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Driver Self-Perceptions vs. Reality


You probably remember that moment as a teenager when you finally got your driver’s license. It’s the one time in your life that driving is truly thrilling. You climbed behind the wheel, that little plastic ID card in hand, ready to take on the world as a full-fledged driver. Or so you thought. At first, driving was fun but also a bit terrifying. You had to remember to turn on the blinker, what all the signs meant, and how to change lanes on a busy freeway without panicking.

Within just a few years, driving loses its luster. Mostly, it becomes just a function of your day. This may lead you to believe that you’ve mastered the motor vehicle, but is that really accurate? Are drivers really as good as they think they are behind the wheel?

We surveyed 2,022 people to find out just how perception and reality stacked up. Turns out, people really do believe they’re good drivers. But does the reality match their perception? Read on to find out.

Perception vs. Reality

selfperception vs reality
Driving culture can vary by state. Some states are known for their big cities with awful commutes and road rage. Others are characterized by slow, laid-back drivers. But we wondered how each state ranked for safest drivers.
What were the top 20 states with the most self-reported “good” drivers, and how did they rank in terms of crash fatalities? We were interested in how states’ perceptions matched up with safety outcomes. It turns out that New Mexico, Maine, and Oregon have the most self-reported “good” drivers and rank 47th, 22nd, and 19th, in terms of crash fatalities. What do you think of the states with the best and worst drivers?

Thoughts on Driving Ability

generation good driver

Some say that generational differences impact driving ability. Perhaps it’s simply that older generations have been driving longer. Or maybe older generations have spent their lives driving with fewer distractions and with a different generational perspective on how to be safe. Either way, it’s interesting to compare how attitudes differ among generations.

We analyzed responses from Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers. Most respondents thought they were good drivers; however, it’s interesting to note that as their ages increased, so did their beliefs that they were excellent drivers. Regarding safety, all respondents felt that they were safe drivers, but Baby Boomers overwhelmingly proclaimed (by over 50%) that they were very safe drivers.

When Driving Becomes Dangerous

generation accident

Have you ever been involved in an accident? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 2 million people were injured in car accidents in 2014. With the shocking number of people who are seriously injured or die every year, car accidents are no small matter. Though safety features and better road designs help lessen those rates, the key to not getting hurt while driving is to focus on the road.

Our respondents were asked to report on their history of car accidents, which we then compared among the generations. Millennials had the lowest accident rate overall, but this generation also hasn’t been driving as long as the others. Interestingly, Generation X drivers have been in more accidents than Baby Boomers. Does that mean Baby Boomers are the safest drivers overall? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.

It’s All About the Skills

generation skills

When it comes to some aspects of driving, it’s less about getting from point A to point B and more about your overall driving skills. Certain things are just trickier for some drivers than others, such as parallel parking. Additionally, things have changed in car-making trends throughout the last few decades, which leads to a decline in certain skills. Automakers are responding to these trends: for example, making fewer cars with manual transmissions.

We asked our survey participants to talk about their driving skills. The majority of Millennials said they couldn’t drive a stick shift (nearly 63%), while Baby Boomers were the biggest group (about 71%) to say they could drive a manual car. When it came to parallel parking, proficiency increased with age: About 56% of Millennials said they were very or moderately comfortable with this parking maneuver, while nearly 64% of Generation X and almost 73% of Baby Boomers reported the same confidence.

Testing Driving Knowledge

driving test
After finishing driver’s ed class, we all have to take the dreaded driving test. After finally passing, we move on to more important things, like actual driving. If you were to take a driving test today, would you be able to answer all the questions correctly?
We were curious to see if our participants could correctly respond to some of the common questions on written driving exams. Most chose the right answers. However, when it comes to who should go first at four-way stops, Millennials seemed the most confused.

Men vs. Women: Self-Perceptions

generation good driver
Ah, the age-old question of whether a man or a woman can do one thing better than the other. When it comes to driving, everyone has an opinion about the opposite sex. But what do they think of themselves?
The data from our respondents to two similar, yet differently worded, questions are intriguing. About 38% of men proclaimed they were excellent drivers, while only a little more than 25% of women felt the same way about themselves. However, when asked if they were safe drivers, men and women answered at similar rates across the board.

Gender and Accidents

gender accidents
Everyone seems to want to weigh in on gender and driving behaviors – from researchers to everyday people. Men are more likely to engage in high-risk driving behaviors, and road rage is an issue for them. Marketing researcher Brandon Gaille looked at road rage statistics and discovered that men are more likely to get angry while driving, which often leads to accidents.
We wondered how both genders would respond to our survey question about their accident rates. Interestingly enough, both reported an almost 50/50 split; over 54% of women had been the driver involved in an accident, and about 52% of men stated they had.

Gender and Driving Incidents

accidents risky behavior
When it comes to gender and car accidents, statistics tell us that men get into far more accidents than women, especially when they are young. Men are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors, like not wearing their seat belts and speeding. However, the greatest fatality rates for both genders occur during their first few and last few years of driving.
We searched through the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database to find out just how much risk men take on when driving. With an overall car accident death rate of 10.59 per 100,000 people, men are 3.5 times more likely to die in car accidents than women. When it comes to speeding, drunk driving, and not wearing a seat belt or helmet, men are 4.3 to 5.2 times more likely to die from accidents involving these behaviors.

Gendered Driving Skills

gender skills
Driving skills are an important part of being a good and safe driver. But how do those skills stack up when you look at them by gender? Stereotypes tell us that men are better at specific driving skills. But are they really?
We separated the responses to questions about parallel parking and manual transmission abilities by gender and looked at the results. Both genders seemed to think that they were moderately comfortable with parallel parking, with only a slight edge for men (35%) over women (31%). But far more men said that they felt very comfortable with their parallel parking skills at 33%, versus women’s response rate of less than 19%. When it comes to the ability to drive a manual transmission, over 61% of women said that they didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, whereas nearly 51% of men said that they could.

Men and Women Take the Driver’s Test

gender driving skills
With the high-risk behaviors that men tend to engage in, at least while they are young, does this influence their results when taking a mock driver’s test? Granted, these questions are tricky; many of us tend to scratch our heads wondering if we actually know the right answer. Curious how men versus women would perform? So were we.
The responses to the questions may or may not surprise you. It turns out that men and women gave just about the same rates of right and wrong answers, with some pretty negligible differences. It looks like our driving patterns might be a bit different, but we have the same kinds of knowledge overall. Good or bad, we are all in it together.


For some, driving can symbolize the freedom of a fun weekend road trip. For others, it brings back traumatic memories of accidents and scary driving experiences. Most of us experience a mix of both. As research shows, our perceptions of our driving don’t always align with how we actually drive. With the advent of smartphones and their ability to distract drivers, we are at even more risk than ever before. Additionally, we know many of the driving rules that keep us safe, but some lack knowledge when it comes to who gets to go first at a stop sign.
Gender seems to be a serious issue regarding risk-taking. Young men tend to drive dangerously, which leads to serious injuries and death. When it comes to overall skills, however, it seems that men and women are about even.
We surveyed 2,022 people on their driving skills and tested them with some basic driving questions. For our additional information on safety outcomes, we analyzed the FARS database for crash fatalities and specific driving behaviors like speeding, alcohol consumption, and seat belt usage.

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