SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Tailgating Idaho
By Dave Kiffer


August 29, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - The following factoid should come as a shock to anyone who drives in Alaska.

Especially someone like me who has been "bumped" by "distracted" (cell phones!) drivers twice in the past month (nothing serious, thank goodness for big cushy, gas guzzling SUV bumpers).

Alaska has the second best "drivers" in America!

Hard to believe, huh.

Must be some contest that involves either "black ice recovery" or "moose avoidance" right?

Not exactly. It seems that GMAC, those same people who make sure you have enough credit to toodle around in Pontiacs, Chevys, Cadillacs and Hummers, is also interested in how well you drive.

gif Electronic Gadgets & Driving

Electronic gagets and Driving
Artist Mike Keefe, The Denver Post
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

GMAC Insurance did a national survey of drivers recently, basically asking them questions that they would normally encounter on their drivers tests (so, no moose questions, alas).

The big news was that they found than one sixth of the drivers surveyed would fail a written test if they took one today.

That would only surprise someone who hasn't driven in the last 20 years.

In the modern era, no driver would know the proper distance to hit the turn signals before a turn (50 feet, 75 feet, 100 feet?) because no one uses their turn signals anymore. Turn signals are like some sort of evolutionary dead end.

Besides why would you want to signal your intentions to anyone else on the road? It's a free country! My vehicle directional plans are on a need to know basis, buddy!

And the question about what to do if your car starts to skid was completely irrelevant to the modern driver because it did not deal with what you should do with your cell phone in that event (hang up or place it on mute,? Decisions, decisions!).

At any rate (always an appropriate transition for anything dealing with GMAC), Alaskans finished second in their knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. Right behind the residents of that state of great drivers, Idaho..

Idaho had the highest average score, at 81.7. Alaskans were second at 81.2, just ahead of Minnesotans, Wisconsinites and Kansasanians!

The bottom five states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington D.C. (not a state, yet) New Jersey and New York.

New York had the lowest overall average of 71 percent and the highest number of people failing completely (36 percent).

Most of the people who failed were the youngest drivers which seams odd because they would have taken (and presumably passed) the test most recently.

Perhaps the majority of the whippersnappers were cheating on the DMV test via text messaging anyway. There you have it.

The average score for 2007, nationwide, was 77, which was a drop of nearly seven points from 2006. Obviously, drivers got an awful lot more stupid in a pretty short period of time. That held as well for Alaskans who saw their average score go from 85.8 to 81.2 in one year.

Yet, Alaska's rank improved from 2006 when more than a dozen states bested us in the rating.

The reason? Drivers in other states got more stupider a lot quicker. Some states like Washington and Vermont has nearly double digit decreases in their scores.

Natch, I couldn't resist taking the test. I missed three out of 20 for a score of 85 percent. In 2006 that would have been average, but in 2007 that makes me well above average.

As far as I can tell that is the only thing in whichI have statistically improved in this past year. Break out the champagne!

What answers did I miss?

Well, I got one wrong because I assumed that my first assumption was incorrect. It had to do with what you should do with your eyes while driving. It was a no brainer that you should keep them open at all times, but the real question was what to do with them otherwise. Straight ahead on the car in front or back and forth scans of the other traffic.

My natural reaction is scan around, but that makes my wife nervous because she thinks I should focus totally on the break lights of the car ahead. Since my wife is always correct, I didn't pick the scanning option and was wrong (according to GMAC, but who should I believe? GMAC or my wife? Easy call in the real world).

The second question that I missed involved a flashing yellow light at an intersection. I remember from my driver's ed test (32 years ago) that a flashing yellow light involves some sort of stopping. But, I have been on the roads now for 35 years - motorcycle time included. If you stop for any sort of yellow light you will get plowed into by the car behind that has automatically equated "yellow" with speed up.

You know the intersection drill. Red means stop, green means go, yellow means go real fast.

Oddly enough, it's been a couple of weeks, so I can't remember the third question that I missed. It was probably something about paying attention.

Now that I have wetted your appetite, you too can take the test at:


How Do You Score? Take the Test

Since I did so well, I'll give you a bit of a cheat sheet based on my years of experience driving in Alaska (which has the second best drivers in America, so sayeth GMAC).

1. A pedestrian is crossing your lane, but there is no crosswalk you should:

"Swerve back and forth until you hit him."

2. When driving in adverse conditions, the proper speed to travel is:

"As fast as you can so you can get away from the adverse conditions!"

3. You may drive off the paved roadway to pass another vehicle when:

"When the other vehicle is already in the ditch!"

4.. When you are merging onto a freeway you should be driving:

"The biggest danged vehicle you can get your hands on!"

5. When you tailgate other drivers:

"It is much easier to read their bumper stickers!"

6. Under most conditions what is a safe following distance:

"Far enough that you can't quite make out the copyright on the bumper stickers!"

7. In bad weather, you should make your car easier to see by:

"Putting on more bumper stickers!"

You're on your own for hints on the other 13 questions. I have faith you can handle them.

After all, you are the second smartest drivers in America. And you are just about close enough to read Idaho's bumper stickers.

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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