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Friday, May 29, 2009

We’re Number 21!

I opened my News and Messenger today to discover that Virginia ranks 21st on the “best drivers list.” As a professional number cruncher and data/info geek, and frequent driver in this temperate commonwealth, my first thought was, “what have they been smoking?” You can read the article in its entirety at the N&M website:


Its new title is “Holiday Deaths Decrease,” which is actually what the article is about. It starts with some tedious statistics about traffic deaths, seatbelts, and alcohol, and is blissfully devoid of any explanatory factors (traffic level changes? decrease in # of illegals? harvest moon?).

One item that caught my eye was a preposterous statement from driving instructor Sagair Ayub: “We tell our students every day that there is a 30 percent chance they will get into an accident each time they get behind the wheel." So approximately 1 of every 3 trips taken by Mr. Ayub’s students results in a paint exchange and possible airbag deployment? What are you teaching them, sir???

Forgive the digression, but this reminds me of a hunter safety class I had to take in MI to get my first hunting license a few years ago. The class was geared toward 12 to 14 year old kids, its main audience, and had a sort of “scared straight” approach toward safety education, rather than a logic- and facts-based method which I would have preferred, but would probably not have had the same appeal to the kids’ tiny, hormone-soaked brains. I shouldn’t complain; I was just there to check a box and get a certificate; they actually stood a chance of learning something. Anyway, the sermon on tree stand safety was particularly hyperbolic: “If you fall out of a tree stand 15 feet in the air, how fast do you think you’ll be going when you hit the ground? 120 miles and hour! That’s terminal velocity for a human body!” (Actually you’d be going about 17 miles an hour). And another gem: “If you fall out of a tree stand, YOU WILL DIE!”

So that’s what I was thinking when I read that Mr. Ayub tells his students that for every three trips they make, slightly fewer than one of them will result in higher insurance premiums for his or her coverage pool. Not wishing to belabor a point, but the problem is that when an instructor makes categorically ridiculous claims, why should his students believe anything else he says? Of course there is the possibility that something was lost in translation; neither Mr. Ayub nor the writer of the article appear to be native English speakers.

Meanwhile, I’m slogging through this tedious article with the sole purpose of finding out how VA could have possibly scored in the top half of anything related to driving. Astute VOB readers will remember my rant from last February on the subject. Finally toward the end of the article, it emerges that GMAC conducted a survey designed to assess drivers’ knowledgeability, using questions drawn from DMV tests. VA respondents ranked 21st of 50 states, “including the District of Columbia,” the article states, so evidently DC is now a state, and some unlucky state apparently has reverted back to territory status. The article states that a similar survey ranked VA 40th last year, so we charged ahead of 19 states in one year. Explanation in the article? No such luck, leaving the hapless reader to assume that VA drivers’ stellar performance can be attributed to the tutelage of such luminaries as Mr. Ayub, or, and you’d better sit down for this one, the survey is measuring noise and reporting it as fact.

At any rate, actual driving competence was not assessed in the GMAC test. If it were, VA’s ranking certainly would be a lot closer to the frost line. I would like to invite the GMAC investigators to actually spend a few days driving here in VA; I believe they’d think twice about publishing such irrelevant reports in the future. In the meantime, while I’m maneuvering around the random lane changers, getting boxed in by slow drivers in the right and left lanes, waiting for the person ahead of me to realize that the light turned green, getting rear-ended yet again (I’ve been rear-ended twice so far in VA, and have had two prostate checks – coincidence?), being prevented from changing lanes by a driver who has me locked in his tractor beam, and dodging the teenage texters (why can’t they go back to drinking and driving?), I’ll just have to remember that there are 29 states out there whose drivers know even less!


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