Are We the World’s Best Drivers? U.S. vs. International Driving Habits, Compared

It’s no secret that car accident rates and fatalities still plague the United States. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are currently the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. What are we doing wrong on the road?

The problem may lie, not in our skills themselves, but in our arrogance regarding them.

According to a new study, international respondents overwhelmingly perceive Germany as having the best drivers in the world. You know who thinks America has the best drivers in the world? Americans. In fact, nearly 61% of American respondents consider themselves above-average drivers.

What gives? It’s well-known that we’re a proud people, but clearly, the rest of the world doesn’t agree with our self-assessment. (Case in point: 59% of international respondents consider themselves better drivers than Americans.)

It can be tough to accept, but maybe it’s time to acknowledge we’re not perfect on the road.

Living in a society lacking many public transportation options, driving is a skill on which most of us rely. Unless you live in a city, you need a car. It makes sense, then, that we want to consider ourselves great drivers. Driving is a skill most of us use daily; it would be embarrassing to admit we’re less than stellar.

But let’s consider Germany for a moment.

Unlike in America, Germans can drink at 16, but they can’t get behind the wheel until they’re 18. This encourages them to learn responsible drinking habits before they even think about operating a two-ton vehicle. The penalties for driving under the influence in Germany are severe, as they should be, including fines up to 1500 euros and driving bans for first-time offenders.

Furthermore, the process of learning to drive is far stricter than it is in the states: a two-stage test, a first-aid course, mandated in-car training with a licensed professional (not Mom or Dad), and more than 2,000 euros in fees. They’re also far less likely to play with their phones on the road.

Finally, most Germans don’t necessarily need to drive. Public transportation in Germany is excellent (I got by walking and taking trains and buses for nearly two years when I lived there), and their pride doesn’t ride on their driving skills the way it does with Americans.

Safe to say, when Germans drive, they take it seriously.

Now, don’t fret. There are a lot of factors to weigh when considering the best and worst drivers in the world, and, of course, some of it is subjective. But now I ask: Why does our pride have to ride on our driving capabilities? Why can’t we acknowledge that, no, we’re not the best in the world and resolve to learn from the Germans?

Some Americans are already taking steps to mold better drivers. Drive to Thrive, a program in Atlanta, simulates road conditions like hydroplaning and driving on ice for teens learning the ropes. They even donate free classes to teens in need for every class purchased. We need more programs like this all across the country – I sorely needed one at 16.

To prevent crashes, let’s start at the source. Let’s teach teens to drive responsibly, and accept that we have a lot to learn.


Laura Dzwonczyk is a Pennsylvania transplant residing in South Florida. Follow her on Twitter for occasional witticisms and weird food cravings.

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One Response to “Are We the World’s Best Drivers? U.S. vs. International Driving Habits, Compared”

  1. George_C says:

    Teach them basic physical science.

    Stopping time is linear. Stopping distance is exponential (to the 2nd power)

    Teach them about cornering. If you are going 10% faster around a corner, you will need to generate 21% more grip-so at some point you will not make that curve.

    Teach them that new tires go on the rear axle.