All right Al Gore III, you're still the tops when it comes to speeding in a Prius - but not by much. Steve Wozniak is right behind you.

And when I say speeding, man o' man, do I mean speeding.

You probably remember when the son of the former vice president was caught going 105 mph in Southern California last month. Well, a mention of that in a recent Roadshow column led a buddy of Wozniak's to check in, claiming that the co-founder of Apple Computer was ticketed for going 105 mph on Interstate 5 earlier this year.

Whoa. Mr. Roadshow knows a good story when it plops into his lap. If true.

"Not true," Wozniak replied: "104 mph."

OK, squash that image of the Prius being wimpy, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had quipped this year. First, 105 mph, and then 104!

"I pleaded guilty, with an explanation," Wozniak said in one of several e-mails exchanged the past few days. "I said that I was really scientific, and in the last year had been in Athens, Moscow, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich (twice), Zurich, Canada (three times), Columbia, Singapore, Japan, London, etc., and had gotten used to kilometer speeds."

The judge smiled. But he didn't buy it. The fine was about $700.

Wozniak was headed to Las Vegas for a business trip with his pal Dan Sokol on March 28. Little head wind, light traffic, a straight road. His Prius was sailing along so smoothly that neither realized the speed Wozniak was reaching.

Until they saw the California Highway Patrol cruiser ahead.


Advertisement

Drivers on I-5 routinely top 90 mph, but 104 is a sure way to get the CHP's attention - and fast. The officer on the northbound side pulled a quick U-turn and "cue the violins," Sokol said.

The Prius, Wozniak said, handled great at 104. And that wasn't the first time he reached the speed that sends shudders down my I-like-60-mph spine. The first time came one Thanksgiving when he decided to drive down to a Bob's Big Boy in Burbank.

"Highway 5 was empty that night and I made good time and was surprised to discover that the Prius was very stable, even with major gusting winds," Wozniak said. "Being used to a Hummer I expected the opposite."

Yep, he owns Hummers and hybrids. No, green-only, Birkenstock-loving guy.

Now Mr. Roadshow, of course, cannot condone speeding, especially after leading "Drive the Speed Limit Day" a few weeks ago. But Wozniak says he is sorry and that he has reformed his driving habits.

"Since then, as I told the judge, I'd driven to L.A. a few times, to San Diego and to Las Vegas, all at the speed limit," said Wozniak, who has owned eight of the Toyota hybrids. "I set the cruise control at the speed limit in fact. . . . I really have slowed down on the major highways.

"I'm not a fast person or a fast driver. When it comes to personality types A and B, I'm a C. That's the type that doesn't know what the letters stand for and doesn't care. I'm very laid-back and patient and don't mind going slowly at all. So this ticket was a good thing for me, actually."

When the young Gore was arrested, the Los Angeles Times ran a story that focused not on the drugs he was accused of possessing but about the reaction to a Prius going so fast so easily. It was the rage of the Internet.

"This is only good in the sense that it dispels the myth that hybrids are a poor-performance econo box," said Bradley Berman, editor of HybridCars.com "This is not how people usually drive their hybrids, but if you need to, you can really boogie down the highway. Certainly the Prius can do that."

Wozniak's Hummer past made him skeptical of what the Prius could do on an open road.

"The Prius surprised me," said the tech legend, who once was concerned that the popular hybrid would not stand up to his commute along curvy and steep Highway 17 from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"I had to enter that highway uphill," he said, "and you can't have a dog for a car and live to talk about it."

Slowing down also has helped Wozniak get as much as 55 miles per gallon on some freeway trips. At 104 mph?

Down to anywhere from 31 to 37 mpg.

"Probably determined by wind direction," he explained.

Yeah, and a heavy, heavy foot.


Have a gripe, minor annoyance or major problem with transportation? Contact Gary Richards at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5335. Click on www.mercurynews.com/mrroadshow for past columns. The fax number is (408) 288-8060. Please leave a daytime phone number.