That's one of the reasons the U.S. Transportation Department decided to produce a series of videos called "Faces of Distraction." The name instantly brings to mind the "Faces of Death" series that was a viral sensation at one time; it's unclear whether they were going for such grim associations, but U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood is clearly aiming to give drivers a wake-up call.
"Behind these numbers are children, parents, neighbors, and friends," said LaHood in a video release. "Their families torn apart by senseless, preventable crashes.
According to federal statistics—which tend to be conservative as many local and state police agencies were somewhat inconsistent until recently in how they identified the signs of distraction—nearly 5,500 people were killed and about a half a million more were injured in 2009 due to distracted driving.
In each case, the video clips and accounts serve to show that these distracted-driving crashes were entirely preventable—had the driver only decided to put their phone down and focus on the act of driving.
- Laurie Heiver talks about her mother Julie Davis's death; she had pulled over on the side of the road and stepped out of her vehicle for a hike, and a 19-year-old distracted driver hit her at 70 mph. The driver was only cited for inattentive driving, a $173.40 fine.
- Margay Sehee, a 13-year-old, was on the bus that was rear-ended by a semi traveling 60 mph. The driver says he never saw the school bus, and was talking on a cellphone at the time.
- Ashley Johnson, 16, was on her way to a tutoring job and hit a truck head-on while retrieving a text message.
LaHood tells drivers to put the cellphone in the glove compartment and buckle up.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has taken distracted driving as his crusade, hosting two summits now concerning the dangers and pushing for consumer education as well as consistent state enforcement.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection
TheCarConnection's Best Car to Buy 2011 is the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.
The 2011 Sonata tops TheCarConnection's numeric ratings among all vehicles with a base price of less than $50,000, including destination. That it does so at a base price of $19,995 is a testament to the thorough transformation it's undergone--in moving to a U.S. assembly site, in adopting a vivid and memorable new styling theme, and in delivering top-notch safety and a full list of standard features, right out of the box.
The Sonata's challengers provided stiff competition. The Acura TSX remains our favorite Acura, with great road manners and a new wagon body style promising even more utility. The Infiniti M37 has some of the design magic promised by that brand's Essence show car, with grippy and engaging handling. The BMW 5-Series? It's hard to find fault with the 5er's road manners or with its streamlined cabin.
In the end, the Sonata's toughest competitor proved to be its own corporate cousin, the 2011 Kia Optima, which rates an identical 8.7 out of 10. Many of TCC's editors prefer the Optima's crisp lines, but while all three Sonatas are on sale in time, the Optima Hybrid will be introduced after our qualification dates. The distinction is slight, but the Sonata earns the tiebreak because all its versions are on sale--and because of its huge impact on the mid-size sedan market, where it now ranks third in overall sales.
High Gear Media will be presenting honors to the winners of TCC's Best Car to Buy 2011 award at this week's 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show--along with winners for MotorAuthority's performance/luxury Best Car to Buy 2011, and GreenCarReports' green Best Car to Buy 2011.
For more on our winner, read TheCarConnection's full review of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. To stay up to date with all our winners--and with the Los Angeles Auto Show--follow High Gear Media on Facebook, or on Twitter @highgearmedia @carconnection @therealma @greencarreports.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection
2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
But over seven showery days—yes, only in the Pacific Northwest—including a couple of torrential downpours, this editor's hesitations were for naught; the 2011 STI and its performance tires only brought confidence through slick surfaces.
As reported in The Car Connection's full review of the 2011 WRX and STI, updated in recent days, the WRX and STI both now look nearly the same with a more aggressive look involving bulging fenders, different front-end details, and a lower-body aero details. And a new STI sedan has joined the lineup.
But while the WRX looks more like the STI than ever, and the two are hard to distinguish from a distance, the driving experience is more different than ever between the two vehicles. Most noteworthy on the STI for 2011 is that its suspension has again been redesigned and recalibrated, and it gets stiffer springs, bushings, and stabilizer bars; yet, thanks to a new pillow-ball bushing setup, at steering pivot points, along with various other strategic bushings, the ride doesn't get any harsher.
More nimble and more comfortable
That's what we observed in our first drive of the STI this past summer, in mountain roads near Aspen, but we couldn't completely back that point up until we tested the STI on some familiar, very coarsely surfaced highways and backroads. And it's all true; the 2011 STI feels more responsive, more confidence-inspiring than ever while at the same time seeming as refined as we remember, if not better.
The STI's engine—a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four, making 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft—carries over and still comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox. Reeling it all in is a special version of Subaru's all-wheel drive system that sends 59 percent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving, or has three auto modes or six manual levels of center-diff lockup to cater the dynamic feel of the vehicle on the track—or on a wet, familiar closed curve.
While the clutch takeup in the STI is actually quite nice, it takes some getting used to how flat the engine feels just above idle and it's quite easy to stall if you're lulled by slow-moving traffic. Put your right foot into it and the engine doesn't really come to life until the 3,500-rpm mark or so; there it all changes and the STI's engine builds to a frenzy.
STI engine sometimes comes up flat
Which brings up one of the key differences between the STI and its more affordable WRX sibling. While the WRX suspension and all-wheel drive system aren't quite as capable and nuanced, its 265-hp engine can actually feel a bit stronger in everyday-style driving. With its more forgiving torque curve and faster turbo spool-up, appeals to those who need the car to be responsive at times when they might not be putting all their attention toward the driving experience.
The STI is the best choice for the driver who is very aware of—and wants to be very involved in—the driving experience, keeping an eye on revs, and being ever-mindful of what gear you're in.(more...)
Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, New York, is a model for safe driving; he holds the record for the most miles in the same car: 2.8 million miles behind the wheel of his 1966 Volvo P1800, which he bought new in '66 for $4,150.
And while Gordon has become an exemplar for responsible and pre-emptive vehicle maintenance, showing people that it's possible to drive a vehicle into very high mileage with confidence—not just Volvos, he admits—its his lack of a major accident over millions of miles that's also impressive.
To help you recalibrate your mindset for the holidays and make sure your vehicle is prepared, check out our Getting Ready for Winter Driving post, then read on for Gordon's tips:
- Check your bulbs and more. "A person may spend hours checking every bulb on the holiday lights he's displaying in his front yard, but how much time does he spend checking his brake light bulbs?" Gordon asks. "Check your lights and turn signals. In fact, have a certified mechanic inspect for you, along with tire inflation and treads, brakes, fluids, etc. It's good to have a full tune up before you take your trip."
- Prepare for a winter wonderland. "While it may be 60 and pleasant in Denver as you hit the roads at dawn, it might be 15 and snowing as you pull into Boise at 11 p.m. that night," Gordon said. "Winter can be as unpredictable as Uncle Steve's crude jokes at the dinner table, so prepare for the absolute worst conditions, even if the forecast tells you otherwise. Keep a blanket, ice scraper, an emergency roadside kit, snacks and bottled water in the trunk."
- Rotate your drivers. "Let's all agree that everyone's attention spans are much shorter than they once were, so don't put it to the test on the roadways," Gordon said. "Switch out drivers every couple of hours. If you're driving solo or there's no other person with a valid driver's license in the car, take breaks at rest stops every 90 minutes or so. Stretch the legs and snack on some leftovers."
- Batteries not included. "Make a rule that nothing requiring a battery charge reside in the front of the car. Cell phones, MP3 players, DVD players, etc. They are all potential distractions. Put them in the back or even the trunk," Gordon said. "In fact, make a rule that everyone put their gadgets away. Road trips are wonderful times to reconnect with family members and enjoy the beautiful views this nation offers."
- Be mindful of others on the road. "While the holidays bring out the best of us in person, it can bring out the worst of us behind the wheels," Gordon said. "Keep your emotions in check and be mindful of others on the road. Allow plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. Merge with caution. Keep in the right lane unless passing. Essentially, show goodwill toward all."
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection
It's nearly time to name TheCarConnection's Best Car to Buy 2011 winner--but before we do, we're cutting down our list of contenders to the finalists.
The first TCC Best Car to Buy honoree will be announced tomorrow, as our team prepares wall-to-wall coverage of the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show live from the Los Angeles convention center.
As we've pulled together the legitimate contenders for the award, we've assembled a field of new 2011 models carrying a base price of less than $50,000. Each must have been made available for a full road test by our editors, and each one must be on sale by January 31, 2011.
In the first round of semi-finalists, we reduced that list of 40 qualifying vehicles to a smaller group, in which each vehicle received a rating of 8.0 or more, out of a possible 10, from our team of car reviewers.
From here, we're cutting the list to the five vehicles with the highest numeric ratings on TheCarConnection. You can find out which vehicles our staff recommends most highly at any time, by choosing a brand or a type of vehicle, then clicking our "rating" columns to sort vehicles by our editors' scores.
The end result: five vehicles that carry scores from 8.5 and above. One of them will become TheCarConnection's Best Car to Buy 2011. The rest: strong new entries we'd recommend to nearly any buyer looking for a new vehicle under $50,000.
The finalists are:
2011 Acura TSX Wagon: The new five-door version of Acura's smallest sedan adds utility to a winning sporty road feel.
2011 BMW 5-Series: The recast 5-Series sneaks in just under the $50,000 price point with big space, a streamlined cockpit, and refined road manners.
2011 Hyundai Sonata: A value knockout, the under-$20,000 Sonata delivers on all the basics, tops the fuel-economy charts, and wraps it all in a new styling calling card.
2011 Infiniti M37: The six-cylinder version of the new Infiniti flagship wears a couture look and handles with German precision.
2011 Kia Optima: A redefined four-door, the Optima captures some of the funky goodness of the Soul and wraps in turbo and hybrid options.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection
No more drama, please.
It's not just us making the request. It's the folks at Chrysler, too, we're sure. The last three years have played out in Auburn Hills like a season of ER, with divorce, a near-death experience or two, and a non-stop triage running in the background.
There are signs the storyline is changing. The car surgeons are still in the weeds, but at the post-Cerberus, post-bankruptcy Chrysler, healthy patients like the new Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee are now checking out with good prognoses.
Delicate trauma cases like the Chrysler Sebring sedan have required a little more intensive care, however. The Sebring launched in 2007 to unhappy reviews for its overwrought styling, low-buck interiors and stiff ride. A walk-back of its more effusive sheetmetal ribs after two years hardly stopped the bleeding. Fleet sales saved it from total disaster, but just barely.
Now that it's extensively reskinned, with a new drivetrain horned into place, Chrysler's decided the Sebring name deserves a good, deep burial. It's easier to start over than to rehab a brand, which is why the resulting 2011 Chrysler 200 wears numbers, not letters, on its rear-door flags.
Most of what's new in the 2011 200 connects directly with your eyeballs and your fingertips. All the old Sebring surface scars are gone. With every body panel altered except the roof and the doors, the 200 lets your eyeballs relax, finally, to absorb all the well-underplayed details and the slight but very effective changes. Compare the old Sebring's nose and grille to the 200's, and you'll be down with the difference between boughetto and bourgeois. The shared pieces are way more obvious when you compare the sideviews, since the doors are the same, spiffed up only with what appears to be a late-in-the-program "200" decal, stuck to a black sail panel.
Inside, the 200 proves our theory that private equity doesn't know a damn about car design. That regime was responsible for the Sebring's underfunded cabin, which has been swapped out for a richly detailed environment. The 200 dash is a great mix of tight, low-gloss plastic that gives to the touch, and thin metallic highlights that ring the major driver-control areas simply and subtly. (Rounded analog clock? Check.) Just one or two unwelcome relics reconnect the 200 to the Sebring from the inside out--namely, the green fluorescent displays on the lower corners of the gauges, for gear selections and trip functions. They're unappealing, and sit almost out of sight for taller drivers.
With a blitz of sedans, crossovers and SUVs, Dodge is set to have a busy, busy 2011. The Durango is new from tires to tail; the Journey's been worked over substantially; and the 2011 Avenger sedan bolts on a new drivetrain, new suspension pieces and new front and rear clips as Chrysler tries to rehab the fleet-queen image of its mainstream, mid-size sedan.
We're covering the more intensive care applied to the 2011 Chrysler 200 elsewhere today, but most of those updates apply to the Avenger, too. But while the 200 sedan has new stampings that clean up its fenders front and rear, the Avenger's metal remains unchanged. Change is good, but the Avenger already had a lock on brand unity with its mini-Charger stance and upkicked rear quarters. The headlamps and taillamps are simplified, but the crosshairs on the Avenger's grille trade metallic ribs for meatier bright-and-black pieces. The 2010 Avenger photos below let you decide whether the change brings enough to the party.
The Avenger's interior wears a little less expensive trim than the Chrysler 200 in places, too. The new dash looks great, with convincing quantum leaps in style and materials. The Avenger's dash cap is sculpted a bit more over its gauges; the climate controls are streamlined, and rings of bright and matte metallic plastic are fine contrasts to most of the soft-touch plastic. The lower half of the Avenger's dash seems to wear lower-grade plastic than the 200, and some of the same carryover gauges and buttons are more noticeable, surrounded by better-quality bits. Our test Avenger had cloth upholstery, which doesn't look or feel as rich as some textures we're seeing in other mid-sizers like the Subaru Legacy, or even the Hyundai Sonata.
If the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a distant cousin to the Mercedes ML--and a proud one at that--does that make this 2011 Dodge Durango kin to the Benz GL?
And does that make its $30,000 base price even more of a screaming bargain?
Chrysler set the Grand Cherokee free earlier this year, in a first-drive press event all its own, but it pooled the Durango together with a refurbished Dodge lineup. We flew to northern California to drive the Durango and five other new or revised Dodges for the first time, and on a windy hilltop overlooking the Infineon Raceway, we slipped the keys to an R/T in our pockets and rolled through Napa to sample the V-8 and also the V-6 SUV.At first glance, the Durango's new wagon body is less distinctive, and less muscular, than the old truck-based version. Chrysler's merged the Durango with the Grand Cherokee's unibody architecture and in the process, it's honed off the bulges and some of the character. That immense crosshair grille cants forward atop a short front overhang, but that's the last truly unique cue you can pick out as you move down the seven-seater's profile. From the rear, in particular, the Durango reads like second-generation Toyota Sequoia--blandly, benignly handsome.
The cockpit brings the real visual impact. Like the Grand Cherokee, the new Durango sends outdated, hard-edge plastics to the recycling bin. Snapped into place is a tightly fitted, attractive cabin with big red-needled gauges, simple climate-control knobs, and backpedaled touches of bright and soft metallic trim. Our R/T tester also had leather upholstery with woven red inserts and red stitching, and white trim rings on the dials, all well downplayed.(more...)
That's the case with electronic stability control (ESC); it's been shown to reduce accidents, fatal crashes, and rollovers, and with economies of scale doesn't cost as much as you might think. NHTSA had estimated that its mandate for stability control to be standard by 2012 will cost an average of $111 per vehicle but save nearly 10,000 fatalities annually—along with, potentially, hundreds of thousands of injuries and accidents. Including related components, some automakers have placed the total cost of ESC to be $400 or more.
The idea behind electronic stability control is simple: the brakes are applied individually at one or more of the wheels to help restore a traction and/or a vehicle imbalance in an extreme maneuver—perhaps allowing you to avoid an accident.
But while stability control systems for some SUVs and luxury vehicles are already into their second or third generations of this technology, some of the least expensive models on the market still haven't received the lifesaving technology.
The need is especially dire for small cars because of their weight disadvantage in multiple-vehicle accidents.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), electronic stability control was standard on 85 percent of all vehicles for the 2010 model year—including 100 percent of SUVs but 88 percent of cars and just 62 percent of pickups.
Automakers have just over the past couple of years moved quickly to get stability control into compact pickups. The 2011 Chevrolet Colorado, 2011 GMC Canyon, and 2011 Ford Ranger all now come with it standard, and larger pickups have all come with it for several model years.
What remains for 2011—aside from a few wildcards like the four-cylinder Nissan Frontier and the Mazda RX-8—is a surprisingly long list of cheap, small cars that still don't get the feature, or don't have it standard.
A number of the smallest, least-expensive cars, including the 2011 Ford Fiesta, 2011 Toyota Yaris, 2011 Scion xB, 2011 Kia Soul and 2011 Mazda2, now include standard stability control, while a class up, vehicles such as the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, and Mitsubishi Lancer all have it standard.
If price-conscious new-car shopping is on order for you or your family, scroll to the next page to take a look through this list of models that even, for 2011, don't include ESC:(more...)
The vehicles that remain span all types and styles, and range from a base price of about $16,000 all the way up to $50,000, including destination charges. Without exception, our editors have road-tested the nominees, with two clarifications. The inclusion of the 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon is based on experience with the mechanically similar sedan, in advance of our first drive early next month. As for the 2011 Ford Explorer, our driving impressions remain under embargo until mid-December.
It's a tough competition, with 40 vehicles in all making our initial list. The remaining 20 vehicles each are the strongest contenders for our award, and they follow here, in bold:
Sedans, Hatchbacks and Wagons
2011 Acura TSX Wagon
2011 BMW 5-Series
2011 Buick Regal
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
2011 Chrysler 200
2011 Dodge Avenger
2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Ford Fiesta
2011 Hyundai Elantra
2011 Hyundai Sonata
2011 Infiniti G25
2011 Infiniti M37
2011 Kia Optima
2011 Nissan Juke
2011 Scion tC
2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Volkswagen Jetta
2011 Volvo S60
2011 BMW X3
2011 Dodge Durango
2011 Dodge Journey
2011 Ford Edge
2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
2011 Kia Sorento
2011 Kia Sportage
2011 Lincoln MKX
2011 MINI Cooper Countryman
2011 Volkswagen Touareg
2011 Chrysler Town & Country
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan
2011 Honda Odyssey
2011 Nissan Quest
2011 Toyota Sienna
Green Cars: Electric Vehicles and Hybrids
2011 Chevrolet Volt
2011 Honda CR-Z
2011 Lexus CT 200h
2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
2011 Nissan Leaf
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection