one in five licensed drivers couldn’t meet the basic requirements if they had to get their license today. Of the New Jersey drivers surveyed, they scored an average grade of 73.5 percent, and 31 percent of those drivers flunked the exam (a score of 70 percent is passing). Kansas drivers took first place with an average score of 82.9 percent.

“We don’t know how many licensed New Jersey drivers were surveyed; they could have surveyed 10 compared to the 6 million (licensed drivers) we have,” Noble said. “We (AAA) generally use 1,000 licensed New Jersey drivers in our surveys.”

Noble also cited the number of safety initiatives being run in the state to get drivers to use seat belts and to fight distracted driving and drunken driving. She commended police and safety agencies for enforcement and education campaigns that brought crash rates down.

GMAC officials said the test “results suggest that a great number of people on the road still lack basic driving knowledge, which can lead to dangerous driving habits.” The survey said that 85 percent of survey takers couldn’t identify the correct action to take when approaching a “steady yellow traffic light” and only 25 percent were aware of safe following distances.

“I don’t agree that we’re the most dangerous drivers, but the more knowledge we have, the better equipped we are to deal with any situation,’’ said Pam Fischer, safety consultant and former state Division of Highway Traffic Safety director. “My take on these tests is it’s nothing else but a way to challenge people to take a step back and get educated. We require other people who hold (professional) licenses to take continuing education and keep up to date.”

Ultimately, drivers have a responsibility to keep up with new laws, such as the year-old provision requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, said safety and Motor Vehicle Commission officials.

“It’s important to remember that, along with education, there must be driver responsibility,” Horan said. “Motorists young and old should recognize that the knowledge used to pass the driver’s test must be retained and refreshed through a lifetime.”

Fischer agreed and said parents who took Graduated Driver’s License Orientation courses with their teenagers told her they learned about laws and regulations they didn’t know existed.

“The last time most of us looked at a driver’s manual was when we took the (written) test,’’ she said. “I take issue with a test that says we’re bad drivers, but people have a responsibility to refresh and improve their skills.”

Part of that is keeping up to date with vehicle technology, such as traction control, antilock braking and collision avoidance systems, so you know what to look for in a new or used car, she said. Fischer said she took a motorcycle operator’s course to get a better understanding of what it’s like to ride one. She got a side benefit from it.

“It improved my skills as a driver. It was money well spent,” she said.

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Written by lordsinsurancelog

June 10, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Insurance News