Rules to Drive By — American Motorists Need a Refresher Course in Drivers Ed

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook...

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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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In 2000, the Census Bureau revealed that there were over 280 million people living in the U.S., with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration reporting that more than 190 million of them were licensed to drive. As the years have passed, the number of licensed drivers has obviously increased — as has the population — coming to 211 million motorists in 2009.

What’s surprising, though, is just how many of these drivers shouldn’t be on the road at all. To illustrate this point and bring awareness to the issue, GMAC Insurance decided to deliver a National Drivers Test to more than 5,000 Americans. From 2005-2011, the company administered yearly tests, each one containing questions from various state-driving exams. And, every time, the results pointed to one conclusion — today’s drivers just don’t know enough about driving.

The average score from 2011 was just under 78%, with statistics showing that more than one in five Americans would fail an actual driving test. Yet not all hope is lost. In an effort to reverse this trend, a few driving topics that seem to repeatedly cause the most problems for Americans has been outlined below with need-to-know facts and refreshers that just might help you or someone you know become a better driver.

Safe Following Distance

Year after year, drivers have struggled the most with one topic — proper, safe following distance from the car in front of you. The rulebook says drivers must give themselves a two-second window between themselves and any vehicle they are following, but CNN reports that only one in four people from the 2011 survey knew that. So, the next time you see a fender-bender or find yourself tailgating your neighbors on the road, think of this rule and its ultimate purpose.

Vehicle Lights and Fog

If you’re like the majority of those surveyed, you might not think there is a correlation between these two things, but there is. AAA, another insurance company describes how a vehicle’s low beams can make it easier for the driver to see the road while simultaneously making their vehicle’s presence more apparent to other motorists. High beams or “brights” do much more harm than good in foggy conditions because the bright light simply reflects off of the fog back into your eyes — something that will obviously not help your cause of better, safer driving.

Merge Doesn’t Mean Stop

Coming to a complete stop rather than merely merging into traffic is another common driving faux-pas. GMAC’s driving test helped shed light on this issue. It is a problem mainly because it often abruptly interrupts the flow of traffic, catching subsequent drivers off guard.

Overview

While specific rules of the road vary by each state, the topics listed above are universal staples to drive by, regardless of where you are. For those who want to learn more, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a good place to start, but of course, state-specific websites such as this one for the Texas Department of Transportation are best if you are looking for information pertaining specifically to your area.

Detailed laws aside, one of the biggest secrets to becoming a better driver lies simply in eliminating distraction from your time behind the wheel. Give your commute your full attention and take your time. Life might be short but a car accident can make it even shorter.

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