Published Wednesday, August 2, 2006, by the Associated Press
Americans' love affair with cars is skidding as congestion grows
By Stephen Ohlemacher
WASHINGTON -- Americans love their automobiles, but not as much as
they used to. Nearly seven in 10 drivers enjoy getting behind the
wheel, while the rest think it's a chore. In 1991, nearly eight in
10 said they liked driving.
The biggest reasons for dreading the road: traffic and the behavior
of other drivers. Only 3 percent point to high gas prices.
"Other drivers get on my nerves," said Steve Heavisides, a 45-year-
old teacher from Vernon, Conn., who had just returned home from a
short drive. "There was a women who could have gone right on red and
she was just sitting there talking on her cell phone. People don't
pay attention and that gets on your nerves."
About one in four drivers thinks of his or her car as "something
special" instead of just a "means of transportation," according to
a poll <http://pewresearch.org/assets/social/pdf/Cars.pdf
Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Nearly one in three thinks it
has "a personality of its own."
Americans have been loving their cars for about a century, buying
increasingly bigger, faster and more expensive cars while the rest
of the world moves toward economy and efficiency. But the new poll
suggests that driving is becoming more of a burden for many.
The souring attitudes evolved as many Americans moved farther from
central cities, generating longer commutes and more congestion. By
2001, the U.S. had more personal vehicles (204 million) than
licensed drivers (191 million).
Urban drivers endured an average of 47 hours of rush hour traffic
delays in 2003, a threefold increase from two decades earlier.
The worst problems were in Los Angeles, where the average driver
suffered almost 100 hours of traffic delays. That's about four
full days of waiting for the car in front of you to move.
"I sit there in traffic when it should take half an hour, now it's
taking an hour and 15 minutes," said Stacy Baglio, 36, who drives
28 miles to her sales job in northern New Jersey. "People are
weaving in and out of traffic. There is no common courtesy
Pew conducted the survey of 1,048 drivers from June 20 to July 16.
It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage
points. The results were compared with a Gallup poll done in 1991.
The new poll's results were consistent among drivers of cars,
pickups and SUVs. There were few regional differences among drivers,
although northeasterners were more likely than drivers in the rest
of the country to have "shouted, cursed or made gestures to other
drivers" in the past year.
The key to rediscovering automotive bliss: Zen out. Too many people
think of driving as competition, says Leon James, co-author of the
book, "Road Rage and Aggressive Driving." Happy drivers think of
traffic simply as part of the process of getting from one place to
another, kind of like the process of taking a shower to get clean,
"Americans are nice people," said James, a psychology professor at
the University of Hawaii. "But there are certain areas that have to
do with games and competition, where we become less nice to each
Jennifer Geisinger seems to have it figured out. The 31-year-old
Realtor from suburban Minneapolis said she loves to drive her 1999
"It's something about being in control and getting out on the road,"
Geisinger said. "I don't have a sports car and I don't speed. But I
love my car."
Geisinger also has something in common with 68 percent of all
drivers: "Oh I sing, of course," she said, adding that her stereo
plays country, opera and Broadway show tunes.
Americans and their cars
Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they enjoy driving their
automobiles, down from 79% in 1991, according to a poll released
Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
Among other findings from the poll of 1,048 drivers:
68% said they have sung out loud in their cars in the past year.
38% said they had "shouted, cursed or made gestures to other
drivers" in the past year. Women were just as likely as men to
admit the practice.
6% said they had fallen asleep while driving in the past year.
7% said a person's car reveals the most about "what someone is
like," compared with 54% who said a person's home is most
revealing, and 24% who cited clothing.
31% said their car has a personality of its own.
Reasons people enjoy driving:
21% said it's relaxing, quiet time or time to be alone.
19% said they enjoy the scenery or "getting away from things."
14% cited freedom and independence.
Reasons people consider driving a chore:
23% said traffic and congestion.
14% said other drivers, bad drivers or rude drivers.
3% said gas prices.