What Does It Mean to Be a “Good Driver” in America?

Blue car driving down a sunny street lined with greenery and trees

Are you a good driver? The majority of Americans say they are.

Most American drivers believe their skills are above average (according to an Allstate survey). Nearly ⅔ of respondents rated themselves as “excellent” or “very good” drivers. Despite these flattering self-assessments, many of these drivers admitted to violating driving laws.

If drivers’ actions don’t always align with their views of their own abilities, what qualities do they think good drivers have?

In an effort to find out which driving habits Americans characterize as “good,” we asked them ourselves in a new survey:

  • Do drivers think it’s better to be passive or aggressive on the road?
  • What qualities do they think make for a “good driver?”

The majority of drivers surveyed (71 percent) said passive driving was the safest approach. They also said previous experience on the road was the key to being a good driver. Let’s dive into this new data to see what qualities comprise a “good driver” in America today.

What do Americans think makes a good driver?

To find out what qualifies drivers as “good,” we surveyed Americans on a state-by-state level. Our respondents ranked the following traits in order of importance: confidence, skill set, knowledge of laws, experience, and reaction time.

Overall, American drivers agreed overwhelmingly that experience was the number one trait of good drivers. This isn’t surprising, considering older drivers are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States.

If everyone agrees experience comes first, what’s the next-best trait for drivers to have? Second-choice answers varied more than first-choice answers, but “skill set” and “reaction” were both popular choices.

map of what Americans think makes a good driver

Regions displayed unique trends in second-choice selection as well. Drivers in the Northeast were more likely to select “skill set” as their second choice, the South and Midwest preferred “reaction time.” Western states tied between “skill set” and “reaction time.”

map of different regions that depicts what different regions value most in drivingOn average, Americans chose “skill set” and “reaction time” most often as the second-most important value, with each answer earning 38 percent of second-choice selections nationwide. “Knowledge of laws” placed third at 20 percent. No states chose “confidence” as the second-most important quality. Alaska, the only state that did not select “experience” as its first-choice answer, chose “skill set” first and “experience” second. In fact, Alaska preferred “skill set” as a first-choice answer by almost 5 percent over “experience.”

Male respondents were more likely to choose “skill set” as their first-choice answer than were women. Females preferred “experience” as a first choice, with 35 percent of all women selecting it over other answers.

pie chart of what Americans think makes a good driver

Though most Americans agreed on “experience” as the top trait of a good driver, there are many variations in how Americans drive. We also asked whether drivers thought being “passive” or “aggressive” on the road was safer.

Do Americans think it’s better to be a passive or aggressive driver?

Everyone drives differently. Some Americans prefer to drive slowly and passively, while some drive in an aggressive manner. Passive drivers argue traveling at slower speeds and exercising more caution makes one safer on the road. On the other hand, some argue aggressive driving and quick decision-making is preferable.

According to a defensive driving information site, both methods may lead to problems in certain situations. Slow-moving cars may cause anxiety-inducing traffic jams. Aggressive drivers can cause accidents if they bully others on the road or cause other drivers to react in unsafe ways.

It’s important to note aggressive driving is often proactive driving, which can be a safe approach. Drivers may need to make a proactive first move to avoid an unsafe situation. Scott Marshall, Director of Training for Young Drivers of Canada, compares aggressive driving to a sports team’s offense. Much like how a team’s offense controls the pace of play, aggressive drivers can help manage the safety of driving conditions around them. Anticipating possible problems before they arise by leaving additional space in front of your vehicle in traffic, looking for open spaces in the next lane, and remaining aware of the behaviors of nearby drivers can help prevent possible accidents on the road.

pie chart depicting if it's better to be a passive or aggressive driverSo, do American drivers think it’s better to be passive or aggressive while driving? We asked 1,000 respondents for their opinions on whether it’s better to be passive or aggressive on the road. A strong majority (71 percent) agreed that a passive approach leads to better driving.

We considered three demographic factors when analyzing our data: gender, age and geography.

pie chart showing men are more likely to say passive driving is better

Seventy-four percent of women and 69 percent of men surveyed believed passive driving was safest. Often stereotyped as more aggressive drivers, men made up the majority of the vote for “passive” driving — 56 percent — versus women’s 45 percent. However, men also outvoted women when choosing “aggressive” driving, this time by a larger margin (61 percent men to 39 percent women).

bar chart showing middle-age drivers are most likely to be aggressivePredictably, older drivers preferred passive driving. Eighty-six percent of drivers aged 65 or older said passive driving makes for a good driver. Following close behind, the 55–64 age group also voted overwhelmingly for passive driving, at 77 percent. Standing out from the crowd, however, was the 45–54 age group. Compared to other groups, middle-aged drivers were the least likely (64 percent) to prefer passive driving (and the most likely to favor aggressive driving). Surprisingly, drivers in the youngest age group were more likely to favor passive driving. Often considered more reckless, 68 percent of drivers aged 18–24 voted for passive driving.

Southern drivers most likely to be aggressiveAnyone who has taken a road trip knows geographic region also has an influence on driving behavior. Drivers in the Midwest are most likely to favor passive driving, with 73 percent of individuals in the region voting for passive driving. Though the majority of drivers in all regions agreed passive driving is best, the South had the lowest percentage of individuals who chose passive driving. Southern drivers were the most likely of all drivers surveyed to choose aggressive driving over passive.

In summary, most Americans agree on what constitutes a good driver. The majority of drivers think passive driving is safest, with some small variations in opinion between regions, genders, and ages. Most American drivers said experience is the most important trait involved in good driving habits, an opinion that held true across state lines. Second-choice answers showed more regional variance, with states differing on whether they prioritized skill set, knowledge of the law, or reaction time.

Ultimately, good driving is all about being safe on the road. Being keenly aware of your surroundings, properly communicating with other drivers, adhering to all posted signs and markings, and having insurance for your vehicle are all necessities if you want to practice safe driving habits.


Allstate | CDC | DefensiveDriving.com | The Safe Driver