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A wrong turn on road rules

Thank goodness I was able to make it to work to write this column.

After all, according to the experts behind the National Driver's Test, I should have driven over several hundred orange construction pylons, back-ended a beer truck and made an illegal left-hand turn from the farthest right-hand turn lane to get here.

It's true. According to an online driving exam administered by GMAC Insurance, I am a lousy driver. Or at least a barely acceptable one. When the company challenged its Web site visitors to test their driving savvy with a 20-question test, I accepted the challenge, figuring my 30 years of (relatively) accident-free driving practically put me in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. category.

So I took the test, only to find I'd scored a 70 percent - a basement-level C.

Humiliated, I retook the exam. Surely, I figured, I could do better than this. Hadn't I aced the driver's test after moving from North Dakota to Minnesota seven years ago? Didn't I rack up a perfectly respectable 94 on the test upon taking it at the tender age of 14? (Of course, my Dad likes to joke that the trooper was so terrified he passed me just to get out of the car as quickly as possible.)

There had to be some kind of mistake. And so I retook the test. This time, it felt better. I didn't feel nearly as perplexed by the tricky question about yellow lights: Were they a warning to stop, an indication to slow down or a signal to roar through the intersection, screaming, "Hang on kids! We're late for church!"?

But my retest wasn't much comfort. This time, I scored a 75 percent - a straight-down-the-line C.

Was it performance anxiety? A rusty memory? Or was I laboring under the delusion that, simply because I'd owned a driver's license for three decades without driving off a mountain, I was a much better driver than I actually am?

To add insult to injury, I learned my test score fell below North Dakota's average score (79.6 percent) and even the nation's score as a whole (76.6). I couldn't get a job driving a cheese truck in Wisconsin, whose residents tied for No. 1 scores in the nation with an average score of 80.6. I would, however, be able to drive taxi in New York, whose reckless residents anchored the bottom of the list with a 70.5.

Go ahead and laugh, but not before trying the test for yourself. It's amazing how much stuff you forget over time. A sampling of the questions:

You may drive off of the paved roadway to pass another vehicle:

a) If the shoulder is wide enough to accommodate your vehicle.

b) If the vehicle ahead of you is turning left.

c) Under no circumstances.

When you approach a traffic signal displaying a steady yellow light, you must:

a) Go through the intersection before it turns red.

b) Stop if it is safe to do so.

c) Be prepared to stop.

d) Slow down and proceed with caution.

(Answers: c, b).

Gunning your motor to try this test yourself? Go to and click on "Learning Center."

And watch out: There are a few more speed bumps than you might expect.