By on November 27, 2017

driving test, Image: public domain
If you ask any terrible motorist how skilled they are behind the wheel, the response is often the same. “Oh, I’m a great driver,” they’ll say with a self-assured smile. Meanwhile, you’re left holding back a series of screaming rants that involve first-hand accounts of why their claim couldn’t possibly be accurate. But what about the rest of the country?

As it turns out, the general consensus in the United States is that most people think they’re a fine driver. But things get a little more complicated when you drive into people’s habits behind the wheel. In a recent survey, Driving-tests.org found that 60.8 percent of surveyed Americans thought they were an above-average driver. While that percentage can only be an impossibility, some of the claimed behaviors were slightly better than a comparative sample of international respondents. 

By comparison, the group’s international survey only yielded a 50.6-percent portion of drivers who considered themselves “above average.” But the majority thought they could still outperform the typical American motorist.

However, getting into the nitty-gritty, U.S. respondents were more likely to engage in safe driving practices when compared to the rest of the world. They were significantly more willing to signal while changing lanes or preparing for a turn and slightly more apt to wear a seatbelt and come to a complete stop.

Still, the perception among the global community is that the U.S. isn’t brimming with safe drivers. Only 2.3 percent of the international community thought America had the best drivers. Fortunately, even fewer thought it was the worst. But, when asked to look at itself in the mirror, 16.4 percent of U.S. respondents claimed their home country was the worst — with China and India trailing behind at 7.3 and 5.6 percent, respectively.

Conversely, the perception of German drivers was exceptionally positive — both in America and abroad. Over 19 percent of the international community considered Germany as the country with the best drivers and 8.7 percent of surveyed Americans were in agreement. In fact, after the United States, Deutschland was the country Americans were most likely to claim had superior skills behind the wheel — followed by Canada.

driving test survey

The study cited Germany’s rather stringent licensing test procedures as one reason it might have the perception of housing the world’s best drivers. It also might explain why countries like India were looked upon less favorably, as its road-readiness testing is laughably basic.

Unfortunately, the sample sizes of the survey were fairly meager. About 1,000 drivers were included in the research, half from the U.S. and half from abroad, and we don’t know were the majority of the global respondents reside. Presumably, the majority could have been from one or two countries. If so, that could have skewed the international data rather dramatically. But, even if that is the case, it doesn’t make the questions posited any less important.

Every country should strive to have the best driving record it can manage. While I’m about to suggest American males’ tendency to disregard speed limits by a larger margin than their international counterparts causes more accidents, the U.S. could certainly shore up its accident rates and do everything in its power to reduce incidents of intoxicated driving.

Humility may even play a factor in achieving those goals. After all, why would you check yourself when you already assume you’re doing a great job? The secret to being a good driver is making a continued effort to be better than you were the last time you got behind the wheel, not proclaiming yourself as king of the road while you fiddle with the radio in traffic or doze off.

The survey includes numerous interesting tidbits and graphs we didn’t touch upon, as well as resources to help become a better driver. If you’re interested, and you probably should be, the site even has practice tests for every state’s DMV. We would be curious to see what score everyone gets in the comments section.

[Images: Driving-tests.org]

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40 Comments on “Does the United States Have the World’s Best Drivers? Sure, Just Ask Us...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    “… 60.8 percent of surveyed Americans thought they were an above-average driver”

    I honestly thought the number would be higher than that.

    Anyway, I think that most just don’t know what efficient traffic flow should look like. We’ll never have autobahn efficiency (from old West Germany), far from it, but I think that most American drivers simply don’t know what they don’t know. So it’s easy to believe that you’re above average if the bar for “good enough” is set so low.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “… 60.8 percent of surveyed Americans thought they were an above-average driver”

      When I first started to drive (late 70’s) my father made me cut an article out of the local paper and post it in my room. It stated that statistically only 3-5% of drivers are actually good to excellent and 33% of drivers should not have a licence. The rest were just okay.

      I’ve never forgot those numbers and I point that out to my sons who will be driving soon.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    What % of people who drive 65 in the left lane think they’re good drivers? I bet 75%+. But they don’t speed you see so they must be excellent drivers, right?

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Just that they can project their “morality” on the rest of society!

      I’ll bet Matt Lauer drives that Jeep of his with the cruise at 63mph in the far-left lane of the L.I.E. just because!

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I’ve driven in Germany and do not subscibe to the trope that German drivers are better on the autobahn. Case in point, I was driving in Bavaria on the Autobahn travelling north towards the Czech Republic in the right hand lane when I approached a slow moving truck in my lane. I checked my rearview mirror which was clear, and I pulled into the left lane in my low end Skoda with my entire family aboard. As I started to pass the lorry, a fast moving car came over the hill behind me and was on my ass before I could pass the truck. The douchebag driving the car almost side swiped me as he flashied his lights and blowing his horn. I moved over as soon as possible. Very impolite and potentially dangerous behavior.
    I am a vert affable guy until lines are crossed.
    I’m not a big fan of guns and all that second amendment BS, I think cases like this deserve at the very least that in return for liberation from the Nazis, the occupied European countries during WW2 should allow citizens from the Allied countries to carry handguns for this type of horrendous behavior.
    Firm but fair.
    I would not have used lethal force, but rather shot out his radiator or tires then set my two teenage tai kwon do black belt sons on his sorry skinny Euro ass.
    Getting back to the topic, that while American driving habits and skills leave a lot to be desired, they are far ahead of the $hit that passes for skill on the continent.
    Or I could have just dropped a few golf balls from the driver”s side window and

    • 0 avatar
      sgtjmack

      Such violent reactions for an easily avoidable situation.

    • 0 avatar
      Sjalabais

      That would have been the most American (or Russian, much the same) reaction to a most standard German Autobahn situation. Germans would consider it fitting to mildly arousing to get shown a middle finger in that situation, then move on with it.

    • 0 avatar
      danielt

      Ummmmm, you’re the one who was in the wrong there , buddy.
      You should have made yourself more familiar with the rules of the road in Germany. The vehicle in the LEFT lane passing you, has the right of way.
      You pulled out in front of him. Were you to have caused an accident , der Polizei would have given you the ticket, and rightfully so.
      That’s if anyone survived. Accidents on the Autobahn have a habit of being deadly. Mostly because morons pull out into the left hand passing lane without checking where someone is likely to be doing 260 KPH , or more.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    And 75% of Americans think their home city has the “worst traffic”.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Heh, I live in an area with a fairly transient population so I get the hear from quite a few people from all over the US how bad Hampton Roads drivers are.

      I don’t think it ever occurs to them that many of the other drivers on the road in South Eastern VA are from all over the US.

      The irony…

  • avatar
    stuki

    Anecdotally, based on samples of my associates, 100% of Germans believe their countrymen are better drivers than Americans. And Italians. And pretty much anyone else. Aside from Austrians, who are really just perfect Germans. Which the Austrians agree with.

    Russians are perfectly content to admit Russians are some of the worst drivers in the world. They prefer not to drive in their home country at all, since noone there knows how to drive at all, all drivers are always drunk, and traffic cops let you off for any conceivable infraction with just a bribe. Something Latin Americans agree with, wrt their own country’s cops and drivers. Aside from themselves. And the late Fangio.

    Asians realize they are the butt of driving jokes, but aren’t too concerned, as grinding through perpetual gridlock is best left to their chauffeurs anyway. Except for the Japanese, who wouldn’t be caught dead wasting time pondering something as trivial and indeterminable as attempting to properly rank order drivers by country of origin. And besides, anyone younger than 80, no matter where they hail from, are just plain reckless anyway.

    Arabs reckon it doesn’t matter. As long as your car is big and expensive, who cares if you run over some schlep while out speeding? While Africans are just happy to have a car that (sometimes) start.

    But when push really come to shove, deep down everyone realize Aussies plying the Outback in mini-utes, are really the best drivers, in the best cars, anywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Drivers in the Phillipines and Cambodia are actually pretty good. Bad drivers tend not to survive…

      Worst drivers I’ve seen are in Malaysia, 160 km/h through the middle of KL and won’t slow down for _anyone_.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I missed two on the Oregon test (95%). Both were questions of degree: how many feet before turning should you signal, and how many seconds ahead should you be scanning the road. I’m honestly not sure how anyone is supposed to know how far “12 seconds ahead” is, but whatever.

    If I were king I’d make every third question about tailgating.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      The move in driver’s ed was “to pick a stationary point on the horizon and count as it approaches you.” Although, I’m not sure how helpful that would be before a turn. Most tests mark that question in feet.

  • avatar

    People are idiots. Each day that I am not killed by another motorist is a miracle. Of course, I live in the state that is currently rated to have the worst drivers in the country based on deaths per miles driven. Many third world countries have safer roads than South Carolina.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      South Carolina is only dangerous if you are traveling slower than 85mph on I-26 between Columbia and Charleston.

      Left lane is 90mph plus, right lane is for slower drivers who want to stick to 85mph.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you mean the left lane is for the container truck travelling 65.1 MPH, passing the container truck in the right lane that is doing 64.9 MPH.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          If you have some time, get in front of that left lane container truck going up a hill, slow down to 60mph, and then zip away. They really hate getting forced to taste their own medicine!

          (Cue the truck driver apologists: “truckers on a tight timeline, hurr, YOU should leave earlier if you’re on a tight timeline, durr, the economy needs trucks.”

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Having lived in Charleston (actually Summerville) for 10 years and making the commute down I-26 every other weekend to get home from Huntsville, that “85 MPH” speed only worked if it wasn’t a Friday. I swear, I’d zoom through Alabama, cruise through Atlanta…and then hit Columbia. Everybody and their brother seemed to always be heading to the coast.

        As for international driving, living in both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, I’d say from what I’ve seen here, they truly subscribe to the theory of “God Willing.” Rules of the road are advisory, at best. Signals, lane markings, traffic lights…all notional. Reading your email with the cell phone directly to your nose while your child crawls around on the dashboard (I’ve witnessed this more than once) is perfectly acceptable. Passing on the shoulder only means the traffic department didn’t do a good enough job of marking the additional left and right lanes.

  • avatar
    3XC

    I’m no world traveler, but ive driven quite a bit in Latin America, and US/Canadian drivers are much less aggressive, more respectful of laws, and more likely to stop and assist someone. In Panama/Costa Rica people speed through school zones, pass at wildly inappropriate times, and would not stop for a stranded motorist unless it was a sexy young woman, and even then they’d be calculating the odds that it was a robbery setup.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      My dad used to tell me stories about the major east-west highway in Panama ( the name escapes me ). He considered it so dangerous he wouldn’t let my mother or youngest brother take trips on it.

      His favorite was the motorcycle that turned out to be semi-tractor coming down the road with the only functioning headlight on the passenger side which was seriously close to the center line.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Having skilled drivers has a socioeconomic component to it. Make it difficult enough for poor folks to drive, and you get rid of a lot of bad drivers.

    Not all poor people are bad drivers, but there’s a significant overrepresentation of bad drivers among people of lower income.

  • avatar

    I’ve been fortunate to visit continent except Antarctica and have driven in:
    -US
    -Australia and New Zealand
    -Japan
    -United Arab Emirates and Oman
    -Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein
    -South Africa

    So I’ve experienced an array of driving skills and have had to adjust accordingly.

    American drivers even have different driving styles between regions; California drivers are frenzied and aggressive. Midwestern drivers seem less hurried and respectful
    Australian drivers can be pushy but are very respectful of road rules; especially speeding and signaling
    South African drivers seemed pretty tame, albeit a little slow and unpredictable in their habits
    The most experienced drivers did seem to come from Europe. They were respectful of lane control and drove some of the windy, mountain roads with expertise
    My most soothing experience was in Japan. Never before or since have I encountered such courteous drivers. Their culture of respect translates to the road. Flashing hazard lights as a thank you, turning off headlights at a red light to not blind the person in front, and refraining from honking was common practice. Driving there was almost meditational

  • avatar

    I’ve fought traffic in NYC, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin. Other places, like Central America and a few islands, but never on the British side.

    The far sides of order are (of course) Germany to Central America. Germans have great lane discipline, and true to stereotype are great rules followers. Stand in a bike lane in Berlin if you need to be reminded how much. Each registration has the car’s max speed, and believe me, the reason grilles in Germany are different for the sport version is just this….when it closes in the mirror, is it the 1.4S or the R ?

    Central American drivers are good. They rallye every day, pavement is not always a thing, roads vary. Double yellows mean “pass with caution”. Speed limits ? The roads take care of that.

    US drivers are oblivious. Be it a housewife with cell phone, or contractor with cell phone, or teen with cell phone, or old person wondering why everyone is honking at him, unlike the German or Costa Rican, we don’t ever look outside the car. A US driver who knows how to accelerate and stop, and who looks at traffic as clumps and “holes and slots” is considered reckless.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Handicapped plate= terrible drivers. Slow, oblivious, distracted.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”

    -Dave Barry

  • avatar
    slavuta

    60% of Americans think they are good drivers even thought only 10% actually know how to drive a car!

    It is funny, because once you are south of PA, I think good drivers end, getting progressively worse as you go down to Florida, where small rain can halt highway speed to 35mph.

    Or take Jersey. They just drive in the left lane.

    I am surprised nobody said that Italians have to be pretty good, driving like crazy on tight streets.

    But in America, we have so many old people driving. They have no reaction, they are drugged up. Then we also have bunch of immigrants from China and India. I don’t know what is worse, old American dude or Chinese woman who can barely see from under the wheel. These drivers definitely make American average skill go down by much.

    It has to be separated, what is a good driver vs skilled driver. A skilled driver can drive in unsafe manner which makes this driver bad. But you can’t call a safe driver who has little real skills. Many American drivers I call “straight lane drivers”. You see them go fast on straight lanes but once they hit a nice curve, they brake like crazy. Also, some are stupid. One guy with old manual Civic decided to race my Mazda6. Stupid because, at least look who you racing against. Why race against a car that has 45 more horses? But the best indicator how good is the driver, is actually a car person buys. If you buy a Camry or Sentra, you ain’t no driver. Now, lets count…

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    I have driven all over Europe (mostly Germany – about 20k kms – and Norway – about 200k kms), in Canada and the US (total of 6k kms), and in Kyrgyzstan (1500 kms).

    Germans do drive relatively concentrated, relatively aggressive – especially on the Autobahn – and relatively orderly. But I have to say that every time I cross the border to Denmark, my shoulders relax. On German motorways, traffic mixes with huge speed differences. You got those insisting on doing 200 kph with trucks doing a maximum of 110 kph. In DK, cruise control staying on 140 may be a lasting phenomenon for hours – even in summer traffic. That would never happen in Germany, particularly considering the permanent roadworks in order to keep up the extremely high road standards allowing “free” speeds.

    In Norway and Scandinavia people are generally much kinder and forgiving of mistakes – but also drowsy and mistakes happen a lot. Always expect other drivers to be stupid. At the same time, even 50 ton trucks will stop for bicycles and the drivers wave with a smile.

    Kyrgyzstan was the most interesting in my mix…holy moly! Very fluid, very little standard rule based traffic. Size matters – SUVs that look like Russian mobster transports get free way – and you should never expect a lane to be used by the Western perception of either direction or amount of vehicles. It is intensely engaging to drive there. I wrote about it here:
    http://hooniverse.com/2017/08/31/guide-to-driving-in-kyrgyzstan/

    But who are the “best” drivers? Are skills learned rules, like the Germans, forgiving kindness like the distracted Scandinavians, or lightning fast reactions and adjustments to instant changes like the Kyrgyz? Hard to tell. But the Central Asian republic has twice the traffic deaths of the others per mile driven…

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    Whenever someone says to me that we would all be safer if everyone were carrying guns, I ask them how their commute was that morning, and if they saw any idiots.

  • avatar

    I consider myself to be an average driver and learning to be a better one after nearly 50 years. Everyday I see folks interpreting STOP to mean Slide Through Often Please, unless it is a lighted traffic control then red will see a vehicle completely stop. Seeing poor driving – or poor in the moment decisions while driving – encourage me to be better and remind me of stuff I fail to do myself at times, especially if I’m being impatient. The wackiest thing I see daily are folks who, on the open road, will drive 5 to 10+ over the limit until they get into town. At that point they will drive 5 under. In effect: 65 in a 55 and then 30 in a 35. It’s a mystery that has no answer it seems. Like many here, those that drive in the left hand lane when NOT PASSING A SINGLE VEHICLE drive me crazy. Don’t remember which state now has a law for this sort of driving, but I’d like to see it everywhere myself. (Most likely an unpopular wish.)

  • avatar
    JimC2

    So getting a little more specific, here are a couple sure signs of bad driver/low intelligence driver:

    Stop sign turning onto a divided highway, stop briefly and proceed to the median to turn left, even when a car is approaching that intersection to turn left. Never occurs to the stop sign person that they don’t have the right of way in that intersection.

    Straight stretch of road, oops, I’m going faster than I want, tap the brakes. It’s only a small difference from letting off the gas pedal and slowing down, but the difference is a good discriminator and a characteristic of bad drivers.

    Last moment cut across lanes to make your exit or turnoff. Yeah, don’t worry about disrupting a bunch of people who can think ahead. What was the comment about the Oregon driver’s test and how many seconds you should scan ahead? How about *thinking* ahead along your route!

    That white line on the pavement at stop signs and red lights? Yeahhhh. I can respect rolling stops/stoptions/California stops when there simply isn’t any traffic and the sight lines are good. But I find it amusing when folks randomly stop on top of the line or past it- why are you bothering at all if you’re going to do it that way?

    High beams forgotten with oncoming traffic or when driving behind someone. Yup.

    No headlights or daytime running lights only when driving at night.

    Already covered the side-by-side pacing/rolling roadblock. I go through a lot of windshield washer fluid getting the left lane party back once I get around them.

    I don’t claim to be a good driver, I just spot the bad ones and get my kicks taking petty revenge on them.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Having had the privelege of driving in many countries via my work, I don’t even know if this is a good question. Drivers in other countries aren’t so much better or worse, just different.

    Are the Chinese worse drivers? Maybe in North America they are, but that’s because they didn’t learn how to drive until they came here. Same reason my Dutch grandfather was a terrible driver. I would never dream of driving in China, yet they manage so does that make them better drivers than me?

    At any rate, my vote is for the Nordic countries, which combine the competency and discipline of other European countries with the ability to drive in winter. Besides they produce great rally drivers.

    As for me, I guess I’m average now. 50 year old sight & reflexes aint what they used to be, I feel it more on the motorcycle. I just try to be safe and have a little fun where appropriate.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Several thoughts here:

    1) Objective measures are missing.
    2) One obvious way to measure best or safe driving is accident rate and/or fatality rate. Where are they here?
    3) Having driven extensively in both Germany and the USA, I can offer some observations:
    …a) Germans are probably the “best” drivers if judged by technical proficiency and respect for traffic laws.
    …b) American drivers have gotten sloppy and incompetent over the past serval decades.
    …c) American drivers are more courteous and better at yielding right-of-way in tight situations.
    …d) German drivers go faster with closer clearances than Americans.
    …e) German drivers have a higher expectation of “proper roadway conduct” than American drivers.
    …f) American drivers (ironically) have been more afflicted by road rage over the past two decades or so.
    …g) The fatality rate (per mile traveled or per registered vehicle) for both countries is about the same because:
    >>>> The more dangerous, higher speeds and closer clearances of Germans is offset by the sloppier, less competent behavior of Americans.

    =====================

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Many years ago, an American-raised, German-based friend and I were cabbing to our company’s Dusseldorf office. We saw an ambulance at the scene of a horrific car accident. In the US, I’ve seen cars that badly smashed on television and in photographs, but never in person. My friend commented, “The drivers are better here, but they go a lot faster. When there’s an accident, it’s BAD.”

      Another coworker is half-German, half-Scottish, has spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, and is married to a Finnish woman. Of the countries he’s lived in and visited, he thinks Finns generally are the best drivers (though not his wife).

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Featherston – – –

        F: “The drivers are better here, but they go a lot faster. When there’s an accident, it’s BAD.”

        My experience exactly. I’ve seen some 120-MPH Autobahn disasters over there. No one survived.

        F: “…[My coworker – N] thinks Finns generally are the best drivers…”

        Your coworker may be right. Enlarging this discussion beyond just America vs Germany, Scandinavians generally, with Switzerland and the UK, have better drivers than either of those, as measured by fatality rates. Here is an international list:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-related_death_rate

        But I was wrong about USA-vs-Germany rankings. Things have changed in the past decade. You’ll notice that now the USA ranks about 30th, and Germany ranks about 12th among those countries which report statistics based on fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles (FP100KMV’s). [Sort the Wikipedia sheet.]

        Here is a summary from some common prominent countries.
        This assumes that a low fatality rate is related to “good driving”:

        Country…………………..Rank………………..FP100KMV’s

        Finland…………………..2………………………….4.4
        Sweden………………….3………………………….4.7
        Switzerland…………….4………………………….4.7
        United Kingdom………5………………………….5.1
        Norway…………………..6………………………….5.2
        Spain……………………..7………………………….5.3
        Netherlands……………8………………………….6.0
        Japan…………………….10………………………..6.5
        Germany…………………12………………………..6.8
        United States………….30……………………….12.9
        Russia……………………77………………………..63.4
        China……………………100………………………104.5

        ==========================================

  • avatar
    eriksvane

    “American males’ tendency to disregard speed limits by a larger margin than their international counterparts causes more accidents”

    Why were speed limits — or slowness limits, rather — introduced in the first place?

    For safety reasons?

    No, they were introduced on purely economic grounds — in response to the OPEC-created oil crisis of 1972 and 1973. Throughout the West, the measure came with promises that it would be dismantled within a year or so — certainly one of the most egregious example of bureaucratic creep in the history of the world.

    (Why would any people — especially, individualistic Americans — agree to so low, to so ridiculous, a limit as 55 mph unless it was because it was believed to be a temporary measure?).

    https://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-allyagottado-folks-and-sleep.html

    …/… In the space of five hours, one day in March 2015, one single radar of the Danish police on a tiny part of the Copenhagen highway earned (sic) so much money that it made headlines in the press of Denmark. But what was telling was not that the authorities had earned two million Danish Crowns ($290,000!) in less than a quarter of a day, it was that — although Ekstrabladet was of course oblivious to this — there had not been a single traffic fatality at that point that day, let alone a single accident.

    There cannot be 35 different ways of interpreting that piece of news. If it doesn’t suggest that speed limits (slowness limits) have little to nothing to do with safety and are a scam — or at the very least that they are (far) too low — you can call me King Alfred the Great.

    …/…

  • avatar

    file under kruger-dunning effect (that’s the second time) ….


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