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No Driver Left Behind

06.20.2007 | SOCIETY

We finished last. That's right, last. Dead last. As New York's public schools climb their way back up the charts, New York's drivers finished fiftieth out of fifty in the GMAC Insurance test given online nationwide. Actually, fifty-first. D.C., Massachusetts, and New Jersey finished in a three-way tie for forty-eighth. When your driving is worse than Ted Kennedy's and Chris Moltisanti's from The Sopranos, you know you're in trouble.

There were some real surprises on the list. California finished a respectable twenty-second even with dead weight like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Montana finished eighth in the nation, but then again there is nothing to hit in Montana. Alaska came in second overall, but the only real driving skill you need up around the sixty-fourth parallel is swerving to avoid caribou.

While there might be a few bad drivers in New York, especially the ones tailgating me every weekend on the L.I.E., the whole exam thing is a bad rap. Like a lot of standardized tests, this one was culturally biased, developed by non-New Yorkers for non-New Yorkers. Here in the Empire State, home to the likes of Lizzie Grubman, we are proud of our driving feats -- of our misses, near-misses, and high premiums. New York, after all, is a no-fault state, so how can this possibly be our fault?

We must recognize, however, that as drivers, New Yorkers are differently abled. Fortunately, a bunch of us have gotten together and developed a written exam reflecting the real needs, proclivities, special talents, and practical dilemmas faced by New York drivers on a daily basis. And here it is. The exam does not require a learner's permit and is best taken behind the wheel. There are no correct or incorrect answers. What's right for me may not be right for you.

1. The person or entity lawfully entitled to a parking spot being vacated is
a) the double-parked car just ahead.
b) the double-parked car just behind.
c) the double-parked driver packing heat.
d) the next of kin or legal heir.

2. When negotiating a turn through a crosswalk teeming with pedestrians,
a) gently nudge them with your front bumper.
b) slip in stealthily between the stroller and the fat guy.
c) verbally direct pedestrian traffic using sarcasm and obscenities.
d) follow the cab.

3. "No Parking This Side Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M." means
a) no parking except for UN officials.
b) park, walk down the block, have dinner, and hope for the best.
c) park, go upstairs, get a tan, and periodically glance out the window.
d) virtually nothing.

4. A yellow light means
a) speed up to avoid red light.
b) the driver behind you must stop.
c) the same as green, only a little yellower.

5. Driving defensively means
a) not letting the guy in the Kia cut you off.
b) occupying two lanes.
c) blocking the box.
d) flipping off other drivers before they flip you.

6. Sufficient room to park is considered
a) your vehicle's length plus one inch.
b) enough room to bang your way in without setting off an alarm.
c) enough room to get back out some day.
d) optional.

7. Normal driving rules and regulations are suspended when
a) Entourage starts in ten minutes.
b) your nephew's bris starts in five minutes.
c) the Mets are coming to bat in the bottom of the first.
d) you've had a few.

8. A car horn should be used for
a) waking up the guy ahead of you dozing at the green light.
b) clearing the pedestrians from a crosswalk.
c) communicating general dissatisfaction or ennui.
d) letting your date know you're double-parked downstairs.

9. The sound of a nearby car alarm means
a) a sanitation truck just rolled by.
b) that vehicle's battery will soon be dead.
c) shut your bedroom window and stuff your head under the pillow.
d) absolutely nothing.

10. Driving performance and awareness can be enhanced by
a) use of a cell phone.
b) putting on makeup.
c) a bunch of in-laws arguing in the back.
d) all of the above.

11. Time spent waiting on line at the tunnel may be used for
a) buying a pretzel.
b) buying a knish.
c) buying a hot dog with everything.
d) catching up on sleep.

12. When encountering another vehicle trying to merge onto the highway, you should
a) box him in.
b) nudge him to the shoulder.
c) run him off the road.
d) put on makeup.

13. A designated driver
a) should have had less to drink than you.
b) should handle his liquor better than you.
c) drives in place of the pitcher.

14. You may pass another vehicle on a one-lane road when
a) the parking lane is open.
b) you're feeling confident.
c) the other driver is driving like your grandma.
d) the other driver is your grandma.

15. Traffic cops are placed at busy intersections during rush hour
a) to give you dirty looks.
b) to scream obscenities at you.
c) to pull you out of line and reprimand you.
d) as bollards.

16. The following is considered potentially dangerous multitasking:
a) driving and talking on the cell.
b) driving, talking on the cell, and going through the glove compartment.
c) driving, talking on the cell, going through the glove compartment, and eyeballing pretty young things on the street.
d) driving, talking on the cell, going through the glove compartment, eyeballing pretty young things on the street, and day trading.

About the Author
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002).

Also an engineer, he runs a consulting business, Turnkey Structural, that specializes in the rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. Also a radio commentator, he can be visited at

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