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!