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Criticism of Utah drivers and their highway driving style is not a recent complaint, according to many who have voiced their antagonism on the editorial pages of the Deseret News.

In fact, Gary Whitney, Utah Highway Patrol public information officer, said this is a stigma that has grown over the years and he thinks the disappointment about Utah highway drivers is a subjective thing. "You see both courteous and discourteous drivers everywhere you go."Maybe in Utah we don't see quite the cooperative spirit as other states who have had heavy highway traffic for decades might have," he said.

Kathy Hodgman, a Salt Lake resident, said it's a shock driving in Utah after having driven in other places. She says she has come close to death many times while driving on Utah highways.

"I have driven back East and in Europe - Utah still is one of the scariest places I've driven."

She blames the problem on lack of information about highway driving in the Utah Driver Handbook. "You go to take the driver license test and there is very little about freeway driving. The book goes on and one about trucks and the heights of bridges but not much on highway driving."

She also feels there are many older residents who need to be educated about highway driving.

Phil Himmelberger, the chief of Driver Services for the Driver License Bureau, said although there are a few questions on freeway driving on the written portion of the driver's license test, the driving portion of the test doesn't include freeway driving.

He noted several reasons for this. "First, most of the stations don't have access to a freeway nearby. Second, it would take three times as long to administer the test. Third, there may or may not be a safety factor involved. You never know what you're getting into when you get into a car with people taking a driving test."

He said bad driving habits can't be blamed on the driving test because "most people know the rules, but it's their attitude or the fact the instructor is not sitting next to them that dictates the way they drive."

Whitney agrees and said the test itself is such a small part of developing driving skills that it doesn't make a big difference.

Himmelberger said new legislation may be one reason for poor highway driving skills. Drivers can renew their licenses by mail even if they have had four tickets in five years.