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Clean Record Won’t Help Under-25 Drivers Rent Cars

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

This summer, I was denied the privilege of renting a car from all but one of six major car companies because I am under 25 years of age. The one company that allowed me to rent charged an additional $10 per day for extra insurance.

Do they care that I am employed in a full-time management position, carry an average of six units per semester at a nearby college, own a car and have established good credit? Most importantly, I have had zero auto accidents in my lifetime.

There are, indeed, a lot of people under 25 who are irresponsible and would be a big liability for these rental car companies. Understandable. But is a 42-year-old company chairman who has had a few martinis at a business lunch any less a risk?

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Karin Campbell, Irvine

Car rental companies don’t care how good a driver or how responsible you are on an individual basis--those under 25 are part of a high-risk age group, and so everyone in that group pays the price, so to speak.

I talked with the two biggies in the car rental world, Hertz and Avis, and both have the same story: it’s too expensive for them to insure drivers under 25, so they don’t allow those drivers to rent their cars.

“We can’t get them insured. That’s the problem,” said Avis spokesman Ray Noble. “She might be the daughter of the chairman of the board, and she wouldn’t qualify.”

Ed Perkins, editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, agrees that the high cost of insurance has driven rental companies to make a choice: increase rates for everyone; levy a surcharge on younger drivers or ban the drivers entirely. Among the majors, a ban seems to be the popular choice.

Perkins also noted that older drivers may also face the same sort of restriction. His 75-year-old father, for example, was unable to rent a car because of his age.

It doesn’t look as if things are likely to change soon in favor of younger drivers. So here are a few suggestions gleaned from the rental companies and from Perkins:

* If you work for a company, try using a corporate account or a corporate discount card when renting a car. They may have negotiated a deal with the rental car companies, allowing younger drivers to rent cars.

* If you belong to an automobile club, your membership may help you bypass some age restrictions, as with a corporate account.

* Check with the major companies anyway. In some cities, the age restriction may be lower or handled differently.

Dear Street Smart:

Often when I approach a freeway and need a ramp that is not actually within sight, the on-ramp information signs give me no idea whether I should be in the right or left lane to reach the ramp. Wouldn’t it facilitate things if Caltrans put a simple white dot to the left or right side of the arrows on these signs, to indicate which way to turn. This would save a great deal of last-minute lane changing and frustration.

Nancy Rayl, Newport Beach

I suppose it can be tricky to be going over a bridge, frantically wondering if you’re in the correct lane to reach the freeway on-ramp. If the first sign you see only has an arrow pointing straight ahead, saying, “Los Angeles,” what do you do?

According to Caltrans, there should always be other signs to give you further direction. “When motorists approach a freeway, they’re supposed to get ample warning,” said Caltrans spokesman Albert Miranda.

For bridges, look toward the median. There should be a destination sign and an arrow pointing to the right or left. Likewise, when passing under freeways, look for an overhead sign that has the same sort of specific information.

If there are no such secondary signs to be found, then give Caltrans a call so its people can correct the situation.

Dear Street Smart:

Two changes could do much to reduce evening rush-hour congestion in east Anaheim, on the southbound side of Tustin Avenue, where the street crosses over the Riverside Freeway.

One change is an easy white paint fix. A traffic signal just south of the freeway causes vehicles to back up on the Tustin Avenue bridge. The right lane is extra-wide, so oftentimes a freeway-bound driver can squeeze by stopped cars and reach the freeway ramp. But what’s needed is a separate right-hand turn lane, and there should be sufficient room to stripe one.

The other change is more difficult--convincing Caltrans to turn off the meter on the eastbound Riverside Freeway on-ramp. Most of the traffic the meter delays actually ends up on the Costa Mesa Freeway. For about a month, I watched two cars in front of me and one behind me to determine their destination. Surprisingly, 79% continued the short distance to the Costa Mesa Freeway. To fix the problem, all we need to do is turn off the ramp meter every day.

Walter P. Rhea, Anaheim

I faxed Caltrans your detailed maps that explain how the road could be expanded by changing some of the lane striping, and I kept my fingers crossed for you. But it looks like status quo will reign in this case.

It would take more than white paint to add a right-turn-only lane on that bridge, according to Caltrans spokesman Steve Saville. Even though cars may be squeezing by, the traffic engineers say that to do a proper job, the bridge would have to be expanded, Saville said. Nor does the volume of traffic heading toward the ramp yet justify rebuilding the bridge, he said.

As for the meter, as you expected, Caltrans is not inclined to shut it off. Caltrans’ own freeway volume surveys show drivers are about split between those continuing along the Riverside Freeway and those heading ultimately for the Costa Mesa Freeway, Saville said. Moreover, if the meter is shut down, a bottleneck will result where ramp traffic merges with freeway traffic, he said.

Don’t be discouraged. I found your traffic survey method interesting, and it was clear you had taken much time to research the problem. Traffic engineers routinely encourage the public to forward ideas, so maybe next time your solution will hit home.

If you remember last week, Street Smart promised to do his part for Ride Share Week. The result? Three out of five days busing it.


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