Social Question

bolwerk's avatar

Does driving encourage narcissistic and sociopathic behavior? Is this a problem of negligence or lack of empathy? What can be done?

Asked by bolwerk (10317points) June 4th, 2010

It’s summer now, so I’ve been opening my window to cool off my room. Sadly, my room faces a mixed use, mainly residential, thru street. Usually, the street is pretty quiet, except for a few things: idiots playing terrible music on car stereos not designed to handle it, horn honking, and car alarms.

I probably wouldn’t even be asking this question, except the antisocial behavior of drivers hardly stops there. Many drivers seem utterly indifferent to the needs of other human beings. I recently decided to ride a bike for my own health and to save on transportation costs ($89/month for a transit pass here). I follow the rules, but I frequently get cut off, often negligently and dangerously. I find drivers often do stupid and risky things even when I’m a pedestrian, but it seems that as a biker they should at least be a little more cautious because, like it or not, bikers have no choice but to share the road with drivers.

I used to chalk the problem up to incompetence (Americans just don’t learn to drive, no matter how much we depend on it), but now I’m not so sure. These days I really think indifference to the world outside a person’s Hummer or Chevy Suburban is simply a matter of lack of empathy. Being halted for a moment behind someone at a traffic light hardly seems like a reason to blare a horn that drowns out the entire block, and I can’t imagine anyone’s trip is so important that the seconds it takes to yield to a biker with right-of-way are precious.

Is antisocial driving behavior exclusively a product of how we live? Is it an issue of urban planning? What can be done, if anything, about it? Could more car-free lifestyles encourage empathetic behavior?

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6 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Possibly more car-free lifestyles would encourage improvement. Sadly, we don’t demand formal driver’s training.

If everyone had to take that, driving would be better.

augustlan's avatar

The interesting thing to me is how much this type of thing varies so much from place to place. Where I live, the only time you ever hear a horn honking is if someone is about to be in an accident or is honking outside a house to let their passenger know they’ve arrived. Very rarely someone will do a quick honk to let you know the light is green and you’ve been sitting there for over a minute. Overly aggressive drivers are relatively rare. Inattentiveness and general assholishness (here that means you don’t let someone in from a side street) are more frequent.

To contrast, I remember visiting New York City. Completely different! Honking horns all over the place. Aggressive driving was pretty normal. In a NYC resident’s car as a passenger, we got into a minor fender bender in slow moving traffic, and it was perfectly normal to not even get out to examine the damage (there was none). Washington, DC is like this to an extent, too.

I’ve noticed similarities in other big city vs. small town environments. So I’m inclined to think that big city living is more responsible for the driving behavior than driving in general. Maybe the hustle and bustle combined with relative anonymity is a factor.

@marinelife Maryland now requires drivers education for all new drivers. Probably a good thing. :)

marinelife's avatar

@augustlan I didn’t know that. More states should follow.

bolwerk's avatar

@augustlan – it is almost universally a problem in urban environments, but it’s probably not really a character matter for the locale (maybe for those driving through the locale). The obvious reason is that urban environments are the place where the most drivers are in the least amount of space, so there is the most traffic congestion in such places. NYC may be worst simply because much of it was never designed for cars to begin with. In a dense urban environment, a honking horn is a nuisance for people who live in the area – maybe not so along rural highways. Either way, in a place like NYC, most of the drivers are from outside the city.

I’m sure that being caught in urban congestion is an annoyance for drivers. I know congestion on interstates made my blood boil back when I still drove. Yet I can’t imagine there’s much to honk at in quiet exurbs and the few remaining literal small towns.

augustlan's avatar

@bolwerk You make some good points, there.

Kraigmo's avatar

I don’t think driving encourages narcissistic and sociopathic behavior, I think it just exposes that aspect of people who already are that way in their personality. And if it’s latent, then big city driving might bring it out. It could be mild or severe. I think a lot of people are just lazy thinkers and they turn their minds off when driving. Then if their bad driving causes them to get cut off, their ego kicks in, and they get angry, even though it’s their own fault to begin with.

You can see how selfish (or fearful) people are by observing their driving:

Those who pause longer than a moment at a stop sign or who get confused with 3 or 4 cars at the intersection…
Those who enter a freeway onramp at a low speed…
Those who come to a complete stop before climbing over a speed bump even though there’s traffic behind them…
Those who shark around parking lots in circles, waiting and looking for the “front” space…
Those who drive slower in the left lanes of the highways and freeways…
Those who fail to speed up prior to a hill…
Those who are afraid of trucks and afraid of passing them…
Those who put their brakes on, when no obstacles or stops are ahead…
Those who hog the entire road to make a right turn, instead of using the land closest to the shoulder to turn…
Those who have slow reaction time when a light turns green…
Those who tailgate someone who is driving slow merely because they are caught behind someone else going slow…
Those who get in the carpool lane, and then drive at a speed lower than that of the general freeway…

…These are all behaviors that exhibit things like lazy thinking, stupidity, fear, or narcissism.

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