Archive for August, 2011

You’re Not That Good

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Rants

A recent study shows that no, you are not a good driver.

A new survey from insurance company Allstate reveals that the majority of drivers overestimate their skills behind the wheel.
The survey of 1000 American adults found that 64 percent think they are “good” or “excellent” drivers. Tellingly, only 29 percent were willing to give the same praise to their friends. And residents of neighboring states were also slated, with 53 percent of respondents saying out-of-state drivers are “average” or “poor” behind the wheel.

Survey respondents almost universally agreed that teens and senior citizens are poor drivers. Sorry, grandma. That also may explain why so many voters want stricter rules regulating teenage drivers.

Even though drivers tend to overestimate their own abilities and look down on those around them, Allstate found that most drivers admit to poor driving practices. Eighty-nine percent of drivers say they exceed the posted speed limit, 34 percent have sent an email or text message while behind the wheel, 45 percent admit to driving while “excessively” tired, and 15 percent of drivers confess that they’ve driven while intoxicated. We’d strongly advise against any of those behaviors.

And as for car crashes? Though 56 percent of survey respondents had been involved in an accident, just 28 percent said the incident was their fault.

See what I mean?  I’m constantly calling for stricter laws, stricter driver licensing requirements, and stricter continuing driver education.

For starters, overconfidence is a huge issue.  Today, we have machines that literally drive themselves.  We have ABS that pumps the brakes for us and gives us a false sense of braking confidence (newsflash – ABS increases braking distance, it doesn’t decrease them – that’s why racecars don’t run ABS – also, your tires are far more important than brakes for stopping), decreasing the skill needed for modulating the brakes.  We have traction control systems which cut power to wheels when they’re spinning, decreasing the skill needed for modulating the throttle.  We have stability control systems which apply brakes to individual wheels to keep the vehicle travelling in the direction the driver is pointing the steering wheel, decreasing sensitivity to vehicle inputs and actual driving skill.  We exacerbate this even worse with highly advanced all wheel drive systems which torque vector to further keep the vehicle going the way it is, while relying upon less skill from the driver.  We have sensors that automatically brake when they sense an imminent crash.  We have lane departure warning systems.  We have radar based systems which automatically maintain cruise control speed and distance for us.  We are a bunch of lazy, shitty drivers.

On top of that, modern safety equipment such as airbags and intelligently built vehicles give us a false sense of security that even if we yarrr our car into a tree, we’ll survive the crash since the cars are so safe.  Compound that with the myth that drivers larger vehicles are more likely to survive a crash (hint – they’re not) and our roads are covered with excessively, unnecessarily huge vehicles lumbering around, piloted by individuals more concerned with checking their sports scores on their smart phone or applying makeup than not killing the person in front of them in the Miata, who they can’t see since they’re so high up.

We need stricter laws and graduated licensing for young drivers.  Young drivers are dangerous.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-20.  The adult brain is not mature until it reaches age 25.  In fact, lack of maturity in the teenage brain is one of the reasons for so many accidents in that age group.  It is essential that younger drivers be taught responsibility in steps, rather than unleashing any 16 year old who masters the hand-eye coordination of parallel parking (in fact many states don’t even test on parallel parking) and can make a left hand turn into oncoming traffic.  There is no requirement to pass a test in a manual transmission, there is no significant expense associated with testing and failing, and the standards for passing are woefully low.  Instead, we should look to the European system which has a thorough and comprehensive path designed to put mature, experienced drivers on the roads.  This has resulted in countries with far higher speed limits having much safer traffic statistics.

We need stricter laws limiting older drivers.  Older adults are not safe.  It is a fact that older drivers are more dangerous.  Although, oddly enough, grandparents may be safer drivers than a child’s own parents.  And our population is only aging – its going to get worse.  The key is in periodic testing.  Generally, once an individual has their license they have a right (not a privilege) to drive for the rest of their lives.  This right becomes ingrained – which is why it becomes so difficult to take the keys from Granny when she’s suffering alzheimers and mows down 4 pre-schoolers in her Crown Vic.  Currently, the only process to taking a driver’s license away from an elderly individual requires filing a report with the DMV, who then sends a letter for re-testing.  The individual either takes the test and passes, takes the test and fails and loses their license, or more often than not, simply never shows up, loses their license as a result, yet continues driving.

Personally, the crucible which truly shows who can drive and who can’t is the local autocross.  More often than not some young punk kid will run their mouth, show up to an autocross, get their ass kicked by a 17 year old in a Civic who has been competing since they were 5, and run off with their tail between their legs.  Events like autocrosses and high performance driving education teach individuals how their vehicles react at the limit.  These people know what happens when a car loses traction – in fact, they know the warning signs as to when the car is about to lose traction.  They know the limits of their car and its response to various inputs.  The average driver has no idea how their car reacts to sudden inputs, what signs the tires or steering are showing that traction is being lost, and has no idea what their threshold braking point is.  Most importantly, autocrosses are timed events – they can objectively determine who can drive and who can’t.

Yours truly, finding the limits of wet adhesion.

Plus, its lots of fun.


I guess I don’t have to give up faith in humanity in general.

I had previously written a blog devoted to all of the hideous automotive permutations deriving from bimbo boxes and CUVs, essentially referencing them as answers to questions nobody asked – market segments that people didn’t know existed until the vampires in marketing departments informed people that they needed these vehicles.

Well, apparently, people couldn’t be convinced that they needed these atrocities.

Courtesy of Automobile Magazine Vol. 26, No. 6 – September 2011

Acura ZDX

Coupe Styling
SUV ride height and AWD
SUV rear-seat and cargo space
22 MDX sales for every ZDX sold.

Honda Accord Crosstour

Best-selling sedan
Hatchback utility
sense of style and proportion
7% of total Accord sales

BMW 5-Series GT

Luxury-sedan appointments
hatchback versatility
sport-sedan appearance
921 total sales: January – May 2011

Toyota Venza

Sedan-like passenger space
minivan ride height
minivan cargo space
33% decline in sales from 2010

Need I say more?


The great american road trip – its dead.  Or rather, the romanticized vision that I read about in books, that’s dead.

Replaced is a highway system crawling with police intent on generating revenue as opposed to increasing safety – choked with left lane bandits who stubbornly refuse to move over, and sometimes react aggressively and violently at the suggestion of such, and most importantly, the sprawl of cities is growing to the point where we’re reaching extended suburbs as opposed to rural portions in between.

I started my wonderful trip at 4 a.m. on Saturday.  This isn’t how I wanted it to start, mind you – in fact, I went out drinking that evening and I might have even been enticed to partake in a cheeseburger shot after drinking what I had told myself was enough in preparation for my 8:15 flight.  Alas, upon coming home I received a notification via email via my wonderful Blackberry that my flight had been cancelled.

Actually, I should preface this to the week before when once again I came home a little tipsy and drunkenly bid on a 1991 BMW 850i.  You see, I wasn’t really looking for one of these cars – in fact, I was more interested in a 928 S4 but it just so happened that in my research the 928 was constantly compared to the other paragon of German grand touring vehicles – the 850i so I was looking at them as well.  All of the 928s that I had looked at so far had failed any Pre-Purchase Inspection miserably – resulting in intense frustration at finding a good car, and the price on this auction was too good for my inebriated mind to pass up, and so I bid, was quickly outbid, and went upstairs to pass out.

Little did I know that the next morning I would be offered a “second chance” at my original insanely low price.  I said, what the hell – I had a hole burning in my pocket from the profitable sale of my 80s era 911 (absolutely NOT a grand touring car) and I figured at this price what did I have to lose?

So, here I am up at 4 a.m., dragging my wife and kid out of bed to dump me off at the airport for a bright and early flight to Madison, Wisconsin.  Passing through security, the TSA dude seemed completely unconcerned with my locked briefcase containing a radar detector, GPS, phone charger, and many thousands of dollars cash money – all he wanted to know was if I had a video recording device, a DVD player or a lap top.  I sailed through security and onto my flight, landing in the Land of Cheese.  My first observation was that these people were obviously well fed.

Out to the car I went, the shady deal being completed in the air port parking like and to my surprise, the car was quite good!  Let me go back in time a bit to almost every other car I’ve purchased on eBay – they’ve all been basket cases.  I would fret and worry about finally take the plunge and bid on a car, hoping upon hopes it would be a nice vehicle only to be disappointed time and again.  This time, I was actually expecting a bucket that would barely get me back to Rochester, but to my surprise I came upon a time capsule from 1991.  I mean, this thing even came with the original tape deck and car phone!

I will be sure to write a full, wonderful ode to my 850 in time – but suffice to say, this is the ultimate grand touring vehicle.  The Germans know what they’re doing and this thing is built like a tank and powered by a V12 engine that produces a limitless wall of torque at any RPM range, all with smooth, buttery delivery of that power coupled to a chassis that masks its 4123 lbs of steel and leather.  This was the perfect weapon for the task at hand.  Ahead of me – 500+ miles to Columbus Ohio, followed by 450 miles from Columbus to Rochester.

The road trip is one of the experiences that, as a child, was something to dread rather than enjoy.  Imagine, being stuck in the back seat (next to my sister of all people) with nothing to do but interact with the three human beings I liked least – my family.  I wasn’t one of those fortunate, spoiled little kids who had a Gameboy (gameboy wasn’t even available until I was 10 anyways) or a van with any type of entertainment center.  Nope.  I was usually crammed in the back of my dad’s 5-series praying for death or arrival at the destination, whichever came first.  For him, however, I imagine things were a bit more interesting behind the wheel of a BMW on the open road.

One of the things I always remember about taking a road trip are the comments my elitist parents would make at every rest area.  They were appalled at the way people dressed,, how they ate – how they simply existed as hoi polloi that I imagine my father imagined had few thoughts in their brains other than when the next feeding or bowel evacuation would occur.  Now, every time I stop at a rest area his words echo in my mind – “Marcus, look at all these people around you with their slack jaws and dead eyes – now, think about this – they all got here the same way you did.”  My god.  It only hits me with the impact it should now that I’m on the road – these lackwits are the same people clogging up the roads – they all got here by driving – on the same highway as me!  Such is the low threshold for driving in America – it is not so much a skill or a privilege as it is a right to be handed out to the lamest brained individual.  I hear some states don’t even make you parallel park anymore.

Nonetheless, I blazed through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana with the rapidity only afforded to a V12 powered SuperTurismo.  More often than not, the leering visage of a rapidly approaching black coupe was all that many drivers needed.

But then, keep in mind – most drivers aren’t paying attention to anything around them, particularly anything approaching from behind.  Frequently, in order to avoid a fuel-economy-killing braking followed by acceleration, or a dangerous pass from the right side, I would be required to use my “flash to pass” lights – which usually moved them out of the way quick enough by notifying them of my trajectory.

Of course, flash to pass worked 99% of the time.  Its that one time in the middle of Indiana where it didn’t work that made this leg of the trip interesting.  Apparently, the redneck in the big ‘Merican truck didn’t take so kindly to being informed that he was hogging the left lane with no traffic in the right and presenting a general hazard.  As I flashed again I realized, nope, he’s not going to move.  I did make the pass safely on the right side and stayed in that lane – only to find out that this guy didn’t like being passed by no Furr’n automobile.  His efforts to catch me were amusing.  Armed with both my Valentine One on the windshield and an integrated K40 Sonaradar in the front and rear I opened her up to a speed which I shall not disclose but which I assure was 100% absolutely legal and not incriminating.  On a side note, I’m told this car will do 186 mph, bone stock.  I doubt his speedometer went up past 85.

Of course, once making it through The Drive Through State (Indiana) and into Ohio I dramatically curtailed my speed, as the Ohio Highway Patrol are notorious enforcers and it was the end of the month.  I arrived at my destination of Columbus, Ohio without incident and averaging 18.34 mpg.

The next leg to Rochester is the one that made me realize the romanticized road trip from novels and movies is dead.  Simply put, driving through Ohio, into Pennsyltucky and back into New York involved far too much traffic, far too much urban and suburban landscape, and far too many bad motorists.  I’ve talked about the left lane bandits, but they are truly killing our highway system – if they kept right except to pass a large portion of traffic would simply disappear.  But even so, there is simply too much volume on our highways right now to engage in outright speed anymore – plus the drivers on them are just too unpredictable to make it even a task someone would want to attempt – a wrong move by someone chowing down on their burger and you’ll have a fiery death explosion.

It was on this leg that my Valentine One really came into its own as well – never failing to detect a radar equipped officer and saving my ass when encoutering an instant-on laser equipped officer by detecting the laser bouncing off the cars in front of me.  But the enforcement is the other element killing the high speed long distance trip.  No longer are police focused on safety – if they were they would cruise the highway and hand tickets out to left lane slowsters.  Instead, they exist solely to raise revenue for cash strapped towns, counties, and states.  The emphasis is simply on production and has nothing to do with safety – otherwise speed limits would be raised to the speeds that traffic is actually travelling at, rather than the artificially low limits that they currently are.  One need only look at the German Autobahn to see how efficient, safe, high speed travel can be achieved.

With that said, I’m glad I’ve had this experience.  The mania and psychosis that sets in after hours upon hours of solitary road travel with the only company being the other depraved mutants on the road results in some interesting thoughts.  And to be honest, I couldn’t have had a better car to do this with.