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better driver

It's always the other guy.

We're all great drivers with untapped skills and Olympic-calibre reaction times and eyesight. Ask anyone who has been in a crash or come away from a near miss and the vast majority will blame the other driver. This is human nature – and troubling to the traffic safety community, because if you can't recognize the fact you might have been at least partially at fault, you won't learn from that mistake.

Now comes proof of this problem from a survey of American motorists. A new study by Allstate Insurance reveals the majority of Americans consider themselves to be good drivers, but a closer look at the study and their candour tells a different – and dangerous – story.

Conducted last month among 1,000 American adults, the study showed the majority of Americans "believe their own driving knowledge, ability and safe driving habits are well above other drivers on the road." Fifty-six per cent of American drivers say they have been involved in an accident, but only 28 per cent accept the blame.

Almost two-thirds of the respondents rate themselves as "excellent" or "very good" drivers. These same people don't have as much faith in their close friends and others their age. In fact, they rate themselves twice as highly, giving "excellent" or "very good" ratings to 29 per cent of their close friends and 2 per cent of others.

Drivers also don't think much of the driving ability of people from surrounding states, rating only 8 per cent as "excellent" or "very good." They also had little faith in other groups: 81 per cent said teens were "average" or "poor" drivers and 70 per cent of seniors got similar ratings.

It comes as no surprise that men think of themselves as better drivers. Thirty-six per cent said they were "excellent" compared to 26 per cent of women.

But dig deeper into the survey and there are some scary revelations.

Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed admitted to driving over the posted speed limit and 40 per cent say they regularly drive more than 20 miles per hour (32.5 km/h) over the limit. Big surprise again – men are more likely to do this, 48 per cent compared to 30 per cent of the women.

Fifty-three per cent say they have received a speeding or moving violation ticket. Of that group, 44 per cent say they have received three or more. The men in this group averaged 4.3 each and the women 2.6.

Headed south on a driving vacation? Then consider almost half of the American drivers surveyed admitted to driving while "excessively" tired, 15 per cent have driven while intoxicated – again men hold a clear 4-1 lead in this category – and 34 per cent say they have sent a text-message or e-mail while driving. Here, the younger set take the lead with 63 per cent of those under 29 having done so, compared to only 2 per cent of those over 65 years of age. No surprise there.

Now let's consider that while two-thirds consider themselves "excellent" or "very good" drivers, 70 per cent say they have slammed on their brakes or swerved to avoid a crash, missed a traffic signal or actually caused a crash as a result of being distracted while driving.

On the topic of what conditions concern them most, two-thirds said driving in snow, heavy rain or other bad weather tops the list, calling such conditions stressful and uncomfortable. Heavy traffic comes next at 56 per cent followed by 41 per cent who hate driving behind large trucks, 29 per cent who dislike driving at night, 17 per cent over long bridges and 16 per cent say driving on the highway is no fun.

How would you rate yourself on these various issues?

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.