By Chuck Mai, AAA
Steering column mounted gear shifters disappeared a long time ago, except on some pickups, and now front bench seats in passenger cars are about to also pass into automotive oblivion. Yes, they’re getting kicked by the bucket.
The 2014 Chevy Impala carries the distinction of being the last production car since the days of the horseless carriage to offer a front bench seat. Until recently, bench seats were also standard equipment on the Ford Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car until those vehicles were both discontinued in 2011.
Will we miss the bench? Apparently not. During 2011/2012, only one in 10 Impala buyers chose the $195 option on the LS and LT models. General Motors says they expect the preference for front bucket seats to continue.
“A lot of people prefer bucket seats because they’re sporty, even in models that aren’t sports cars,” said Clay Dean, GM’s director of design. “Our customers also appreciate having the center console as a convenient place to store their phone and other personal use items.” Plus, it appears we’ve become used to those center console cup holders.
The first Chevrolet ever manufactured, the Series C Classic Six of 1911, featured a front seat bench and for decades, American cars were typically equipped with benches. In the days of larger families and one car families, they made sense because they allowed three passengers to sit comfortably albeit cozily in the front seat.
Bucket seats first came into vogue after World War II on small European imports. Not only did they do a better job of keeping passengers in place when making sharp or quick turns, they were necessary to accommodate floor-mounted shifters and parking brake levers in small cars.
By 1962, more than one million U.S.-built cars were factory equipped with bucket seats. Buckets really took off with the “pony cars” of the mid-sixties, cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro.
Today, the need for six-passenger sedans is largely being met by SUVs or crossovers, which offer seating for up to eight. Chevy, for one, will continue to offer bench seats on pickup trucks and sport utilities.
But who knows? There’s a certain nostalgia for bench seats. Hard to snuggle up with your sweetie at the drive-in movie while sitting in bucket seats. Some experts say we may see bench seats re-emerge someday, possibly in very small cars like the EN-V urban mobility concept vehicle, in which the feeling of open space may be very desirable.
John Saucier, of Midwest City, was a legend at the Ponca City Grand Prix, among the best to ever compete there in its more than 25 years.
Bill Stengle, of Enid, didn’t run at Ponca, but he did make build and drive midget racers, and he enjoyed motorcycles. He raised a son, however, who DID race at Ponca City.
I saw John race many times while growing up in Ponca. But it wasn’t until years later, when I returned to The Oklahoman, that we became friends, all because of one column I wrote recalling the PC Grand Prix. He thanked me “for the memories” and gave me an update on some of the drivers I had mentioned.
I never met Bill, but I saw his son, Jim, race a few times in Ponca City. Jim and I became close friends while I was living in Enid. We met through my association with others in the Sports Car Club of America and we both were members of the Enid A.M. Ambucs.
Jim was the only guy I ever knew who had a Corvette … in his attic. Disassembled, of course. I wouldn’t have believed it if his wife, Dixie, hadn’t gotten him to show me when my wife, Becky, and I visited them one night. Dang if it wasn’t true.
John died Jan. 25 at age 74, I’m sad to say. Scott Munn of The Oklahoman noted that John won 28 SCCA championships and was a member of the organization for 55 years. Scott said John was the only person to race in each of the 26 Ponca City Grand Prix events.
Jim’s dad, Bill, died Jan. 11 at age 95. His obituary included points about his innovative, mechanical abilities, such as this: “For extra income, he began drilling water wells with a rig he built himself.” That takes some skill, for sure.
Both men had served in the military, both men had loving families, both men were well respected and both were extremely talented.
I’m proud to say I knew John and I know Bill’s family. All because of shared interested in racing that has circled the track for many years.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
As car-makers add more and more electronic distractions to new cars (giving traffic safety folks fits), they are also, thankfully, making cars safer.
Cameras and Sensors
John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor, reports Subaru has introduced something they call the EyeSight system that uses a 3-D camera mounted at the top of the windshield, giving drivers a panoramic view of the road.
Honda has a device that gives the driver a view of the right side blind spot of the vehicle when the right turn signal is activated.
Mercedes-Benz has a new system called Collision Prevention Assist, available on M-Class SUVs, that uses radar sensors which monitor the distance from the SUV to a vehicle in front of it as well as to stationary roadway objects. If CPA detects an imminent collision, it sounds a warning and flashes a light.
Volvo has taken this idea a step further by autonomously hitting the brakes if it detects a low-speed crash is about to occur.
And don’t think it’s just the luxury cars offering these exciting new technologies. The latest Chevy Malibu has a forward collision alert and lane departure warning system.
About a quarter of a million people fall asleep at the wheel every day in the U.S. Good thing car-makers have systems in development that can watch us. Most use in-car cameras that keep track of what your eye lids are doing as well as absence of steering wheel movements. If they note something wrong, it sounds an alarm, vibrates the seat or tugs on the seat belt to alert the driver.
Here’s an idea from the past – from the 1948 Tucker Torpedo to be exact: headlights that move in the direction the car is turning. A growing number of vehicles have what they’re calling adaptive headlights. Good for illuminating dark curves.
Some car-makers are adding light amplification and infrared cameras that not only allow drivers to see more at night, they also identify and warn drivers of pedestrians and critters by the side of the road.
One of the most exciting new technologies is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The idea that cars can talk to each other, while monitoring the roadway and overall driving environment, will make driving safer and less stressful. Car doc John Paul says these systems could warn drivers of slow-moving traffic, roadwork, traffic lights, school zones and weather conditions.
And by now, you’ve probably heard about Google’s driver-less cars that have received the go-ahead in several states. But wait – maybe a Massachusetts company is on the right track … or maybe the right altitude. They have created a flying car.
There are lessons to be learned. No matter how much you try to school them, regardless the advance warning, despite all the “when I was your age” comments, young people have to learn for themselves.
And when the time comes during their teen years that they have to make decisions that can cost them money, they learn just how costly those decisions can be.
A family I know well enough to be related to (and am) is about to get a double dose of the money game. Two teenage daughters, with two months difference in their ages (they’re stepsisters) are entering into the world of higher learning.
It can be a great time, it can be a tough time. It all depends upon the decisions you have to make and how you do so.
Their dad has set them up to learn, with a little room to fail. They get an allowance, a decent one. OK, very decent. Each receives 40 times what I got at the best level I ever had. I won’t deny that times were much different and items much cheaper. It’s all relative.
Now comes the adjustment.
Until now, others have made many of their purchases for them. Food on the run, cosmetics, trinkets, or whatever usually has been more of a “gift” from others. They’ve been told that now that those expenses will be their responsibility. But the biggest change will be in transportation.
Now, they will both have a driver’s license. Their dad bought them a car to share, fixed it up with some nice added features and got them both a set of keys.
But he told them they would be responsible for handling the cost of fuel with their allowances. I suspect there will be a steady decline of some other purchases, beginning pretty soon.
So what comes next? A little exercise in budgeting, he says. They’re going to have to learn how to budget their money, because he added a stipulation when he set up their allowances: don’t ask anyone for money; you have your own, until it runs out.
I also suspect there will be some employment considerations, along with a push for an additional vehicle.
The lessons are just beginning.
Check the resources in KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MONEY-OKLAHOMA to help you with your personal finances. There’s some pretty sound advice there, no matter your age.
A recently released analysis found a 1.9 percent decrease in total fatalities since 2010, officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Any decrease is good new. Any drop is progress.
But the same analysis found some bad news. There was an 8.7 percent increase in cyclist fatalities and a 3 percent rise in pedestrian deaths in 2011. That is substantial.
“We are still concerned about the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians at risk on our roadways,” said Paul Oberhauser, Traffic Safety Coalition co-chairman. “As the holiday season approaches, we must obey basic traffic safety laws to ensure the safety of those inside and outside of a vehicle.”
The issue is personal to Oberhauser. His daughter, Sarah, was killed in 2002 when a driver ran a red light and crashed into her car.
The numbers in the report show a need for increased education relating to the shift in the types of transportation the public is now using, highway safety officials said. They say it is important to continue to keep overall traffic fatalities down and educate the public on driver distraction, red light running and speed in our intersections.
“The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a release from NHTSA.
“As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction.”
So, to keep roads safer for those traveling this season, the Traffic Safety Coalition is encouraging drivers to take its holiday pledge (http://www.trafficsafetycoalition.com/holidaypledge) to commit to safe driving behavior. The pledge reads:
“During this holiday season and every day throughout the year,
• I pledge to buckle up when driving and as a passenger.
• I pledge to obey traffic signals and always stop on red.
• I pledge to obey the speed limit.
• I pledge to never text and drive.
• I pledge to never drink and drive.”
The TSC works with more than 250 partners nationwide, including local chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Safe Kids USA and other local community organizations throughout the country.
It’s an effort we all can join.
A short time back, a gentleman I’ve spoken with many times called to ask what I knew about the painted lines he was seeing on some downtown Oklahoma City streets.
“It looks like they’re bicycle lanes,” he said, “and some pretty good sized lanes. In fact, the biggest lane on one of those streets was marked for bicycles. What’s the deal?”
I told him he most likely had driven into the Project 180 zone and his assumption that these markings were for bicycles were absolutely right on.
This individual is not a bicycle enthusiast, though he isn’t against anyone getting their exercise on a two-wheeler. But he was concerned about how much roadway was being given to riders at the expense of drivers.
Not to worry. To everything there is a purpose. It will all work out.
A few weeks after his call, Kristy Yager of the City of Oklahoma City, sent out this news release. There’s a lot of information here, so read carefully:
“City streets are becoming more bike friendly with expanded ‘sharrow lanes,’ ” her release began. “The first of more than 200 miles of bike routes, including shared lanes or ‘sharrow’ bike lanes, are being installed in Oklahoma City.
“The sharrows are pavement markings which, along with new signage marking the routes, remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists and convey that the street is a preferred bike route. They are different from bike lanes because they do not allocate space just for the cyclist.”
That was one my caller had described. Kristy also explained “sharrow.”
“Signs saying ‘bicycle may use full lane’ will be posted along routes. The word sharrow is a combination of the words ‘share’ and ‘arrow.’ The marking consists of a bicycle symbol with two arrows above.”
And here’s the word on how this all is coming about.
“The city’s bike routes are being implemented in phases. Major streets included in the first phase include Eastern Avenue, S Villa Avenue and the I-235 and I-35 service roads north of 63rd Street. Downtown streets are also in the first phase.”
Transportation planner Randall Entz said: “Sharrows are being installed on streets like Hefner Road and NW 19th Street that are popular with bicyclists, but are too narrow for conventional bike lanes. When they are installed downtown as a part of Project 180 renovations, they will also help to keep cyclist out of the door swing zones of parked cars.”
One other very important note:
“Although we are designating bike routes and sharrow lanes, cyclists can still ride on any Oklahoma City street,” Entz added.
Sharing the road will make it safer for all.
Learn more about what’s being done downtown, including with Project 180, by going to HTTP://WWW.OKC.GOV/.
It’s all about money … how you get it, what you do with it. It’s your choice … mostly.
Who hasn’t watched a game show on TV, where contestants try to win money and prizes? Spin a wheel, answer a question, choose a door, select the right item, match objects and you might win the big one.
Maybe you play the lottery, where you spend money trying to make money. It’s a game of chance, similar to what some businesses “play” every day.
But listening to the radio while driving recently, I heard some hosts talking about how things are viewed today versus how they were thought of years ago. Such as, “If you had the choice of taking $100,000 when you were 20 or $10 million when you were 60, which would it be?”
For the younger set, those who haven’t reached the milestones in their lives yet, it’s all a dream or a wish. For those of us who have achieved at least one of those times, there’s some reality mixed in, especially when we’ve seen prices soar through the years on everything from necessities to accessories.
Later, when I wasn’t behind the wheel, I thought about what I would have done with a spare $100,000 when I hit 20. Like those on the radio show I had been listening to, a new car and a nice home were two items I most likely would have purchased. But I’m not sure how much investing I would have done, or how many trips I would have taken.
Now, getting $10 million at age 60 would bring a lot of interesting possibilities, such as retiring all debt for my family and me, helping others who are struggling …
Then, another question came to mind. “Would someone who suddenly found themselves with $10 million at age 60 continue to work for someone else, or would they either retire or work solely for them?”
I’d have to think about it some more, but I probably wouldn’t think long. I’m sure I could decide that one … shortly after I got my $10 million.
Learn more about handling personal finances at KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MONEY-OKLAHOMA and its list of resources.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
The vehicle with the most expensive claims for damage is, surprise, a Ferrari. The Ferrari California, to be exact, with an average payment per claim paid by the insurance company of $82,112. I just remembered why I don’t have a Ferrari.
In second place: the Porsche 911 turbo convertible 4WD ($24,679), followed by the Maserati Granturismo ($16,150), the Porsche Panamera turbo 4WD ($16,027), the Nissan GT-R ($15,285), the Maserati Quattroporte ($11,454), the BMW M3 ($10,259) and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hybrid ($8,528)
Which vehicles have the lowest average claim payment per crash? In first place is the Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid – $2,019. Wow. Followed by the Chrysler 200 ($3,378), the Toyota FJ Cruiser ($3,667) and the Chevrolet Colorado 4WD ($3,955). These numbers are for 2009 through 2011 models.
All this wonderful information comes to us courtesy the Highway Loss Data Institute, a partner of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Visit iihs.org/HLDI_composite for the full story, model-by-model for 2009 through 2011 vehicles.
It’s no surprise expensive cars cost more to repair. And that vehicles with powerful engines tend to crash more often not only because they can go faster but also because of the kind of driver they attract. No offense, Tony Stewart.
What is interesting is something else the HLDI tells us: when it comes to injury claims, small cars are less safe cars – owners of vehicles like the Toyota Yaris, the Suzuki SX4 and the Chevrolet Aveo submit more injury claims as a result of crashes than owners of vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD, the Land Rover Range Rover 4WD and the Ford F-150 4WD. Again, this ranking is for 2009 through 2011 model year vehicles.
As the IIHS put it, “In the real world, if all else is equal, a larger vehicle protects people better than a smaller one.”
What was supposed to have been an enjoyable ride on the rail between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth became anything but, and answers are needed.
“Heartland Flyer passengers endured nearly eight hours of delays Saturday night in a series of weather difficulties caused by heavy rain, a downed tree on the track and a lightning strike, which disabled one of the engines,” Business Writer Jennifer Palmer reported Tuesday on the front page of The Oklahoman.
The ride from Fort Worth began on time (5:25 p.m., Jennifer reported) but was 16 miles behind schedule when it reached its first stop in Gainesville, Texas. Amtrak, which operates the flyer, said that was due to heavy rain and flash flooding.
A little past Gene Autry, in southern Oklahoma, the train had to stop because there was a tree on the track. It was apparently at that stop that lightning struck the track or the locomotive, disabling it. This required freight locomotives to be summoned to remove the stricken power source.
The train was able to make its stop in Purcell nearly seven hours late. Passengers were warned at the next stop, in Norman, that there was a possibility of more delays. Several people took the opportunity to get off.
Those factors alone made this trip much less than pleasurable. But there was more. After the Flyer was able to move on, and just past Norman it shut down again.
It seems the crew had completed 12 hours, “the maximum time allowed, Amtrak said.” So “two miles from the station, crossing a live track on foot and navigating a ditch in the dark to find another way home, … ” the passengers were allowed to exit the train.
Eventually, a backup crew arrived to finish the journey. The train arrived in Oklahoma City at 5:34 a.m.
“We want people to know this wasn’t a satisfactory trip for us either,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Jennifer. “We’re looking at ways we could have handled this differently.”
Here’s a suggestion: look hard. Look very, very hard. This is where contingency plans should come into play.
Unexpected problems, such as weather or mechanical failures, can make things rough. Having an idea of how to handle them avoids an inconvenience to paying customers and an embarrassment. It can help you avoid what, in many circles, is known as a “public relations nightmare.”
How this incident affects future ridership will show how the public feels about it. Here’s hoping the Flyer can get back on track.
As a columnist who writes about traffic issues, I often get emails, phone calls, or letters from someone criticizing Oklahoma drivers — primarily those in Oklahoma City.
The most common complaint is that our drivers don’t have any regard for safety. They don’t obey the law, they run red lights, they drive too fast, they don’t yield, they never use turn signals and they are just plain rude.
The result of these actions? Oklahomans, again pointing at mostly Oklahoma Citians, are more likely to have an accident.
It’s interesting that many of those complaining moved here from another state, where drivers were more courteous and more careful, the complaining parties say.
There are times, I would have to agree with some of what I read or hear. I’ve seen examples of most everything they gripe about. And now, there’s even more ammunition for them.
My longtime colleague Don Mecoy wrote a story for The Oklahoman today that says, “The average Oklahoma City driver will be involved in an auto collision every 10 years, which ranks the metro behind 79 other U.S. cities in Allstate Insurance Co.’s annual ‘Best Drivers Report.’ ”
In his story, Don notes that Allstate, using claims data for the basis of its report, says Oklahoma City “ranks as one of the least safe driving cities.”
There’s a lot of good information in Don’s story — good from the point of things that can help us do better; bad if you’re keeping score on which cities need the most work.
So I encourage you to read it and take it to heart. We can all benefit if we do better. It might even cut down on the complaining.