The news last week that Marylanders had placed third from the bottom in GMAC Insurance's annual "Driver IQ" test was just too rich to pass up. And certainly the buzz it generated was entertaining.
Yes, it's eye-catching that Maryland came in 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in knowledge of driving laws. But let's not take it all that seriously.
The sample size was relatively small, and wild swings in state performance from year to year suggest the survey is not the gold standard in research. And as Glen Burnie personal injury attorney Rick Miller observed, a lack of knowledge of the rules is hardly the main factor behind vehicle crashes in Maryland.
In an overwhelming number of cases, in my view and his, a crash occurs when a driver knows perfectly well what shouldn't be done — but does it anyway.
Yet there is a nugget of truth to the survey's findings that struck a chord among readers of The Baltimore Sun and the Getting There blog. Indeed, one need spend only a few hours on Maryland's roads to realize this is not exactly the Land of Pleasant Driving.
For some, the results served as confirmation of their racial prejudices or political preferences. Did Maryland score low? Must have been all those African-Americans and Democrats. Funny, you don't hear that when Maryland is rated near the top in something like public schools.
But some of the dozens of observations posted to the Getting There blog were worth sharing — if for no other reason than they were a hoot. Full identifications are not given because the postings were made without an expectation that the commenters would be identified. The sections marked "comment" here are mine. (You can read the whole list of reader comments on the Getting There blog.)
One of the most common reactions was a complete lack of surprise that Maryland was so honored.
From Jen: How is ANYONE shocked? I could've told you this 8 years ago when I first moved to Maryland from New York.
As soon as your average Marylander steps behind the wheel, they morph into an inconsiderate, inattentive moron. Did you know that little stick on the left-hand side of the wheel is a turn signal, which is used to warn others about your upcoming actions? And those mirror things are to help keep you aware of your surroundings? Don't even get me started if it's raining or snowing. ….
Is the [Motor Vehicle Administration] underfunded or something? I couldn't believe my eyes when I first came here. Now I'm just used to awful drivers.
COMMENT: The MVA tests. It doesn't teach. That's largely a function of parents.
Colleen T. offered a tongue-in-cheek Driving Rules for Marylanders:
• Green means go, yellow means go faster, and red lights have grace periods.
• Turn signals are to be used only mid-turn or after the turn has been completed in order to confirm to other drivers that you just changed lanes.
• Right lane, left lane? They're all lanes, so who cares if I drive 50 mph on I-95 in the left lane.
• Special rule for Baltimore City: Why park when I can just stop my car in the middle of the road?
jwins: I always thought that drivers in this state were merely choosing to ignore the rules of the road ... but nope ... apparently we just don't know them to begin with!
Jacob likewise professed complete nonsurprise: I just wish Baltimore area drivers would use their TURN SIGNALS. Seriously! Do people think that lever on the steering column is just an option — if it's convenient? Doesn't it make sense that you should let other drivers know if you decide to TURN, or CHANGE LANES — with your two-thousand pound, hundred-plus horsepower missile?
Mari K. thought she was one of the drivers being scolded: I use my turn indicator only when using it provides useful information for the safety and well-being of the drivers around me. Using a turn indicator for a lane change when the nearest driver is 300 yards behind me is pointless. Similarly, in general, MY indication that I'm turning left or right is that I'm in the left or right turn lane, respectively, not a blinking light on the back end of my car.
Wally provided a rebuttal: Your theory has a major flaw. If someone is in your blind spot and you don't use a turn signal, then what? All it takes is one time for you to think you know every car that's around you and you don't use your signal. Is it really THAT much of an effort to flip the signal every time you change lanes? Sounds like laziness to me.
Some readers challenged the validity of the survey.
Cham thought it was "a horrible article."
When you see wild swing (from 20th to 49th) ... doesn't it tell you that something is seriously flawed with the survey. We didn't all of the sudden become dumber. If 5,130 people were in the survey / 51 states (and DC) that means about 100 drivers were surveyed from each state. Just add it to the list of countless meaningless studies that some one throws out there.
COMMENT: Good points, but if we ignored it we'd be missing this lovely discussion.
JohnM. gave the credit to Gov. Martin O'Malley: Perhaps it was due to the "New Marylanders" who don't speak or read English so well, but are qualified to get a MD drivers license.
And a reader identified as "the old captain" was either agreeing with the sentiment or poking fun at it. I couldn't tell, but he did change the language:
Que? No comprendo.
COMMENT: ¿Ha notado que algunas personas piensan que una persona que habla Inglés es automáticamente más inteligente que uno que habla español?