Most drivers barely think about road signs, letting them go by on the side of the road without a second thought unless they are looking for something specific like a rest stop or they need to know the active speed limit. For most motorists, the last time they paid any real attention to road signs and what they mean is while they were in their driver’s education courses, preparing to take a road sign test as a part of earning their license.
Given how little attention most drivers pay to road signs, we wanted to find out how well-experienced drivers from around the country could do if they had to take a road sign test today. To that end, we asked more than 2,000 drivers from across the United States to take an online version of the test and report their results to us. The results of this project can be found below, and some of the results may surprise you!
One of the first things we wanted to know was which states produce the best and worst drivers. We asked all of our survey participants which state they first got their driver’s license in. We then tracked how drivers educated in each state did on the online road sign test.
We found ten states where every single person we surveyed passed the test with 100% accuracy, showing that, at the very least, motorists in those states know what the signs around them are supposed to mean. On the flip side, we found ten states where at least 10% of survey respondents failed the test, meaning 1 in 10 drivers in those states may find themselves quite confused while on the road. Leading the way with an alarming 25% failure rate was Tennessee, all the more concerning when only one other state, Arizona, saw at least 15% of those who took the test fail.
Next, we looked at how age impacted performance on the digital road sign test. Interestingly, we found that drivers on either end of the age spectrum did the best, with 16-18 year olds and drivers over 40 passing at a rate in excess of 96% In fact, drivers over the age of 51 passed the test at the highest rate AND had the highest average score, followed by the teens. It appears that being fresh from a driver’s education course can put young people on level footing with drivers who have been behind the wheel for decades, but in between those stages of life road sign knowledge tends to dip.
We also decided to look at how performance on the online test correlated with the year a driver was first issued a license. It is important to remember here that the year a license was issued is not directly tied to age, as people of any age over 16 can earn a license at any time.
In all, only five years of license issuance saw all survey respondents score 100%, all between the years of 1986 and 1994. This result lines up nicely with the data about performance based on age. On the flip side, all of the worst performances on the digital test came from drivers who earned their license between 2014 and 2019, with failure rates over 14% for every one of those years. Given how well 16-18 year olds did overall, it seems likely that there are plenty of 19+ year olds skewing the data based on license issue year.
Of course, when considering drivers over 16 getting their license for the first time, you can’t help but think about people who have failed the test in the past and had to take it over again later in life. We also asked everyone who took the survey how many times they had to take the real driver’s test before they passed successfully as well as how they did on the digital road sign test.
Unsurprisingly, people who passed on their first try had the best grasp on road signs and their meanings, with over 96% of them passing the online version. The pass percentage dropped by 17% among drivers who had to take the real-world test twice before passing, another 8.5% if they had to take it three times, and the pass-fail rate became an even 50-50 split among drivers who had to take the actual test four times before passing.
Finally, we wanted to know exactly which road signs gave our survey takers the most trouble. We asked every respondent to list the three signs that confused them the most and then compiled those results to find which ones they named incorrectly most often. Leading the way was U-Turn only, which 7.65% of people had trouble properly identifying. The meaning of the Soft Shoulder sign was the only other sign that more than 7% of people had trouble with, while the Yield and Road Shoulder Much Higher Than Road Surface signs each gave one in 20 drivers trouble. Bicycles Only finished out the top five most troublesome signs with 3.83%
Driving is an important part of so many lives across the country, no matter their level of road sign knowledge. With that in mind, we encourage anyone who might find themselves confused by signage every now and then to brush up for the safety of themselves and the drivers around them. We also hope that New York drivers new and old remember Yonkers Honda the next time they need a new car!