Grab some tennis balls and disinfectant wipes—it’s time to fight

This column published as "The Battle Lines are Drawn" in February 2022 issue

David Matthews / February 02, 2022 / 3 minute read
David Matthews

Nothing beats driving on an open road with the windows rolled down, the music turned up, and billions of germs at your fingertips.

That’s right, a new study has found that your car contains more bacteria than your toilet.

Research by car insurance comparison site found that cars are “a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria and fungi.”

The study showed that the steering wheel was the filthiest surface in the vehicle, followed closely by the driver’s interior door handle. These areas contained 24% more bacteria than a typical toilet handle.

Back seats, where kids and pets typically sit, were 40% less germy than steering wheels, but still contained more bacteria than the average remote control or computer keyboard.

Cars owned by parents were found to be 60% germier than cars owned by drivers without kids. However, the steering wheels of those drivers without kids were 96% dirtier than drivers with kids, presumably because kids make parents more focused on routine sanitization and hand-washing.

The bacteria found most often in the study can cause serious illness including staph, strep throat, MRSA, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

With recent studies showing that Americans spend around seven hours per week driving, cars may be replacing toilets as the gold standard for grossness.

Rocky roads

Poor roads are more than an annoyance—they can also be dangerous.

With traffic accidents and fatalities on the rise since the start of the pandemic, set out to determine which states are the worst to drive through.

After reviewing pavement conditions, road maintenance and highway safety budgets, and surveys of local residents, the states found to have the worst roads are:

1. Rhode Island—where half the roads are in non-acceptable condition, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.

2. Hawaii—recipient of a D+ on its Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

3. Wisconsin—where motorists pay an average of $547 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair.

Call of the wild

Canadians are known for being friendly, but residents of Edmonton, Alberta, are taking to the streets with weapons to harass and scare away unwanted visitors.

It’s called “averse conditioning” and it’s the city’s humane method of managing its wild coyotes.

The program is the work of the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project (EUCP), an ongoing study at the University of Alberta dedicated to promoting coexistence between people and coyotes in order to minimize the need for lethal solutions.

Edmonton is dealing with 500-1,000 wild coyotes within the city, usually drawn to unsecured garbage or prey like rodents and jackrabbits. While typically wary of humans, coyotes can become a nuisance and a threat to pets if they become emboldened.

The EUCP has trained volunteers from 28 neighborhoods in aversive conditioning tactics and supplied them with brightly colored tennis balls.

The volunteers operate neighborhood patrols, run only during daylight hours on residential streets. If volunteers spot a coyote and can get within 40 yd of it, they scare it away by shouting, shaking cans filled with coins, blasting air horns, or throwing the tennis balls.

When the project began last year, these tactics resulted in 80% of coyotes immediately retreating, and then staying away for an average of 37 days, compared with 10 days for coyotes who were not harassed.

“Our best hope for the future is to coexist with them more successfully, and I think we could do that if we make coyotes more wary around people,” Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a University of Alberta biologist overseeing the EUCP, told the CBC.

The initial response among Edmonton residents has been mixed. Some felt the approach was too harsh, others were skeptical that it would work, and some who were unfamiliar with the project wondered why their neighbors were outside acting crazier than a moose during mating season.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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