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Who Taught You to Drive?

A New Year’s quiz on rules of the road

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From sunroofs to speeding limits, batteries to bicycle accidents, we gained a number of useful insights about driving in 2011. Time again for our annual quiz: Just answer right or wrong for each question. Fifteen or more correct will nab you an A. Good luck!

1) If you run over a skunk, wash your tires with tomato juice to get rid of the smell, just as you would a sprayed dog.

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Answer: The popular belief that tomato juice eliminates skunk smell is . . . wrong! “Your nose gets tired of smelling the skunk, so when you introduce a new smell - tomato juice - you smell that instead,’’ says Stephen Vantassel, a former Springfield wildlife-control consultant. But the skunky smell is still there.

2) Truck drivers are required to clear snow off the top of their trailers, and can face jail time if flying ice or snow injures a motorist.

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A: The second part of this statement is correct - the driver could be charged with operating to endanger, a criminal offense - but there’s no law requiring truckers to clear snow from their vehicle’s roof.

3) If you so much as scratch someone’s bumper when parallel parking, state law says you should leave a note and take responsibility for the damage.

A: Sounds extreme, but that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do, says Donna McKenna, an official with the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents. Even if a car isn’t visibly damaged from a strong nudge, crash-absorbing mechanisms behind the bumper might need to be replaced.

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4) You can’t use a cemetery as a shortcut because cemeteries are private property.

A: This one sounds reasonable, but according to legal experts, state law allows you to drive through any cemetery unless “no trespassing’’ signs are posted, or there’s a barrier in the road indicating you’re not allowed to drive on it.

5) Most car glass - windshields, sun roofs, side windows - is designed to protect you against getting a sunburn.

A: This is true, but it’s important to note that most car glass does not protect against ultraviolet A rays, which can interfere with your body’s ability to protect against skin cancer, said Dr. Paul Lizzul, a dermatologist at Tufts Medical Center.

6) You shouldn’t jump-start a vehicle that’s substantially larger than yours. For example, a Volkswagen Beetle shouldn’t jump-start a Chevy Tahoe.

A: As long as both car batteries have equal voltage, you’re fine. And just about every battery made today, with a few exceptions, is 12 volts.

7) A radio station has to have a very strong signal - 50,000 watts or higher - to be picked up by your vehicle’s radio while inside a Big Dig tunnel.

A: Pretty much all radio signals are blocked out while you’re in Boston’s tunnels. The only reason you hear some stations is because the state Department of Transportation “rebroadcasts’’ them underground.

8) If a parking valet crashes your car, you’re not covered by your insurance.

A: Your insurance will, in fact, cover damages to your vehicle when driven by a valet, minus deductibles. Just don’t let a valet park your rental car - they are not covered by its policy.

9) Your car’s computer says you have 10 miles of fuel left. Your best strategy is to drive as fast as possible to a gas station.

A: The “miles left’’ calculation is based on average driving speeds, so going extra-fast might instead reduce the number of miles you have left, says John Paul, AAA of Southern New England’s “Car Doctor.’’ “That’s when you want to drive as efficiently as possible.’’

10) Don’t wax your car under a hot sun because the wax will harden faster than you can wipe it off.

A: There’s no trick to this question. “You want the paint to be cool, so wax in the shade,’’ advises Lauren Fix, an automotive television analyst known as the Car Coach.

11) It’s illegal to carry a filled gasoline can in an SUV because there’s no trunk to put it in.

A: You’re not supposed to have gas within the passenger area of any vehicle, and since SUVs only have passenger areas, traveling with a spare can isn’t allowed.

12) You can get a ticket for tucking a seat-belt shoulder strap under your arm or under a chair arm, even though it’s more comfortable that way.

A: Your seat belt must be “properly adjusted and fastened,’’ so if your vehicle owner’s manual says it should be worn across the shoulder - and mostly likely, it does - then that’s the law, says Brian Simoneau, a Framingham lawyer who specializes in motor vehicle law.

13) A huge snowbank blocks your view as you pull into an intersection so you hit another car. Since you couldn’t see, you won’t be found at fault in the accident.

A: Insurance companies must abide by the state’s Standards of Fault list when assessing accident claims, and that list, unfortunately, allows no leeway for accidents influenced by bad weather or snowbanks. So you would be found at fault, though you can appeal the decision.

14) The car in front of you is waiting to turn left at an intersection but just sits there when the road is clear. Since he’s obstructing the flow of traffic, you have the right to loop around him to make your own left turn.

A: “As the first car in the lane it’s their decision as to when to make that turn safely,’’ says Jack Albert, with the Cambridge Police Department. “If they’re skittish or a new driver, then you know something? You’ve got to have the patience and you have to wait. It’s their right of way.’’

15) One of the best stretches you can do after a long drive is to reach down and try to touch your toes.

A: “If you’re sitting for a long period of time, bending is going to be tough on your back. Everything has settled in one position, and if you bend quickly things can pop out,’’ says Tania Lillak, owner of Elemental Ergonomics in Boston. Try gently twisting from side to side instead.

16) Your insurance pays the bill if you hit a bicyclist, regardless of whose fault the accident was.

A: Pretty much. State insurance laws dictate that your car policy automatically covers the first $2,000 in medical bills incurred by the injured cyclist, even if the rider hit you, and up to $8,000 in “no-fault benefits,’’ which can include lost earnings should the cyclist be unable to work.

17) The estimated miles-per-gallon figures splashed across car advertisements are determined largely by the manufacturers.

A: The Environmental Protection Agency issues MPG figures, but it relies heavily on automakers’ data when determining them; the agency tests just 15 percent of car models as a quality-control measure.

18) A car will run a short distance on pure alcohol, such as a bottle of vodka.

A: I spoke with some mechanics who felt kerosene might work, but definitely not booze.

19) The noise level on a crowded highway with your windows down can approach that of a rock concert.

A: With the windows down you’re probably getting 70 decibels of noise, 85 decibels if you’ve turned up the stereo to drown out highway noise. Both are acceptable levels, says Dr. Josef Shargorodsky, with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. The music at a rock concert can top 100 decibels.

20) When you leave your car’s lights on overnight, you cause permanent battery damage.

A: The consensus among battery experts is that you can drain your car battery several times without harm. But it’s important to take your car to a service center to have the battery slowly recharged back to full strength, which can take two to three hours.

Peter DeMarco, who lives in Somerville, can be reached by e-mailing demarco@ globe.com. DeMarco also updates a Facebook page on his column, “WhotaughtYOUtodrive?’’
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