Who are the aggressive drivers?

Watch out for cars with bumper stickers.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a recent study by Colorado State University
social psychologist William Szlemko. Drivers of cars with bumper
stickers, window decals, personalized license plates and other
"territorial markers" not only get mad when someone cuts in their lane
or is slow to respond to a changed traffic light, but they are far more
likely than those who do not personalize their cars to use their
vehicles to express rage — by honking, tailgating and other aggressive

It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are
about peace and love — "Visualize World Peace," "My Kid Is an Honor
Student" — or angry and in your face — "Don’t Mess With Texas," "My
Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student."

…Drivers who do not personalize their cars get angry, too, Szlemko and
his colleagues concluded in a paper they recently published in the
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, but they don’t act out their
anger. They fume, mentally call the other driver a jerk, and move on.

"The more markers a car has, the more aggressively the person tends
to drive when provoked," Szlemko said. "Just the presence of territory
markers predicts the tendency to be an aggressive driver."

Here is much more, with some interesting theory in the article as well.  Apparently bumper stickers indicate that the driver has a particular, and potentially dangerous, sense of territoriality.


Fwiw: don't mess with Texas is an ironic anti littering campaign.

I'm surprised that the content of the bumper stickers didn't seem to matter. A lot of the bumper stickers I see seem ridiculously confrontative.

Maybe it's a signaling thing. You would never say such rude things in person, so plastering them all over your car indicates that you never leave your bubble, and perversely signals your reliability.

I find that most cars that are covered with bumper-stickers are driven by wild-eyed liberals...



Odd. The best advice I ever heard about getting angry when driving ("ask yourself whether this will be important in three weeks") was from an exercise physiologist whose van has some 20 bumper stickers (peace and love variety). Just another illustration of "anecdotes aren't data," I guess. I figure my own bumper sticker ("My son is serving in the US Army") is good for an additional 10 mph over the speed limit, so it's not a territorial thing.

The presence of bumper stickers seems like a pretty good proxy or how much the driver cares about the resale value of the car. If you aren't so concerned with resale value you're probably more likely to take risks that could lead to an at-fault accident.

My experience has also been that people who leave their handicap parking permits on display at all times are less attentive and more timid than the average driver. This sort of thing is probably harder to test empirically, though.

Is there something wrong with aggressive driving?

There are safety issues, but those are probably mostly due to the incomparability of aggressive and non-aggressive driving. Generally aggressive driving should be both more fuel and time efficient and lead to less traffic.

The type of aggressive behavior and how aggressive should matter. A simple tap of the horn isn't the same as nudging someones bumper.

Oh, for me, I have something that has the opposite effect: An advertisement for my friend's company. I don't want people associating hostile feelings with his company.

I think there are a few main reasons why aggressive gestures tend to be counter productive. One, the emotion promotes recklessness, and is also mentally distracting. Two, it has become quite apparent over recent years, that people are practically unable to both present or accept criticism constructively. Even when people are criticized constructively, they tend to be defensive and react in a counter productive way rather then evaluating the situation.

My only problem with aggressive driving is that often, aggressive drivers want me to break the law- and they're not sharing the consequences. If I speed so the guy behind me who wants to go 20 miles over the speed limit instead of 10 will finally quit tailgating me, he's not going to be around to pay the speeding ticket that I get. If I roll through a stop sign because there's no traffic coming and the guy behind me is honking and giving me the finger because I took 0.05 seconds out of his life by coming to a complete stop, I doubt that's a valid legal defense for me in traffic court. Ditto with running over a pedestrian because driver behind me is so enraged that I stopped at a crosswalk with people in it that he nearly sideswipes me trying to go around (really happened). A lot of times, you end up trapped between aggressive, impatient drivers and fear of getting ticketed yourself.

Interesting stuff! I just came off 13 hours in the car and I was wondering if people with bumper stickers are more likely to get rear-ended (because people are trying to read instead of watching the traffic).

I'm well aware of that. I don't know why people assume that the left lane somehow magically appeases jerks who want to go 90 no matter how much traffic there is. Plenty of people are happy to tailgate no matter what lane you're in, whether or not there's any place you could possibly go to move out of their way. When I'm in the right lane and the others have a solid line of traffic, I can't blow by the highway patrol doing 80 and then claim it was because the dude behind me was pissed and wanted everyone to go faster.

This would lead me to think that having a bumper sticker on your car should increase your insurance premium.

I live in a very liberal state in a college town. I've never noticed the college kids with the stickers getting frustrated in traffic. It's primarily the local hicks in pick-ups. Lately, the locals have started to get annoyed by the most unusual thing; signaling for and taking slow turns! It's like, "Hey, I can't drive on this road forever moron. How much more notice of a turn do you want?"
Perhaps they are just wanting me to make more snappy turns. No can do.

aaron and sean, I've noticed that three. My guess is it's the entitlement mentality. Remember, many people
qualified to use handicapped parking spots, don't use the tag. The ones that do are more likely to feel
they're more important than others and don't have to pay attention. That's the effect you're seeing. Same
thing for people who get disabled veteran tags. They drive like they're mentally disabled.

LisaMarie: As a general rule, you *should* keep right if you're not passing. Yes, even if those evil drivers
are going too fast anyway. Yes, even if some of them still tailgate you and yes, I experience that a lot.
Seriously, I go through a lot of effort to help people pass if they really want to go faster, and yet some of
them are so stupid they don't even realize what's going on. I'll pull to the side, given them PLENTY of room
to go around, *stop*, and put my hazard lights on, and yet, they'll just copy me and sit for a second before
the slow slow gears in their brains figure it out and they go around. Don't want to take the several opportunities
I've given you? Great! Then you get to follow me when I go nice and slow....

Generally aggressive driving should be both more fuel and time efficient and lead to less traffic.

And why do you say that? Driving faster may be time efficient, but it isn't fuel efficient. More importantly, the closer you try to stay to the bumper in front of you the more actively you will be hitting the gas, hitting the brake, hitting the gas...you get it. Additionally, I can't prove it, but I suspect that a less turbulent traffic flow (i.e., less surprise moves, more uniform speed) would actually increase throughput in high traffic.


If you're doing 80 and there's a guy tailgating you, the cop is not going to pull you over. As the cop gets behind both of you, as he will have to do, the cop will not pass by the guy behind you as the guy behind you pulls over. The cop will follow that guy as he pulls over. Unless you were doing something extremely stupid, you aren't getting the ticket because the guy behind you was doing 80 AND tailgating.

Generally speaking, Lisa, here are a few rules for you to abide by:
1. Don't be in the left lane if you're going to drive at less than 10 OVER the speed limit. The only time this doesn't apply is during rush hour AND the lanes are packed or there is an accident.
2. If you're in the left lane, going at least 10 miles over, and you're keeping pace with the guy on the right lane, get over in the right lane. In addition to going faster in the left lane, you should be passing.
3. If you're driving too slow in the left lane and the guy behind you decides to pass you on the right, DO NOT speed up. In general, don't be a peer pressured driver, i.e., change your driving pattern because all of the sudden there is someone close to you driving differently from you.
4. If you're in the lane next to the left lane and you see someone flying down the road in the left lane, do not get in the left lane to block him. It is not your job to make sure anyone is driving the speed limit and cutting someone off creates the dangerous situation, not that person's speeding.
5. DO NOT slow down to look at an accident. Ever.
6. If you're in the left lane and no one is in the right lane, get in the right lane.
7. DO NOT slam on your breaks because you think the person behind you is tailgating you.
Failing to follow the above rules (there are more) shows what an @#sh0!e you are, and that you are willing to create a dangerous situation because someone is not driving that way you think people should drive.

They can reflect the personality and values of the car's owner, whether idealistic, witty or obnoxious. Bumper stickers can also become a shorthand marker for being part of a "tribe" -- such as the rainbow symbol, the ichthys "Jesus fish," or the Darwin fish.

They can reflect the personality and values of the car's owner, whether idealistic, witty or obnoxious. Bumper stickers can also become a shorthand marker for being part of a "tribe" -- such as the rainbow symbol, the ichthys "Jesus fish," or the Darwin fish.

Wouldn't it be worth the while of any large auto insurance company to prepare a simple summary of this paper, and circulate it to all state and local police forces? A few accidents less than expected mean a neat little windfall profit for them; at least until premium rates adjust.

Tailgaters are dangerous, but, if you don't tailgate yourself, you will almost never get rear-ended by them. Ken gave good advice- don't let yourself be pressured by other drivers to change your, hopefully, safe and appropriate driving styles.

I once road with a friend down I-684 just north of NYC during morning rush. A tailgate party at 65 mph. Never been more frightened in a auto in my life.

Ah yes, I forgot. Aggressive tailgaters and various other pissed off drivers aren't jerks. They're only doing it because no one else knows how to drive. I'll remember to try to increase the general quality of driving on the road by tailgating, swerving around other drivers, screaming and making obscene gestures, and trying to run people who get in my way onto the shoulder. Eventually, everyone will be better drivers for it!

When visiting and driving around Southern California and NYC I was nervous because of all the horror stories about the aggressive drivers in those areas. Instead I was delighted to find that West Coast drivers are much better about using the left lane for passing only, and NYC drivers, while fast, are not obnoxious like those at home. So I came home from those trips with a newfound disgust for my fellow Washington-area drivers, who I now believe are the country's worst. I chalk it up to arrogance. Everyone in the DC area has inflated self-importance, which is reflected in their aggressive driving.

By the way, my husband has always had bumper stickers and a vanity tag, while I refuse to put bumper stickers on my car, and I let my vanity tag lapse so someone else got it. True to the study, my husband is a far more aggressive driver.

I realized after thinking further, what a different topic be-stickered autos in general would be. I currently reside in Richmond, but have lived in Nashville, Virginia Beach, DC, and went to school at Sewanee, and see a lot of rear window pride. Why does this trend towards my region of the country? My dog digs Charleston, my kids attend (fill in the blank private schools), and I'm an alumnus at (fill in the blank).

In addition to my powpow stickers, I also represent my undergrad and grad schools, and ironically have the sticker that simply tells others to "Relax.". Yes, the sticker has punctuation.

I think that making that "connection" between agressive driving and stickers is kinda iffy. Or even determining that its a liberal or a conservative or a right winger or a leftist. There is no connection as far as I'm concerned. In my country, no one puts stickers in their cars and they are 85% agressive specially if they are male.

I am surprised that it is against the law to give way to those who want to go over the speed limit in California. What kind of idiot came up with that law ?

Well, I have also observed that there are some drivers who do not follow the traffic rules and drive carelessly.

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