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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bad Drivers and Political Corruption

Last week, at a reception following the first Department faculty meeting of the new academic term, a few colleagues and I discussed the comparative abilities of automobile drivers from different parts of the country. The discussion may have been sparked by the presence of a new colleague from a part of the U.S. quite distant from Kentucky.

As it happens, one Department faculty member has posted a list of states ranked by the relative (in)abilities of their drivers. One of the group borrowed the list from her bulletin board and we discussed the rankings. In case you have not seen the list somewhere else, the list was compiled from a study by car insurers that uses "data from three sources: the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (driving fatalities), the American Motorists Association (which states hand out the most tickets), and MADD (drunk drivers)."

In the study, Louisiana is said to have the worst drivers, followed by Missouri, Texas. and Florida. Kentucky drivers rated 7th-worst (note: Louisville schools do not provide driver's education). The list of states with the worst drivers is mostly comprised of states located in red (and southern) parts of America as it also includes Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina. Montana was 9th.

About that same time last week, I read Joshua Hammer's related story about driving in Africa in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. He points out an interesting correlation:
According to Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), “Traffic behavior is more or less directly related to levels of government corruption.” Vanderbilt cites a clear correlation between traffic-fatality rates per miles driven and a country’s ranking on Transparency International’s corruption index. (In terms of road safety, the Scandinavian countries fare the best; Nigeria is near the bottom of the list.)
To check the domestic situation, I found a list published in the NY Times in December 2008 that used a decade's worth of federal public corruption convictions to rank U.S. states by political corruption. The study placed Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, and Florida in the top 10 (excluding Guam, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and DC).

So, just eyeballing these results, a U.S. correlation seems to align with a global correlation.
While searching around the internet looking into this relationship, I found an interesting tidbit from Anneli Rufus at The Daily Beast (referencing GMAC Insurance Company data): "Kansas is home to the nation’s best-prepared drivers." As a young Kansan, I received my first driver's license at age 14 years and 6 months and participated in driver's education in junior high school (to be fair, today's 9th graders are often educated in high schools).

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