Why Are U.S. Drivers So Bad?

ByABC News
September 27, 2000, 8:25 AM

Sept. 27 -- Exploding tires have been blamed for 101 deaths in the United States in the past eight years, but distracted, poorly trained drivers who drink coffee and talk on mobile phones may have more to do with the high death toll on American roads.

More than 41,000 deaths were recorded on American roads last year. Experts say American drivers break road rules, are frequently distracted and arent often trained to handle emergency situations. In European countries with faster, safer roads, people wonder: Are Americans just bad drivers?

Ive driven a lot in Germany. Your average American wouldnt stand a chance over there, says Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesman for the Automobile Club of New York.

Spectacular Speeds, Strict Requirements

The United States sits in the middle of the pack for highway safety in an analysis of 28 European, North American and Asian countries undertaken by Germanys Federal Highway Research Institute in 1998. Portuguese roads are nearly twice as deadly as in the United States, the statistics say. German and British roads are safer.

Sinclair says the good safety records on German roads are particularly surprising because Germans drive so fast. Speeds over 140 mph are common on the nations autobahns, he said.

There are strict speed limits in the [neighboring] Netherlands. As soon as you hit Germany, if your window is open, you can hear engines begin to scream as they accelerate to German cruising speeds, he says.

German tires have nylon caps that make them stiffer, better for handling at high speeds and less likely to lose treads. The Firestone tires blamed for tread-separation-related deaths, like most U.S. tires, dont have the nylon caps. Firestone officials have said Americans prefer a softer ride and the caps arent needed at American driving speeds.

The biggest difference between the two countries isnt in tires, but driving habits, says Alex Landsdorff, press attaché at the German Embassy in Washington. German drivers actually obey the rules, he says. They dont cruise in the left lane, they keep both hands on the wheel and act predictably.