Whenever I ride in a taxi in New York City, I marvel at the intestinal fortitude of the drivers who navigate pedestrians, potholes and other drivers who seem to have learned how to drive via a video game. And, according to a recent survey of driver knowledge by GMAC Insurance, it turns out that the awe these drivers inspire is justified.

GMAC's sixth annual survey quizzed more than 5,200 licensed Americans from across the country on their driving knowledge and New York drivers fared the worst for the second year in a row, with an average score of 70 percent. That's more than six percentage points below the national average score of 76.2 percent. New Jersey residents shouldn't laugh too loudly at their neighbor's expense. Garden State drivers finished second to last. Kansas, on the other hand, proved to be the best place to drive with a score of 82.3 percent. Oregon, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska drivers were also among the best performers on the survey.
Overall, though, the findings were pretty dismal. The study found that "nearly 1 in 5 licensed drivers -- roughly 38 million Americans -- would not pass a written drivers test exam if taken today." A whopping 85 percent could not identify the correct action to take when approaching a steady yellow traffic light (hint: it involves the brake pedal). Many drivers also remained uncertain about safe following distances.

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Nationally, the average score slipped from 76.2 percent from 76.6 percent. "When analyzed regionally, the results reveal that drivers in the Northeast may not be as road-rule savvy as their Midwestern counterparts," according to GMAC's press release. "The Northeast had the lowest average test scores (74.9 percent) and had the highest failure rate (25.1 percent). The Midwest region had the highest average test scores (77.5 percent) and the lowest failure rates (11.9 percent)."

Some other notable trends: Older drivers outperformed younger ones and men did better on the test than women but also flunked it at a higher rate. One-in-four drivers admitted that they did "distracting behaviors" such as selecting music on their iPhones, applying make-up or reading, though only 5 percent admitted to text-ing while driving.

The results are similar to GMAC's finding over the past six years that it has conducted the survey. Wade Bontrager, senior vice president of GMAC Insurance, is not sure why there is such a disparity in results but does have some theories. He believes drivers in large, urban areas fare worse than their counterparts in rural areas because they must contend with more distractions and they don't drive as often because they rely more heavily on public transportation. Nevertheless, he doesn't think these factors should be used as an excuse.

"There is knowing the rules of the road, and there is obeying the rules of the road," he says.

2010 GMAC Insurance Driver's Test Results

(Ranked in order of worst drivers by state to best drivers by state)
Scoring is from 1 to 100 on a 20 question test.

1. (WORST) New York - 70.0
2. New Jersey - 70.5
3. Dist. of Columbia - 71.9
4. California - 73.3
5. Rhode Island - 73.8
6. Louisiana - 74.1
7. West Virginia - 74.8
7. Hawaii - 74.8
9. New Hampshire - 74.9
9. Kentucky - 74.9
11. Florida - 75.2
12. Mississippi - 75.6
13. Pennsylvania - 75.8
13. Massachusetts - 75.8
15. North Carolina - 75.9
15. Arkansas - 75.9
17. Texas - 76.0
18. Connecticut - 76.3
19. Illinois - 76.6
20. Georgia - 76.7
21. Alabama - 77.1
22. South Carolina - 77.2
23. New Mexico - 77.3
24. Virginia - 77.5
24. Ohio - 77.5
26. Maine - 77.6
26. Delaware - 77.6
28. Colorado - 77.8
29. Utah- 77.9
30. Vermont - 78.1
30. Nevada - 78.1
32. Maryland - 78.2
33. Tennessee - 78.3
34. Wyoming - 78.4
35. Arizona - 78.5
36. Missouri - 78.8
37. Michigan - 79.0
38. North Dakota - 79.1
39. Oklahoma - 79.3
40. Wisconsin - 79.4
40. Washington - 79.4
42. Alaska - 79.8
43. Montana - 80.0
44. Idaho - 80.1
45. Indiana - 80.4
46. Nebraska - 80.5
47. Iowa - 80.8
48. Minnesota - 81.1
49. South Dakota - 81.2
50. Oregon - 82.1
51. (BEST) Kansas 82.3

**** Are You a Smart Driver? -- Take Test and Find Out ****

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Hawaii (Oahu) is the worst. Aloha Spirit my butt! Drivers here never ever, ever use directional signals and are always very aggressive to try and get ahead of the guy in front of them because the traffic is the absolute worst. I have to drive in it every day to bring my son to school towards Honolulu (East). Cannot wait till he graduates this year and we go back to Western Massachusetts. Oahu has to many people on such a small island and it's only going to get worse.

November 30 2012 at 9:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is some one who does not like us from the north! I now live in FL off I-4 the drivers here are so bad, no signal to let me know your going to come in to my lane, in and out of traffic like there the only one there, slow in the fast lane, I bet there are more car crashes here then in NY or NJ !!!

May 27 2012 at 8:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply