You won't find a more polite driver than me. When interstate lanes merge ahead of roadworks, and the guy alongside decides to force his way in front of me, I will open the window, doff my hat and say, “After you, my dear fellow.”

And, as for those characters who sit in the left lane until the last second and then dart across a busy interstate to take the exit where I am in line, do I shoot the bird? No sir. A beatific smile is my idea of an appropriate response.

“I always figured Gill was one of nature's gentlemen,” some of you may be thinking, but that is not the explanation on this occasion. Once I realized that anyone you cross on a Louisiana road is highly likely to have a gun in his glove compartment, my manners improved markedly.

OK, maybe not to the milquetoast extent in the above boast. There are so many incompetent and inconsiderate drivers around that, put a saint behind the wheel, and he will soon be consumed with fury. Still, Louisiana's trigger-happy reputation should provide an incentive for defensive driving.

Not so, according to a new survey just released by Kars4Kids, which says it was conducted as part of a “courteous driving awareness campaign.”

Kars4Kids is not in business to promote road safety. It raises money from donated cars for the benefit of Jewish children, and driving habits are clearly irrelevant to that mission. But publicity is the lifeblood of the charity racket, and surveys are an effective way of getting it. You can hardly pick up a paper without reading that an organization you never heard of has rustled up fresh statistics on some obscure issue.

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Kars4Kids has attracted quite a lot of attention this time, since we all regard ourselves as good drivers and love to complain about bad ones. According to this survey, Louisiana drivers are the fourth rudest in the nation, which might be regarded as encouraging; it is not often that as many as three states look worse than us in any national measure.

Kids4Kars reached its conclusions by asking 50 licensed drivers in each state about their behavior on the road. Even assuming that respondents were scrupulously honest, their assessment of their own driving may not always be realistic. Besides, a sample of a mere 2,500 Americans must leave plenty of room for skewed results.

Still, it's all we have to go on, and the rankings do not stretch credulity. If Kars4Kids says New Yorkers are the rudest drivers in the nation, or the rudest in anything else, for that matter, popular prejudice will be with them. That Louisiana has more than its fair share of pigs on the road will likewise not be disputed around here. Southern charm does not manifest itself on the highway, according to this survey; between New York and Louisiana at the top of the rudeness table, we find South Carolina and Arkansas.

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If these conclusions are not scientifically rigorous, we know for sure that the risk of getting shot to death is greater here than anywhere else, save, in some years, Alaska. Such august institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Reduction have for years been citing figures to prove that Louisiana is tops gunwise, but there is no point in bemoaning the danger because it isn't going away. Being aware of it, however, may be wise when road rage starts to boil.

And tempers do frequently flare hereabouts, as we were painfully reminded when two former NFL stars were gunned down in separate incidents on the streets of metro New Orleans last year. The grievances that claimed the lives of Will Smith and Joe McKnight were too trivial to concern a rational man, but, of course, reason is out the window when drivers feel compelled to stand their ground.

Those senseless deaths were still fresh in the memory when Kars4Kids ran its survey, but our respondents evidently decided to be straight about their own failings in traffic. You can find the questions they answered online, but go ahead and take the Fifth if you want. That might be the best policy for lots of us.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.

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