Collision Course With Reality

By Jere Hester
|  Friday, Jun 19, 2009  |  Updated 3:13 AM PDT
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It's enough to inspire road rage: the Travel Channel is planning to mount a reality TV competition to find the country's worst driver.

"The Streets of America: The Search for America's Worst Driver," will feature road "challenges" in various U.S. cities. The worst driver will be the “winner,” but other contestants will earn prizes for improving their skills behind the wheel.

“There are so many elements our viewers can relate to and it’s a great way to experience America,” producer Arthur Smith said in a statement (via Realty TV Soup). “Plus we know how entertaining it will be to watch as the contestants try to navigate through Los Angeles, the home to the country’s busiest freeway interchange, or drive down San Francisco’s Lombard Street.”

You'd think the lawyers would have stopped this idea in its tire tracks. You'd also think there's nothing particularly out of the ordinary about bad driving in big cities where there already are enough menaces plowing through the streets, traffic jams permitting.

Clips from the original British version – yeah, it's from the UK, exporter of reality TV shows and home of driving on the wrong side of the road – seem benign enough, but there’s not much in the way of big-city driving. Spinoffs of the show have aired in Canada, Australia and Sweden, among other countries.

The American edition, which will be tweaked for more of a travel focus, appears to be another attempt to tap into our fascination with cars. But the show feels especially odd coming at a time when the auto industry is ailing and the pressure is on to use alternate means of getting around, particularly in congested cities. “America’s Worst Bicyclist,” though, doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Roads represent freedom – even if it's the freedom to be a potential hazard to others. City streets present additional elements of danger, frustration and the ever-present possibility of violence – especially in metropolises like New York, which recently was named the worst road-rage city in the country. (Note to Smith and Co.: if you bring the show to New York, give the drivers a lesson in flipping the bird).

“The Search for America's Worst Driver” sounds like yet another reason to be careful when crossing the street – or turning on your TV.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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