- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

When that guy in the red sports car follows too closely in the 3rd Street Tunnel or infuriatingly blocks the box on Connecticut Avenue, it might not be that he’s an aggressive driver. According to a new study, he may not know any better.

The District has the highest percentage of “unfit” motorists, who do not have the basic knowledge to pass a written driver’s test, according to a national study by GMAC Insurance.

Drivers in all 50 states and the District were given a 20-question multiple-choice test made up of basic information from state Department of Motor Vehicles exams. Sample questions asked such things as the meaning of a diamond-shaped road sign and how far before a turn a driver should put on his or her turn signal.

On average, licensed drivers in the District scored 71.8 percent on the 20-question test. One in three D.C. drivers scored 70 percent or below, failing the test entirely.

This year’s abysmal — though not entirely surprising — results mark the second straight year of decline in driver knowledge in the District. Last year, the District ranked 49th, and in 2009 ranked 44th. The District replaced New York, which finished the survey in last place last year.

Lon Anderson, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman, seemed untroubled by the results.

“We in the Washington area have the burden of running the nation. We have little time for such mundane things as traffic laws,” he joked.

Taking an ever-so-slightly more serious tone, Mr. Anderson pointed out that the area’s melting-pot culture also could be partly to blame.

“We have people who come here from all over the country and all over the world. Probably there are a lot of out-of-state and out-of-country drivers here who may not have taken the time to learn local traffic laws,” he said.

Maryland drivers also fared poorly. The state ranked 49th out of 51, with an average test score of 73.3 percent. The state’s ranking dropped sharply from 2010, when an average test score of 78.2 percent earned it a No. 20 ranking.

Virginia drivers were nearly even with the national test-score average of 77.9 percent and ranked 25th.

Kansas drivers were the most knowledgeable and ranked first with an average 82.9 percent score on the test. Midwestern states on the whole had better knowledge of driving laws than Northeastern states.

A total of 5,130 licensed drivers ages 16 to 65 took the tests, which were administered online by market-research firm TNS and given to at least 100 people in each state and the District. Regional differences, such as what to do when driving in a snowstorm or a sandstorm, were removed from the test.

The average score of drivers nationwide increased from 76.2 percent last year to 77.9 percent this year, but the GMAC Insurance study concluded that nearly one in five drivers did not have the knowledge to pass a written driver’s test.

D.C. residents’ poor knowledge of the rules of the road also may correlate with a high likelihood for traffic accidents. A study last year conducted by Allstate Insurance of 193 cities said D.C. drivers were the most likely to be involved in auto accidents and averaged just five years between accidents.

And for the record: A driver should signal 100 feet before a turn, while a diamond-shaped sign means “warning.”