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ROADS REPORT: Freedom behind the wheel

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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July 14, 2014

Right to free speech
 

This month we celebrate our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain some 238 years ago, as well as the rights and freedoms that independence affords us.
 

One of the rights that we hold most dear is the freedom of expression, and a recent survey shows that many of us exercise that freedom each day during our daily commute.
 

Prince Market Research surveyed 2,500 rush-hour drivers in major U.S. cities, looking at several types of driver expression, including tailgating, cutting people off and obscene gestures. Houston was found to be the city with the most expressive (i.e., rudest) drivers, followed by Atlanta and Baltimore.
 

On the other end of the spectrum, Portland drivers were found to be the most courteous, along with those in Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
 

While this survey used its own criteria for rude behavior, another study by Expedia asked drivers what sort of behavior they personally found annoying or offensive on the road.
 

Suprisingly, it wasn’t tailgaters, bird flippers or even those people who hang rubber testicles on the back of their pickups.
 

Nearly 70% of those surveyed identified drivers who text, e-mail or talk on the phone while driving as the most irritating, easily edging out tailgating and multitasking.
 

Ironically, 55% of those same surveyed drivers admit to sometimes using a mobile phone behind the wheel themselves.
 

Right to safety
 

We also enjoy a constitutional right to personal safety, and some say that’s grounds to periodically retest the skills of licensed drivers.
 

A new study out of Britain backs up this notion with evidence that most drivers on the road couldn’t pass the same driving test they did as teenagers.
 

Of the 50 experienced drivers tested by researchers at Direct Line Insurance, more than 75% failed with an average of three major and 16 minor infractions.
 

In England, a driving exam must be completed with zero major infractions and 15 or fewer minor infractions to pass. One driver in the study managed to rack up 10 major infractions, while another totaled 42 minors.
 

Researchers suspect complacency is to blame, pointing to previous studies suggesting that new technology such as GPS, parking sensors and blind-spot monitors could be making drivers less attentive behind the wheel.
 

Then again, maybe it’s all that self-expression that’s taking eyes off the road.
 

Right to property
 

The Constitution also grants us the right to personal property that can’t be snatched away by the government or even a pair of inept burglars in Winter Haven, Fla.
 

Of course, enforcing this right is another story, but it sure helps to have good neighbors like Maxie Hunter.
 

One afternoon in May, Hunter noticed a strange car parked across the street in his neighbor’s driveway. He watched from his window as an unknown man walked out of his neighbor’s home with a small green bag and hopped into the car, which was driven by a woman. Despite having a flat tire, the couple proceeded to slowly drive away.
 

Acting on his hunch that something wasn’t right, Hunter jumped into his own car and followed the couple, jotting down their license plate number.
 

Before long, the pair were forced to pull over in a parking lot and deal with the flat tire. Hunter followed them and offered the use of his jack if they would just leave it in some nearby bushes when they were finished. Hunter then drove home, where he found police at his neighbor’s house investigating a burglary.
 

Realizing that his hunch was correct, Hunter drove back to the parking lot and found his jack in the bushes along with a discarded package of random items that included the man’s mailing address.
 

Hunter shared his evidence with police, and the couple were quickly apprehended. Inside the man’s green bag were guns, jewelry and electronics stolen from Hunter’s neighbor’s house, and the package left behind in the bushes turned out to contain items stolen in a previous robbery.
 

The police appreciated Hunter’s initiative, and his neighbor declared him a hero, while Hunter said, “Wait, did you say guns?!” R&B

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