The Nerves of Steel Survey 2003

Want to know who the rudest drivers in America are? We can tell you in a New York minute thanks to the fifth annual "Nerves of Steel" aggressive driving survey conducted by TheSteelAlliance. The survey assesses the American driving public to determine the rudest, drowsiest, most defensive, and most courteous drivers on the road. Frankly, the news is not good, because high percentages of drivers admit to dangerous behavior like speaking on cell phones and falling asleep at the wheel.

So who are the rudest drivers in America? Last year, Miami's drivers took the rudeness crown, but this year New York stole the crown back. Both cities received a grade of "F," but the survey revealed New York City drivers are three times as likely to "flip-the-bird" versus the national average. Philadelphia, Dallas, and Los Angeles earned "D" grades, while the drivers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Charlotte, and Cleveland received the top marks of "A." Nine out of 10 drivers nationwide said tailgating, making rude gestures, and passing on the side of the road are the most widely considered acts of aggressive driving.

The other side of the scale -- defensive driving and courtesy -- are the survey's criteria for grading cities on the safety of their drivers. Viewed from the angle, the polite drivers of Charlotte drivers are also safe drivers. The North Carolina city that is home to many NASCAR racing teams, captured two titles from Seattle, the city whose drivers were ranked the safest and most polite drivers in 2002. Minneapolis-St. Paul also turned in an "A" score this year, while Seattle slipped to a "B" along with Denver and Phoenix.

While a "B" might seem like a decent ranking, Seattle's and Denver's drivers offer concern on a different front. For the first time, the "Nerves of Steel" survey inquired about drowsy driving, and it found Seattle drivers rank as the country's drowsiest. Some 86 percent said they sometimes feel drowsy while driving, compared with 76 percent of drivers nationwide, perhaps accounting for the prevalence of drive-through coffee bars in Seattle and its environs. Denverites might also benefit from some strong brews. Denver ranks as the sleepiest city as a shocking 45 percent of Denver motorists admitted to falling asleep, at least once, behind the wheel, which was well above the national average of 36 percent.

The survey polled an equal number of male and female drivers in each city. It discovered men are more likely than women to admit they committed an act of aggressive driving. (Obviously an indication that many women are liars.) For example, 67 percent of men and just 44 percent of women said they have driven 10 miles per hour or more over the speed limit in the month prior to the survey. When it comes to multi-tasking behind the wheel, the survey reveals that women are three times more likely than men to "put on makeup, shave or comb hair" while driving. (We don't think we want to see women shaving in their cars, but that's another story.)

While drivers nationwide admit they are not the safest or the most polite motorists, most agree that steel provides the best line of defense in an automobile accident. When asked to select the automotive material that provides the best protection, 91 percent of those surveyed selected steel, with materials such as fiberglass and plastic trailing far behind. Balls of cotton, toothpicks and belly-button lint did not even make the survey.

"While great strides have been made among drivers to improve safety and rudeness on the nation's highways, we must remember that all drivers can contribute to even greater improvements in driver safety," said Bill Heenan, president, TheSteelAlliance. "We all need to slow down, be more courteous and refrain from other distractions while driving. It's also very important to remember to avoid getting behind the wheel when you are feeling drowsy or fatigued."

Boston native Tom Ripley became so concerned about the lack of courtesy of American drivers that he moved to Villeperce, France. Now that was an idea!

Hit the (Back) Road

Are you in the midst of planning a summer vacation? Maybe it's time to turn your back on crowded theme parks and over-priced resorts and turn your attention to small-town America. At least that's the advice of Irv Gordon, the guy who gained fame by driving his '66 Volvo P1800 more than two million miles to set a Guinness-certified world record.

The 61-year-old retired science teacher from Long Island, New York, estimates he has stopped at more than 5,000 small towns in his red sports car over the past 37 years for coffee and conversations with the locals. After having a chat with Gordon, we can understand why. Friendly to a fault, the guy loves to talk, and he takes his party with him wherever he goes. Plus, as you would expect from a guy who has been driving the same car since 1966, he has a maven's appreciation of the oddball.

"Why fight with 12,000 other people to sit cramped on one grain of sand on a crowded beach in a bustling city?" he asked. "Get off the grid-locked interstates and take a state highway toward one of our thousands of peaceful small towns. You'll find that each small town is a jewel packed with bizarre attractions, important history and plenty of fun."

Gordon suggests 12 great towns to drive to this summer:
  • McLean, Texas (I-40, Exit 141)
    Gordon calls this place "an old Route 66 town where time has stood still." A must-see is the Devil's Rope Museum, with a fascinating history of the manufacture and use of barbed wire.

  • Belle Fourche, South Dakota (I-90, Exit 10)
    This "quaint little open sky town with beautiful parks and friendly people," is just 20 minutes from the "Geophysical Center of the U.S.," which might mean something to somebody, but we're not sure what.

  • Cave City, Kentucky (I-65, Exit 53)
    It's home of Mammoth Cave National Park, with the largest caves in the United States, and Gordon's Volvo baseball cap still resides at the bottom of one of them.

  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Highways 30 and 222)
    Covered bridges, rolling hills and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking make this an appealing stop.

  • Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin (I-94, Exit 59)
    A Northwoods town, home of the Leinenkugel's Brewery and the Glen Loch Candy Shoppe.

  • Stein's Ghost Town, New Mexico (I-10, Exit 5)
    When the trains stopped running, this town was frozen in time. Now only two people and a mean guard turkey inhabit the place.

  • Montauk, New York (Highway 27)
    On the tip of the southern fork of Long Island, Montauk has everything from beautiful hotels, where you're pampered like a baby, to camping areas and a dude ranch, says Irv.

  • Opportunity, Montana (I-90, Exit 208)
    Irv likes the town for its "great name," and notes it's a great place to mail a letter or post card. He opines, "The kids will find the nearby World Museum of Mining interesting," which shows he knows a lot about towns but not much about kids.

  • Blythe, California (I-10, Exit 232)
    Stopping for gas, Gordon discovered "what must have been the largest outdoor flea market on the planet," and he spent the entire day looking at everything from rock collections to antiques.

  • Florence, Oregon (Highways 101 and 126)
    Breathtakingly close to the Pacific Ocean, this home of the American Museum of Fly Fishing is also just a few miles from the Sea Lion Caves, where you can walk among hundreds of seals resting on the beach.

  • Tupelo, Mississippi (Highways 75 and 45)
    Irv advises a visit to the tiny shotgun house that was Elvis Presley's birthplace topped off by some local barbeque and some Tupelo honey.

  • Gothenburg, Nebraska (I-80, Exit 211)
    The sister city to Gothenburg, Sweden, where they make Volvos, it also has one of the few Pony Express stations still in existence. "Tell the locals you own a Volvo, and they'll buy your breakfast," Irv said. "Tell them you've driven your Volvo in Sweden, and they'll let you take them to the prom."
As we said, Irv Gordon takes his party with him. Drive on.

Cleveland-based auto journalist Luigi Fraschini enjoys traveling off the beaten track, and he will never forget the week he spent in Peoria one day.

Perfect Parallel Parking

Many Brits don't just have bad teeth; they are also bad parkers. At least that is the opinion of esure, a United Kingdom on-line insurance purveyor. To help Britons (and all of the world's citizens) do a better job in mastering this daunting task, esure, in conjunction with Surrey University, has released a mathematical formula that sets the parameters for perfect parallel parking.

Lest you think all of this is a joke, you should know that poorly perpetrated parallel parking is a big problem in Britain and the European continent. Insurer esure estimates that £151m ($247.6m) worth of bumps and scrapes are caused each year by misjudged parking maneuvers and other low-speed maneuvers. The need for a better understanding of what it takes to parallel park is underlined by the fact that a drive into town or city centers will now involve what Britons refer to as "a tight parallel park." Why? Because the annual increase in the number of cars on the road is not being accompanied by additional parking places. Instead, the availability of on-street town and city center parking spaces remains almost static.

What should be done to curb (if you should pardon the expression) this plethora of poor parkers? Esure is also calling for parallel parking to be a compulsory part of every driving test in Britain. Currently, there is only a 50 percent chance it will be tested, which apparently means there is only a 50 percent chance it won't be tested. It seems to challenge Britain's national will.

"We have to learn to park better as a nation," Colin Batabyal, technical director at esure, said. "Everyone loves to park on the road if they can, so millions of drivers a day are trying to squeeze into tight spaces, and many have little idea of what constitutes a good parallel park."

While that seems like not-too-difficult a concept to grasp, we'll have to take his word for it. However, these are signs your parallel parking job wasn't too well-executed: 1. Your vehicle's bumper has smashed the headlights of the car behind you. 2. Your vehicle bumper has smashed the taillights of the car in front of you. 3. Your vehicle has run over a constable, patrolman, or member of Scotland Yard. 4. Your car is afire and you are stuck inside.

While these American-bred hints might suffice for most drivers, Dr. Rebecca Hoyle of Surrey University has devised a mathematical parking formula that describes the minimum requirements for being able to park and the conditions for a perfect S-shaped parking "manoeuvre." (Geez, no wonder they can't park; they can't even spell.)

The formula looks daunting but can be broken down into a few simple steps. And note, these should be performed in order. Also note, these instructions have been revised for those of us in the world who drive on the right ("correct") side of the road.
  1. Pick a gap that is a minimum of 150 percent the length of your car. (To which any experienced New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco parker will say, "You gotta be kidding!")
  2. Back up to the point where your car is side-by-side with the vehicle at the curb in front of the empty space in which you'd like to park. (If both cars are average size, line up the steering wheels of both cars). Turn your wheel to right lock, keeping the car moving slowly.
  3. When the car reaches a 45-degree angle to the curb (the rate it reaches this angle may depend on your turning circle) turn the steering wheel to full left lock.
  4. As the front of your vehicle approaches the curb, straighten the wheel (by turning it right). If you turn too late, you will hit the curb. If you turn too early, you will park too far away from the curb, which is a fashion don't.
  5. Move forward to a parallel position, equal distance between vehicles.
  6. Exit your vehicle and remove yourself from the scene as quickly as possible.

    As UK residents will discover, all of this is jolly good fun, and it could save them a lot of money.

    "Esure believes that every driver being tested should have to demonstrate that they can safely parallel park their car into a relatively small space," Batabyal said. "Our research indicates £151m of parking and low-speed claims each year, but that doesn't take into account the full extent of scrape-and-runs committed by poor parkers."

    These days, Villeperce, France, resident Tom Ripley refuses to go to Britain because the parallel parking there is so bad.

    Monster Trucks on Display

    There was a time when major museums across the country were as interesting as page 204 of the Akron phone book. Science museums featured things like a day-by-day look at how seeds become corn, while natural history museums might have displayed the bones of prehistoric squirrels. Thankfully, those days are over, and museums are now exhibiting the kind of things they should be exhibiting... namely, monster trucks!

    Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has just staged the premiere opening of "Monster Trucks: The Science of Extreme Machines," a new one-of-a-kind exhibit on monster trucks and the science behind building and driving them. The exhibit will run through September 1. The 15,000-square-foot display is the beginning a five-year, 12-city tour of major science centers and natural history museums across the United States. It was produced by Clear Channel Exhibitions and is sanctioned by Clear Channel Entertainment - Motor Sports, which stages monster truck events across the country.

    The new Monster Trucks exhibit brings together the thrills of this unique brand of motorsports combined with leading-edge science and technology. Kid-friendly interactive displays demonstrate the scientific principles that give these monster machines their remarkable power and still make them safe for drivers and fans alike.

    Visitors can climb into the cab of "Grave Digger" -- a superstar of the Monster Jam racing circuit -- and watch video of spectacular crashes from actual monster-truck events. Exhibit-goers also can learn real-life stories of the drivers, many of whom are as interesting as the vehicles themselves. Re-created environments include the Monster Jam Theater, a display area featuring a real monster truck and large-screen video of actual truck crashes, a deconstructed truck drive train and interactive demonstrations of a suspension system in action.

    Re-created settings also include hands-on displays of the 66-inch-high Terra Tire, and the "Monster Makeover," which explains the creation of truck artwork. "Safety First" shows how these mammoth machines are made safe for their drivers and spectators.

    "This exhibit is extreme science at its best," said Museum of Science and Industry President and CEO David Mosena. "Visitors will truly be surprised by how much science and innovation actually go into this sport, whether they've ever seen a monster truck show before or not."

    "This exhibit brings you up close and behind the scenes of Monster Jam. It combines the thrill of the live event with the science of how it all comes to life," said Charlie Mancuso president of Clear Channel Entertainment - Motor Sports.

    Tickets for the Chicago exhibition are on sale now with an additional exhibit fee of $5 for adults and $3.50 for children under 12. General admission to the Museum of Science and Industry is $9 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and $5 for children ages 3-11. City of Chicago residents receive a discount on museum general admission. To order tickets, please call 773-684-1414. For additional information, please call 1-800-GO-TO-MSI or visit the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Web site.

    Cleveland-based auto journalist Luigi Fraschini will never forget his childhood visit to the Museum of Science and Industry even though it didn't include monster trucks.

    Real-Time Traffic Information

    The temperature is hovering at 100 degrees, and your temper is even hotter. Why? Because you're stuck in traffic that has been stopped for so long you are beginning to think the cars around you are some crazy artist's idea of conceptual sculpture. Not only that, but you realize that if only you had known the traffic was going to come to a standstill you could have exited earlier, picked up an alternate route and been well on your way. In psychological jargon, it's a form of cognitive dissonance. No, you didn't really foul up, but the results make it seem like you did.

    Right now, though, we are teetering on the verge of a new era in which real-time traffic information, specific to your route, gets to you in time for you to do something about it. This, of course, has always been the issue with radio-delivered traffic reports, which have been beamed to us for two generations. Frequently radio traffic reports give you a clear picture of traffic conditions on routes dozens of miles from you, while blithely ignoring the most important route of the moment, namely, the one you're on right now. Radio traffic reports also provide an excellent source of information about the traffic jam you are already stuck in but a relatively poor job of helping you avoid getting stuck in the first place.

    All that is about to change. A company called Kivera, which provides "location-based products and services," has joined with TrafficCast, a traffic information company and digital traffic data provider, to integrate TrafficCast's predictive data feed with Kivera's location-based software. The new combination will enable wireless, directory assistance, telematics, and logistics companies to deliver estimated travel time and alternative route information to their customers almost instantaneously on demand.

    Drawing from numerous sources including Departments of Transportation, emergency service agencies, law enforcement, government call centers, private data sources and highway sensors all over the U.S., TrafficCast's data feed provides travel time given variables such as traffic jams, accidents, construction delays and detours.

    Wireless subscribers can now use the Kivera location engine and traffic server in conjunction with TrafficCast data to receive an alert for their commute to work before they set out, request an alternative route to avoid delays caused by jams, accidents, or road construction, or, if stuck in a jam, find out the expected delay, locate the nearest available exit and obtain a reroute using surface streets or freeway alternates.

    How will the real-time and predictive traffic information work for you? It sounds simple, but thousands of data points might be involved in creating the decisions involved. First, as you are ready to leave on your journey, a route is determined. Based on the most recent traffic information, a problem is detected in the planned route and a construction report is displayed. Due to the size and thus the impact of the road construction, a detour is recommended, and an alternate route is generated, which you take. As the journey progresses, you receive a traffic alert warning of a severe accident ahead. Due to the severity of the incident and the expected delays associated with it, you are re-routed again. Finally, you arrive at your destination in the quickest possible time.

    If you had taken the "regular" route, you would have been delayed by construction and then an accident. If you had taken the "alternate" route you would have avoided the construction delay but still have been slowed by the accident. By using the traffic data provided to you en route, either via your wireless or telematics in your vehicle, you have been able to save a substantial amount of time. And you know what time is.

    Best of all, this is not distant-future stuff. The hardware, software and delivery systems are on-line now. All we have to do is put them together.

    Auto journalist Tom Ripley, who lives in Villeperce, France, is frequently stuck in traffic around Paris.