Those four states top this year's list of the states with the worst drivers, according to a survey performed by GMAC Insurance.
"Their drivers, for whatever reason, are less familiar with the rules of the road," said Wade Bontrager, a senior vice president for GMAC Insurance which ranked drivers. "People need to be understand that they need to be educated. They need to remember the rules of the road and that educated drivers are safer drivers."
GMAC for the past five years has surveyed 5,000 people across the country with 20 test questions taken from various state driving tests. It turns out than many Americans don't really know what it means where there is a solid yellow line on one side of the center line or what type of lights to use when driving in the fog. (No passing and use your low beams.)
If the numbers from the GMAC survey held true for the entire U.S. population, that means roughly 41 million licensed Americans on the road today would not pass a written drivers test exam.
"As an insurance company, we see the unfortunate results every day of what happens when people don't know the rules of the road," Bontrager said.
Where are the best -- or at least most-knowledgeable -- drivers? Idaho, Wisconsin, Montana and Kansas.
Overall, the Northeast had the lowest average test scores at 74.5 percent, and the South had the highest failure rate at 41 percent. The Midwest had the highest average test scores at 79 percent and the lowest failure rates at 15 percent. (Test-takers need to score at least 70 percent on the test to pass.)
So why are some regions better drivers than others?
"I don't know if it is a function of people that drive in very congested areas, very busy areas, lose sight of the rules of the road because it might be a little different there," Bontrager said.
Another theory: people in states with large metropolitan areas tend to take public transit more often and lose some of their driving skills.
"We certainly wouldn't suggest that people avoid any place [because of the test.] You ought to be a defensive driver no matter where you are, follow the rules of the road and understand that not everybody out there knows them as well as you do," Bontrager said. "Whether I'm driving in New York or Des Moines, I want to be a defensive driver. Maybe I can breathe a little easier in Des Moines or Idaho than I can in a congested area. But it doesn't change how you should drive."
The Driving Test
The most frequently missed question, year after year, is the proper safe distance to follow another car on the road.
Of course for many people these question are tough because it's been decades since they took a driving test. But that's not necessarily the reason for the knowledge gap.
"There's a tendency for younger drivers to not do as well. Drivers over the age of 35 start doing better again. It's not just a memory thing," Bontrager said. "Older drivers typically do better. Apparently there's something to age and experience that makes people more familiar with the general rules of the road. Or maybe they all just studied better back then."
So how did Bontrager do?
"I made a 95 [percent] this year. I was a little annoyed. I missed one," he said. "But it's better than an 80, I suppose."
Another related survey this week reported that a quarter of American cell phone users admit to texting while driving, despite bans in seven states. The survey, done by mobile voice technology company Vlingo, found that drivers in Tennessee were the worst offenders, with 42 percent of those questioned admitting to texting behind the wheel. A ban on cell phone texting while driving goes into effect in that state in July.
As part of the GMAC survey, the insurance company found that more drivers are planning to stay off the roads. About 30 percent of those surveyed saying they plan on driving less in the coming year, mostly because of worry over the economy or because they want to drive less to reduce expenses due to financial problems.
The Worst to Best States
So where does your state rank? Below is a list of how each state fared from worst to best. There are several ties, so study up New Yorkers, there's always next year.
51: New York
50: New Jersey
46: Rhode Island
44: Washington D.C.
40: South Carolina
33: New Hampshire
28: West Virginia
20: North Carolina
19: New Mexico
12: North Dakota
5: South Dakota