Globe Editorial

Driving: No, we’re not getting better

(Kevin DiCesare)
June 11, 2010

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Believe it or not, Massachusetts drivers are no longer among the worst in the nation. Some local motorists take perverse pride in a reputation for aggressive maneuvers and an improvisational attitude toward obeying traffic laws — a reputation borne out in the past by an annual survey by GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test survey. Yet after finishing third from the bottom among states in 2008, Massachusetts now ranks merely 14th-worst in the latest edition.

But safety-minded Bay Staters cannot honk their car horns in celebration. The improved ranking isn’t because local drivers have improved, but because drivers in other states are showing ever more ignorance of the rules of the road.

On the survey, Massachusetts drivers could only answer three-quarters of safety and skill questions correctly, about the same as in past years. But scores have fallen in many other states. It’s not clear why; maybe drivers are too busy multitasking to remember rules about when it’s safe to merge. The hyperactive Northeast had the lowest average scores, with New York and New Jersey at the very bottom. The most knowledgeable drivers, it seems, are in the Midwest.

Knowing the rules doesn’t guarantee compliance, of course. And on some matters, ignorance is nearly universal. Eighty-five percent of drivers nationwide did not know what to do when approaching a steady yellow traffic light. (Answer: Stop if it is safe to do so.) That is a yellow light with red flags to remind us to unplug, slow down, and remember the rules that everyone should have learned in driver’s ed.

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