One of these days, people will smarten up and stop funding studies that only confirm what everyone already knows. Until then, we have the new GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test, which offers irrefutable proof that Massholes have no business being behind the wheel. As if we needed any.
The numbers don’t lie. In a survey of 5524 licensed drivers from the 50 states and Washington, DC, Massachusetts motorists ranked a woeful 48th in basic driving knowledge. Perhaps the only surprise is that New Yorkers, New Jerseyites, and District of Columbians scored worse than we did.
On a written test — 20 questions lifted directly from state DMV exams — Bay Staters had an average score of 75 percent. (At least a 70 is required to pass.) Worse, more than 24 percent flunked outright.
The Northeast as a whole scored worst, on balance, with the lowest average test score (76 percent) and the highest average failure rate (nearly 20 percent). Meanwhile, those goody-two-shoes Midwesterners got the best grades, with a failure rate of just 11 percent. And, as much as I hate to say it, ladies, 20 percent of you failed, versus 13 percent of men.
There you have it. Nationwide, perhaps 33 million licensed Americans — more than 16 percent of drivers on the road — are unfit to take to the streets. And here in Boston, we’re doing our damnedest to keep those statistics up. Of course, far more endemic than the drivers who don’t know the rules of the road here are the ones who know them and choose to flout them.
Our streets are narrow; our signs either confounding or nonexistent. We interpret speed limits as mere suggestions. We see yellows lights like a bull sees a matador’s red cape. We lean on the horn mere milliseconds after lights turn green. We have no use whatsoever for turn signals. We swerve suddenly and unpredictably. We pay scant attention to lane divisions. We do not yield when merging onto the highway. We pass on the right. We drive on the shoulder. We tailgate to intimidate, and stop short to exact revenge.
From our rotaries to the infamous “Boston Left Turn,” our streets are object lessons in controlled chaos. Why? Richard Trachtman, co-author, with Ira Gershkoff, of The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets (Da Capo), says it does indeed all go back to those meandering colonial cow-paths. “It starts out with the layout of the city,” he says. “Those narrow, curving streets. There’s kind of a disorganization that attaches itself to the whole thing.”
Then, of course, there’s the ineffable East Coast urban character — that piquant mélange of aggressiveness, stubbornness, and selfish entitlement. Strangely, it seems to work. With everyone playing by the same anarchic rules, a sort of disheveled order is achieved.
“I think it’s infectious,” says Trachtman. “The standard has been set some time ago.” The first edition of his Handbook was published in 1982 (the most recent is from 2004), and, even then, Boston driving “was already a national institution. You’ve got that as kind of the heritage that new drivers find their way into. And it’s a lot easier to join them than to beat them.”