Welcome to rude Wisconsin?

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Neil Johnson
Monday, July 3, 2017

BELOIT—As an Illinois native (yes, I'm the guy who starts things off by telling you I'm originally from Illinois), I always figured I knew a thing or two about rude driving.

But after seven years living in Janesville, in the Badger State, I've learned a few new Jedi tricks in the ways of lousy driving.

One of the top “Wisconsin” driving habits I've absorbed is the “I-Drive-in-the-Interstate-Passing-Lane-at-All-Times” maneuver. It's a variation of another Wisconsin vehicle maneuver known as the “I-Won't-Necessarily-Slow-Down-Or-Get-Over-to-Let-You-Merge” special.

Whenever I'm traveling the Interstate with my wife, Melissa (another Illinoisan), we don't get very far before she turns and says: “Get out of the left lane, Neil. You're driving like somebody from Wisconsin.”

Apparently, she's right.

According to a new survey by Kars4Kids.org, Wisconsin is actually the fifth “rudest” state in the nation in terms of how its residents drive. In fact, the survey, which was part of the nonprofit's national “Drive Human” campaign, shows Wisconsin drivers scored a “D-minus” grade overall in their penchant for being uncouth and uncool behind the wheel.

The survey was actually a national poll of drivers and their habits. The results, as tabulated, apparently don't shine favorably on Wisconsin drivers. Among the ultimate sins the survey held against Wisconsin motorists:

--They tend to steal more parking spots right out from under other motorists than drivers in any other state. You've probably seen this happen often at various Home Depot stores statewide. Probably, you're the person who knifes in and nabs the parking spot some other guy was angling for. He might be able to prove he turned toward the spot first, but who cares? Also, he didn't realize the open space next to the cart corral that's closest to the store's front entrance is your personal spot—every time, anywhere you go.

--Also, as I hinted to earlier, Wisconsinites are the second likeliest drivers by state to thwart other motorists who might have the audacity to try to merge in front of them. According to the survey, the only motorists in the U.S. that make it harder for you to merge are New Yorkers.

And New York drivers, by the way, rank as the absolute rudest drivers in the country, earning an “F” rating and the number 50 slot—dead last in driver politeness, according to the survey.

But Wisconsin drivers can't be as bad as Illinois drivers, right? Well, the Kars4Kids.org survey actually indicates motorists here are almost twice as rude as those who live and drive in the Land of Lincoln.

It's the kind of analysis my editors thought was worth a bit of anecdotal cross checking.

With the Fourth of July holiday week coming up, my editors decided to send me on Sunday to a spot along Interstate 90/39 where they figured I'd find a blend of in-state and out-of-state drivers. That place: the Wisconsin welcome center rest stop at Interstate 90/39 in Beloit.

The logic was that we'd probably find plenty of drivers there who had either experienced (or inflicted) a taste of Wisconsin's apparently nationally-ranked roadway rudeness.

At the rest stop, I talked to Meg Arbieter and Matt Buczko, who are from the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, Illinois. They were eating some grapes during a pit stop and were on their way to Minneapolis, Minnesota—a place where motorists earn a B-minus grade for courtesy, plagued only by a tendency to block intersections, according to the Kars4Kids survey.

Buczko wondered if Wisconsin's high ranking in roadway rudeness stems from a slower pace of driving than he's used to seeing in Chicago. Or, he suggested, the culprit could be Wisconsin's roundabouts. As it turns out, the safety traffic circles don't make some drivers from outside the Badger state feel good about other people on the road.

“Those roundabouts you have here, people who aren't from Wisconsin or England have no clue how to handle that. Those things really confuse Americans. And when Americans are confused, they tend to get really mad,” Buczko said.

Another driver, Raleigh, North Carolina resident Lars Nelson, said he's seen drivers elsewhere do a lot worse than in Wisconsin. He's handled Interstate 95 heading into Washington, D.C.

Nelson said it's not uncommon to see motorists on I-95 execute the “Phoenix Slide”—a move that involves an abrupt swerve across four or five lanes of traffic, sometimes at speeds of 85 miles per hour.

“I've got to say, I've never experienced anything that bad in Wisconsin,” Nelson said.

On the drive back to my newsroom, I paid extra close attention for any signs of rudeness on Rock County's stretch of I-90/39. I didn't have to look very long, or very far.

A guy in a Prius was trying to merge off an entrance ramp. And here I came along, right beside him. I was in the inside lane, just like my wife tells me.

I knew I'd need to be humane and move my Honda to the passing lane so Prius Guy could merge. I checked my rear view, and saw only one car approaching in the passing lane. It was at least two military clicks behind me.

Despite my best intentions to get over, it was like a huge, celestial magnet was somehow pushing against the driver's side of my car and preventing me from edging over to the left. It was almost like my steering wheel was made of Kryptonite—only there was nothing wrong with my car.

It was all in my head (and muscle memory). And I am no Superman.

It took most of my willpower, but I got over in time, and the guy in the Toyota got in just fine. As I tooled back to Janesville, I wondered if I'm just a rude, formerly-from-Illinois guy—or if it's really true what the survey says.

Maybe I've been driving in Wisconsin for too long.

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