As many of you know, I recently moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where – and I am told this by several longtime residents – the drivers are the worst. I find this interesting, however, because I had previously lived in Atlanta, Georgia, where many native Atlantans had assured me that local drivers are the worst.
And I find that interesting, because if you ask anyone from L.A., they'll tell you, bar none, that their drivers are the worst. Then they'll dazzle you with horror stories about the crazy things people do when faced with range anxiety.
But how could L.A. have the worst drivers, when we all know Boston drivers are the worst? This is a proud mantra of all Bostonians, who are quick to blame people from New Hampshire and Rhode Island for slowing them down. Apparently, these people don't realize that the rest of the country covers the horn and readies the middle finger the second we see a Massachusetts license plate.
And then there's rain.
"Ugh," people will say, following a long commute in a torrential downpour on a 12-lane highway with road signs that look like extended warranties. "D.C. drivers are the worst. They have no idea how to drive in rain."
I've always wondered about this complaint, because you hear it all the time. I mean, seriously, all the time. It's gotten more common than "thank you," at this point. People don't blame drivers for their behavior in the rain. They blame drivers based on their location, as if somehow this crazy rain phenomenon only affects the people they have to drive with. Apparently, these people believe that drivers in other cities see the falling water and the reduced visibility and the potential hazards and continue on, nonplussed, like they're gunning for the lead at Monza.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to set the record straight about the worst drivers. I can do this because I've driven in dozens of countries, and all over America – east and west, north and south, urban and rural. I've driven vans, trucks, buses, and sports cars. And after all this experience, I can state two facts unequivocally: one, your city's drivers aren't the worst. And two, you're a lot worse than you think.
To help me explain my second point, I turn to an excellent study carried out by someone named Iain, who I can only assume has a beard and lives in a former British colony.
According to Iain's study, which is entitled "Comparative perceptions of driver ability," a whopping 80 percent of drivers believe that they are "better than average." Let's think about that for a second. Eighty percent. Believe they are better than average. Extrapolate this out a bit, and you're confronted with a rather upsetting statistic: of the 220 million licensed drivers in America, 176 million believe they are better than average.
Now, for those of you who have taken a few statistics courses, it's very obvious that this 80 percent thing is virtually impossible. Oh, sure, the remaining 20 percent could be so bad that the 80 percent are necessary to bring up the average. But it's more likely that people vastly overestimate their driving capabilities.
Seriously, think about it: as you sit there, nodding in your head, telling yourself that you're an above average driver, so are hundreds of other people, all across the country, reading this column, convinced they're better than everyone else, convinced they're a brilliant driver, convinced that Jalopnik should really fire this DeMuro guy. But the truth is, some of you have to be below average. Some of you are subpar. Some of you are a lot more mediocre than you think.
Me, I'm more than willing to admit that I'm a worse-than-average driver. In fact, I think I'm somewhere in there between "old lady with failing eyesight who sits on a phone book to see over the wheel" and "9-year-old who accidentally shifted his uncle's Taurus into gear at the grocery store."
Case in point: on Friday morning, I hit a construction barrel. Seriously. I'm cruising along, driving at a normal pace, when a guy in a Chevy Silverado with New Jersey plates – their drivers are the worst – pulls out in front of me and begins moving at the speed of televised golf. So I did what any member of the eighty percent would do: I honked and aggressively passed him, only to find my path blocked by a construction barrel.
Initially, I was a little scared when I saw the barrel in my way, but then I remembered something: I drive an SUV, and according to the ads, I can therefore roll over anything. Snow. Ice. Curbs. Small buildings. Aardvarks. People who write "would of." Libertarians. The late Bob Hope. Vegetable gardens. So I decided to aim straight for the construction barrel, and I believe that now, four days later, it is still rolling along, somewhere in central Delaware.
And now, back to my other point, which is: the drivers in your city aren't worse than the drivers anywhere else.
Here's my proof. I've driven all over the world, in all types of conditions, on all types of roads, and I've reached the following conclusion: drivers everywhere are awful. Italian drivers, rural drivers, Michigan drivers, drivers in the snow, drivers in Subarus, drivers with Betty Boop decals, drivers whose rear wiper dangles there like a playground seesaw, drivers who willingly chose to purchase a PT Cruiser, drivers with "SAVE THE PRETTY FLOWERS" special license plates. They're all awful. Every last one of them.
Unfortunately, a recent Allstate study doesn't seem to agree with me. This study, which looked at the average number of years drivers go between accidents, recently rated the worst U.S. cities for driving – and the leaders were Boston, Washington, D.C., Providence, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
This doesn't surprise me, because these cities all have narrow streets, and awful congestion, and tons of cars. Whereas if you look at the best cities, you'll notice that it's all a bunch of rural areas with no traffic: Fort Collins, Colorado. Brownsville, Texas. Boise, Idaho. I mean, come on. If you lose control of your car in Boise, you end up in a potato field, and grandpaw pulls you out with his Dually. Whereas if you lose control in Boston, you crash into some historic building where Patrick Henry once stored his spittoon.
And so, I think the truth here is that drivers all across the country are awful, regardless of what they're driving, or where they live, or how long their commute is. Not you, though. Don't worry. You're better than average.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.