Md. drivers ranked 20th in street smarts

July 31, 2010|By EBONI JAGGERS

Exactly how many feet behind a school bus with its red lights flashing should a car stop?

What should you do when an emergency vehicle approaches?

And what does that blinking light at the end of the road mean?

Those who don't know the answers might need to refresh their memories on the rules of the road.

Some Maryland drivers fit into that category, according to the results of the GMAC Insurance National Driving Test.

In 2010, Maryland drivers ranked 20th in the nation in driver knowledge with an average score of 78.2 percent.

That was an improvement over 2009 results, for which Maryland ranked 41st with an average score of 74.8 percent, according to GMAC.

The results further indicated that 18.4 percent of licensed drivers -- nearly 38 million Americans -- could not pass the written portion of a driver's test if they had to take it today.


The test polled 5,202 licensed Americans from 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This year, Kansas ranked No. 1 with a score of 82.3 percent, according to the survey.

What will it take for Maryland drivers to catch up?

Buel Young, director of organization relations for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), said drivers have the opportunity to take a refresher quiz online at the MVA's website. The quiz gives drivers the opportunity to see how up to date they are with the rules governing the road.

An MVA representative said both the written and driving portion of the test were created to evaluate critical entry-level knowledge and skills.

Through an administrative review of the test, MVA officials said they found that individuals who study the Maryland Driver's Handbook and complete the recommended 60 hours of supervised driving usually pass the tests. Those who assume driving is not that difficult and do not study or practice driving have difficulty passing the tests, the MVA representative said.

In a 2009 report conducted by the MVA, it was found that 562,549 individuals took the written portion of the driving test from Jan. 1, 2008, to May 20, 2009. Of those, 272,824 had taken the test before, the report said.

During that same period, the Hagerstown MVA office reported a total of 6,649 test takers.

Those least likely to pass the written portion of the test on first attempt were ages 41 to 50, the report said. That age group had an average passing rate of 55 percent, MVA figures show.

Eighteen-year-olds were the next least likely to pass the test on the first try, with an average passing rate of 56 percent, the figures showed.

The figures show those most likely to pass were ages 15 to 17, with an average passing rate of 71 percent.

James Williams, 39, said he took and passed the driving test for the second time in 2009. If taken today, Williams, of Washington, D.C., believes he would have no difficulty with the written portion of the test, calling it "a piece of cake."

"You just have to know the main things like how far to stop behind a bus," he said.

His daughter recently took the test.

Unlike Williams, she failed the written portion after two attempts.

Lee Giordano said she believes most Maryland residents would fail this section of the test if taken today.

"I don't think most people would be able to pass," said Giordano, 60.

She said the laws governing the road have changed since she first took the test.

Those changes would influence the outcome of her test, Giordano said.

"Without reading a manual, because some of the laws have changed, it would be hard for me to pass the test," she said.

The GMAC-administered survey found that the national average score for the written test in 2010 decreased to 76.2 percent from 76.6 percent in 2009.

Eighty-five percent of participants admitted they did not know the correct procedure to take when approaching a yellow traffic light, while others had trouble identifying safe following distances.

To take the test, go to GMAC's website at

Sample questions

The following are questions taken from the Maryland Driver's Handbook followed by the answers.

1. When is it appropriate to drive under railroad gates?

2. When is it appropriate to wear headphones or headsets while driving?

3. Hitting a solid object at 60 miles per hour is equal to falling off a __ story building.

4. How old should a child be to sit in the front seat of a vehicle?

5. What does an orange traffic sign indicate?

6. A black on yellow sign indicates a _____ ahead.

7. Double sided lines on the highway order the driver to do what?

8. It is only lawful to pass on both the left and right lanes of the roadway when driving on a highway with how many lanes?


1. Never

2. Never

3. 10

4. 12

5. Construction ahead

6. Railroad crossing

7. Stay in their lane; do not pass

8. Four

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