A wise driver-ed instructor once told me that driving is like making love – no one likes to admit they do it badly. In other words, if we were to ask those who share our beds – or highways – how we’re doing, we might not like the response. And yes, the comparison makes for a provocative sound bite, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities between the two. To be good at either one must give undivided attention to the task at hand, be aware of how our actions affect others, stay current on new techniques and avoid slipping into auto-pilot mode.
So, let’s be frank: are you a good driver? If you had to write a driver exam or take a road test today, would you pass? Or does the mere thought of being retested generate performance anxiety? Courage: it’s time to draw back the covers for a realistic look at our overall driving habits.
Yankee No HowLet’s ease into the personal assessments by looking beyond Canada’s borders. For the past five years, GMAC Insurance has assessed Americans’ driving knowledge by posing 20 questions from State motor vehicle exams. The 2009 results: an eye-popping 20.1 per cent of 5,000-plus drivers surveyed received a failing grade, the lowest score ever.
A similar survey done in 2004 by Lloyds TSB Insurance shows that the Brits aren’t any better at maintaining their behind-the-wheel skills, either. Nearly a quarter of those polled admitted that they’d probably fail if retested and nearly half believed they’d barely squeak through. Respondents also freely ’fessed up to a staggering list of routinely committed road violations: 53 per cent frequently turn without signalling, a third are guilty of cruising down the middle of the road and 36 per cent speed to pass slower drivers.
Your Turn, GeniusAnd Canadian drivers? No comparable surveys exist to date, but Albertans aren’t off the hook. AMA offers an online Alberta Learner’s Licence Practice Exam (which, thankfully, you can take in the privacy of your own home). I got brave, put myself to the test . . . and failed. How embarrassing! The 30 sample questions change each time, so I tried a second time and passed. My excuse (and I’m sticking to it): I wasn’t familiar with the new Graduated Drivers Licence (GDL) program.
Habitual OffendersI asked Sharon Richards of AMA Driver Education if my failure was typical. “Gut feeling?” replied Richards, “Most drivers would fail the written or road tests.” Why? Studies show that:
• Drivers stop trying once the official test is behind them.
• Drivers notice others breaking the rules of the road, usually without being ticketed, and think, why bother to drive by the book? Considering how often drivers run yellow lights, speed or roll through stop signs, negative consequences are rare, reinforcing bad habits.
• The finer points of the Traffic Safety Act fade from memory as driving becomes routine. Also, drivers aren’t keeping up to speed on changes to legislation, driving techniques and technology.
The Usual SuspectsThe most common driver offenses? It’s a familiar list, with speeding the number one chronic bad habit, followed closely by driving distracted. Meanwhile, Alberta’s traffic collision stats list the following as the top “improper driver actions resulting in fatalities”: following too closely, driving off the road, improper left turns, stop-sign violations, disobeying signs and signals and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians.
Habitual OffendersAnd the Solution is...?
That’s the $4.7-billion question (the estimated cost of traffic crashes to Albertans annually), though ultimately it all comes down to the individual. “Instead of cursing all the bad drivers, change your own mindset,” says Richards. “Ask yourself, what can I do today to improve my driving?” Who knows, your love life may improve, too!
Test Drive Your Knowledge
To assess your own driving prowess, take the Alberta Learner’s Licence Practice Exam.