Everybody does it. You do it. I do it a lot. Even the people interviewed for this column who say they don't do it, admit to at least trying it from time to time. And it's OK. It's safe and legal. In fact, it's good for you.

It? Singing, of course.

Researchers at UC Davis announced last spring that singing to your baby might increase its intellectual development. Come on, it even makes babies smarter!

So sing.

. . . Oh, you don't have a singing voice? Well, you're not alone.

But that's not a good excuse. If you live in Southern California, you have plenty of opportunities to sing without fear of censorship . . . if you drive.

As a reporter, I spend a lot of time in my car, and I see a lot of people in their cars doing a lot of nothing.

According to the informal survey I conducted for this column, the most frequent single-driver activities I see are staring into the void, talking on cell phones, playing with your face, frowning, reading, smoking, putting on makeup, singing, and picking your nose.

So ask yourself: Which of these activities might make your day just a little brighter?

I hate cell phones, so I can't imagine that making anybody happier. I play with my face sometimes but that doesn't make me happier. Frowning? Well, duh! While I do read sometimes, I know how dangerous that can be, so I wouldn't recommend it. I don't smoke or wear makeup. Singing? Yes!

Oh, and I never, ever pick my nose. Honest.

Consider that most Southern Californians spend at least five to 10 hours a week in their cars (many spend more than 20). That's a lot of time spent staring into the void.

So sing! It's a great stress reliever.

Don't say you have no stress in your life. You've cut me off on the freeway more than once. And don't say you can't sing.

Likely story. I've heard the same response from most everyone who said they didn't sing in their cars.

It's probably just anxiety about being discovered singing on the freeway. But if it's the fear of being caught that's holding you back, take a tip from these confessed car-singers:

1. Be defiant.

"I sing louder," says Todd Martindale of Garden Grove, a 24-year-old computer software technician for IBM in Downey. Martindale says he refuses to be embarrassed when people shoot strange looks his way. "It would be way worse to be, 'la, la, la,' " he says, then pretending he's been caught singing, flashes a sheepish shrug. "I sing when I'm in a good mood. I know that."

2. Be friendly.

C.W. "Bud" Little, a department chair at Santa Ana College, recalls being gawked at a couple of weeks ago as he and his 12-year-old son, Nate, were rocking out to the new Weird Al Yankovic record "Running With Scissors."

"They were these two kids, must have been just out of high school, in a fancy convertible just staring at us," says Little, 41. "They probably couldn't believe anybody would look so dorky on purpose. I just waved and smiled when I saw them."

3. Be inconspicuous.

Erin Nemeth, a 25-year-old student at Cal State Fullerton, sings incognito. "I feel better when I sing with my sunglasses on." she says. "It's more of a 'stay hidden' thing because you know people are watching you."

Although she still gets weird looks, Nemeth continues singing. "It's a good release," she says.

And the people who stare?

"They're not happy people," she says. "They're obviously not passionate."

4. Ignore disapproving onlookers.

Hansje McHugh, owner of Coffee Pub in Laguna Beach, doesn't pay attention to rude stares. "I'm too busy having fun," McHugh says. "I would love to be a [professional] singer, but I don't have a good voice. But when you're in the car, it doesn't matter."

McHugh, 54, is originally from the Netherlands and sings Dutch songs with her grandchildren in the car. "That way I don't feel so goofy trying to teach them Dutch," she says.

See, everybody is a little self-conscious when they sing. Everybody.

. . . You're still not going to sing?

Well there's no law against it. The California Vehicle Code may place elaborate limitations on inedible kitchen grease, flammable liquids and golf carts, but it says nothing about singing in your car.

There are laws prohibiting the wearing of Walkman headphones or other earplugs. So don't do that. And there are laws regulating the decibel level of noise that cars, motorcycles and trucks with and without trailers can make, but that's a mess of information too detailed to list here.

The general noise rule is, if it can be heard 50 feet away while traveling on a highway, you're going to get a ticket. Now, considering that average freeway lanes are about 16 feet wide, if you're in the fast lane and a motorcycle cop can hear you singing, you're in trouble. But unless you're Luciano Pavarotti, I wouldn't worry. Just keep your windows rolled up and you'll be fine.

In fact, Officer Michael Lundquist with the California Highway Patrol says singing is safer than talking on a cellular phone.

"Typically, we see someone weaving back and forth and simply not paying attention; we pull them over," Lundquist says. "Some people are capable of doing many things at once; others aren't."

But as long as you make defensive driving your first priority, Lundquist agrees, singing in your car can help reduce stress. "If [people] had to be so intent on driving all the time, we'd all go nuts," he says.

Lundquist himself is a hummer, not a singer. "When I [sing], my kids tell me to shut up," he says. "But that's the difference between having and not having an audience; nobody's there to be a critic."

There you have it. It's safe, legal and you're not alone in your neurosis. So pop in that Quiet Riot cassette or that new Britney Spears CD and go at it. Or find a radio station you like, crank it up and let go. You'll feel much better.


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