Monthly Archives: May 2018

Revealed: 4 True Untold Stories of Women and Cars

By Alex Perdikis

If you think about vehicle innovations and driving acumen, you probably picture a group of men. They may have gotten short shift, but women have also played a substantive role in designing, engineering and driving cars. Here are some of their stories.

Road Trip!

What does a wife do when she’s fed up with all the time her husband spends in the garage tinkering with his new invention? At a time when the only horseless carriages were experimental and driven in short spurts for testing, Bertha Benz decided she’d had enough with husband Karl and his vehicular experiment.

Bertha and her teenage sons stole into the garage, sneaked out with the Patent Motorwagen No. 3 and took the first recorded long-distance trip in a horseless carriage.

Bertha drove an astonishing 65 miles to Pforzheim, Germany, from Mannheim. The trip wasn’t without its annoyances. At one point the fuel line plugged. Resourceful Bertha used her hatpin to unclog the line. She also sacrificed a garter to insulate a wire. But, she and her boys made it.

The dawn-to-dusk trip made Bertha a legend. Her name now graces a roadway, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, within the European Route of Industrial Heritage. A fitting tribute indeed.

Early Days Were Glory Days for Women

Georgine Clarsen’s book, “Eat My Dust,” published in 2008, covers much of the early history of women and their relationship with cars. According to Clarsen, women drove, owned auto-related businesses, such as taxi services and driving schools and trained as mechanics from the earliest days of the automobile. Even in those days of opportunity for women, however, there were challenges.

Clarsen’s book describes an incident where a pair of mechanically trained women in the 1920s decided to take a cross-country road trip.

“Vehicles were not known for reliability at the time and the Dodge roadster they drove was no exception. Unworried, the two were confident they could fix whatever went wrong.” — Alex Perdikis

Unfortunately, whenever the women had to make a necessary repair, they were overwhelmed with male “helpers” who took over. The women took to hiding off-road behind trees or whatever landscape they could find so they could work on the vehicle themselves. Apparently, even in the early days, women who knew their way around a car were considered rarities.  

On the Road With Alice Ramsey

In June 1909 Alice Ramsey and three cohorts embarked on a cross-country journey to prove they could do it. The Maxwell DA touring car they drove had two bench seats and removable roof. The dark green vehicle ran on four cylinders at 3-horsepower. But not many in the crowd were interested in the car as the group set off. It was Alice Ramsey the public came to see.

Alice was already an experienced driver and had made a name for herself in the driving world. Her husband bought her a car of her own years before after a frightening incident occurred one day when Alice was driving her horse and buggy. A “monster,” or car, came out of nowhere frightening the horse so badly it was a miracle no one was hurt.

Alice and driving seemed made for each other. She drove over 6,000 miles the first summer she owned a car. But it was Alice’s performance in a 200-mile endurance trip that commanded attention. A Maxwell-Briscoe Company representative was so impressed with her driving skills he came up with a plan.

It was genius, really: The company would pay for an all-expense paid cross-country trip with Alice at the wheel. Alice Ramsey would prove to the world that anyone, even a woman, could drive across the country.

Of course, the trip was not without its moments of drama. There were tire blowouts, damaged coils and at the radiator ran dry at least once. Not to worry, the resilient women used the tools on hand — small toothbrush and toiletry holders — to gather water from roadside ditches to fill the radiator. Determined women and sterling silver containers got the job done.

After traveling for 59 days and covering 3,800 miles, Alice Ramsey and her passengers made it across the transcontinental finish line and in to history.

These Inventors Weren’t Damsels in Distress

Women not only made history and spurred innovation by driving, they also made their mark with life-saving inventions and family-friendly designs.

Florence Lawrence was an actress and auto enthusiast. Florence was the first actor to be named publicly, this at a time when acting was considered a less than respectable career. She also invented the vehicle turn signal and brake light.

Here’s a bit of trivia to remember when you need it — Charlotte Bridgwood, who was the mother of Florence Lawrence, invented the windshield wiper. Unfortunately, neither woman pursued commercial production of their inventions.

Harley J. Earl, vice president of design at General Motors in the 1950s, realized something not a lot of other executives thought about. That something was the fact that the same women who joined the workforce during WWII had more confidence, buying power and training than women of previous generations.

Earl pulled together a team of women designers to design car interiors with an emphasis on comfort and appeal. But these women did so much more than choose fabrics and colors.

Dubbed “The Damsels of Design,” a title none of the women on the team liked, the team designed car interiors from the ground up doing exactly the same work as the male designers.

And they came up with safety features no one else had. The “Damsel” team came up with the first retractable seat belt. They developed the first glove compartments. They designed dashboard-controlled safety latches to protect children in the back seat.

These are just a few stories of inspiring women who invented, adventured and engineered their ways into automotive history.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

How to Teach Your Teen to Drive Without Pulling Out All Your Hair

By Alex Perdikis

If the thought of teaching your teen to drive sends you into a tailspin, you’re not alone. Thousands of parents each year undergo the experience of supervising teen driving practice for the 40 hours or more of required by law. Few go into it without at least a slight shaking in their boots, though.

In the good old days, schools handled the teen “learning to drive” conundrum. But driver’s education fell by the wayside for most schools due to cost trimming and budget cuts. Times changed and now, as your teen’s parent, it’s up to you.

How can you prepare for the rough road ahead without losing your cool? Follow these practical tips.

You Can Do It But Should You?

Teens aged 16 to 19 commit the highest numbers of traffic violations of any age group. They’re also involved in the more wrecks than any other age group. That’s why most states require that teen drivers complete a state-approved driver’s education course. Check with your state for specific requirements and choose only an approved school.  

Driver’s education courses offer additional benefits as well.

“Many insurance companies offer a rate reduction for teens after they successfully complete an accredited course.” — Alex Perdikis

A driver’s ed course doesn’t involve risk to your own vehicle, is often a fast-track licensing path, and is a better overall educational experience than you alone can provide.

Driving course requirements aside, extra practice makes better drivers. That’s where you com in. You’re a good driver. You’ve been doing it for years. You know the laws. You’ve experienced the rough, tough and unexpected. You can do this! But, should you do it?

Great question. Everyone, including you, expects you to do it. But, did you know that may not be the best thing for you, your child and your relationship?

Here’s what you need to think about before you decide:

  • Your current relationship: Teens test boundaries. Teenagers rebel. Kids strain a parent’s patience. It’s their job at this age. Is sitting in a confined space while trying to go over the finer points of driving a good situation for either of you?
  • Your personalities: Are you a Type-A personality? Does your high-energy style mesh with your teen’s? Is your teen nervous? Does your child lack confidence? Honestly evaluate your differences and decide if you’re the best driving coach for your teen.
  • Your vehicle: Your car doesn’t have that brake on the passenger side. If your kid makes a mistake, your options to intervene are limited.

Take an objective look at yourself, your child and your circumstances. If you don’t feel comfortable sitting with your teen in practice sessions, don’t do it. Perhaps another experienced member of the family can step in.

Before You Go…

OK, you’ve thought and thought and think you can handle it. In fact, you’re looking forward to those precious bonding and teaching moments with your teen. Before you jump in that car, make sure you’re covered both legally and financially.

Check the laws in your state to see what your teen needs to do to practice driving legally. Each state is different. Look online for your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website and make sure your teen is legal before you both hop in the car for practice.

Check your insurance policy. Give your agent a call and make sure you’re covered. If you’re not, add coverage. Sure, it’s going to cost you, but if your practicing teen cause injuries or damages, you’re going to pay even more.

It’s time for a refresher course — not for your teen, but for you!  Laws change. Memories fail. Look at your state DMV website for information or visit your local office for a current Rules of the Road. How can you teach your child driving laws if you don’t know them yourself?

Be a great example. You should have been a great example all along. If your teen has seen you “almost” stop at a stop sign or observed you going over the speed limit, what do you think they’re going to do?

Buckle Up!

Your teen’s legal, covered and ready to go. Take a deep breath, get in the car and buckle up. Then do this:

  1. Sit and review: Go over how to use the dashboard features, seat adjusters, steering wheel and mirrors, headlights, wipers, lights, emergency brake, accelerator and brakes. Learn what the warning indicator lights mean. Make sure your teen knows where the car’s registration and insurance information is kept.
  2. Head to an empty parking lot:  After arrival, switch places. Give your teen time to adjust the seat and steering wheel and let them start the car. Let your teen practice accelerating, braking, driving straight and backing up. Add additional exercises, such as making turns and parking as your child gains mastery over each skill.
  3. Begin road driving in light-traffic areas: Practice staying in lanes, stopping at stop signs, anticipating cars exiting driveways and looking out for children and animals who might dash into the road.
  4. Up the ante as your child becomes skilled: To become a great driver, your teen needs to practice driving in all types of weather and road conditions. If possible, take practice drives in the rain, fog or snow; at night; and in heavy traffic.
  5. Advance to highway driving: Practice merging, passing, following at a safe distance, maintaining proper speed and behaving courteously.
  6. Practice, practice and practice: Practice in any and all conditions.

Before you know, your child is ready to take the test. And that’s when the real worries begin!

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.