Think you know how to drive?

Posted May 22, 2009, at 8:25 p.m.

“SMMOG!” my daughter yelled at me as I pulled out of a parking space last week.

“Where?” I yelled back, stomping on the brakes in case smog turned out to be something I might hit.

SMMOG, she informed me smugly, stands for signal, mirror, mirror, over the shoulder and go.

I had failed on a couple of different levels. I had not signaled and I had checked only one mirror. I had, however, done quite well at looking over my shoulder and going.

You gotta love a self-righteous teenage driver’s ed student. Her criticism of my driving ability only heightens the joy I experience when I’m privileged to chauffeur her from one place to another.

“You’d flunk a driving test if you had to retake it,” she told me last week as I approached the school where she takes driver’s ed.

“Perhaps,” I replied. “But I always have done pretty well on spelling tests. For instance, can you spell “walk”? That’s W-A-L-K, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Ironically, I got a press release this week touting a recent study which found that 20.1 percent of licensed Americans — amounting to roughly 41 million drivers on the road — would not pass a written driver’s test if taken today.

This is the fifth year that GMAC Insurance has conducted the National Drivers Test. Five thousand people from across the country participated.

According to the study, Idaho and Wisconsin drivers did the best, tying for first place with an average test score of 80.6 percent.

Perhaps my daughter would feel safer driving with them. They probably all “SMMOG” when pulling out of a parking space.

The worst? Drivers in New York and New Jersey, according to the study, with Massachusetts not far behind.

As in previous years, drivers in the Northeast performed significantly poorer than those in the Midwest, according to test results.

The average score for those in Maine who took the test was 76.5. Twenty-one percent of the Mainers who took it failed. We came in at No. 31 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Many of us have difficulty with questions about yellow lights and safe following distances, according to the test. Apparently a yellow traffic light does not mean go very, very fast.

So while all of this might seem to bolster my daughter’s theory about my chances on such a test, it also was noted in the press release that “with age comes wisdom.’’

That’s right. The older the driver, the higher the test score. Drivers over 35 were the most likely to pass. The age group with the highest failure rates was adults age 18 to 24.

I called a friend of mine and a former police officer who is new to the whole driver’s education instruction thing and who also is teaching my daughter.

I asked him how things were going in his new line of work.

“I gotta tell ya,” he said, “it makes me wonder sometimes whether we really should be teaching these kids driver’s ed at 15 and 16 years old. You know a lot of countries don’t let the kids even take driver’s ed until they are 18. There have been some scary times.”

“I’ve had to grab the wheel a few times in order to save a mailman there or avoid a curb here. I’m glad I have that brake on the passenger side, but I’d also like to have a steering wheel,” he said.

He never volunteered how my daughter was doing and I didn’t ask. She’ll take her permit test in about a week, and if she passes I’m sure I’ll find out for myself and I won’t have an extra brake on the passenger side.

I will, however, be brushed up on the rules, having taken the GMAC test myself recently.

Interested in how you might do? You can take the GMAC National Drivers Test by going to www.nationaldriverstest.com. Once you get your score you can play a short video game that gives you opportunities to run down elderly people and deer and stuff.

Me? I scored 75. Not terrific by any means, but I passed.

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