Imagine Whirled Peas… In Your Face!

by Fred Lee on 18 June 2008 9 comments
Photo: Matt Wilmann

Attention all drivers: the next time you’re out cruising the boulevard and the person in front of you has a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love…” you’d better think twice about hitting that horn. As reported in the Washington Post , a recent study has shown that the presence of bumper stickers is a good indication of how aggressive a driver can be and how likely their aggression will turn to road rage. It is believed that up to two-thirds of accidents on the road can somehow be attributed to aggressive driving

The study , out of Colorado State University, found that bumper stickers, window decals, and vanity plates are all good predictors of whether a driver will exhibit belligerent behavior in the form of honking, tailgating or even worse. The reason for this is because bumper stickers are a form territorial behavior, and by adorning one’s car with personal messages, a driver is in essence marking his or her territory.

Furthermore, the possibility of aggression seems proportional to the number of decorations on the car; the greater the number of decals, the greater the chance that any sort of provocation, however innocent it may be, will result in an angry response. While drivers of undecorated cars probably experience strong feelings just as often, they tend to keep it to themselves, while drivers who personalize their vehicles with visible markers are more likely to act out their feelings.

Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter what the message was. Whether it said “Jesus Saves,” or “Gut Dear” made no difference, just the stickers themselves predicted territorial behavior.

When you get down to it, it seems like territorial behavior has been around for as long as humans, and for that matter all animals, have coexisted. Defending one’s territory ensured a safe and stable environment to raise a family and gather food, free from competition. While the constraints of human survival are not as stringent in the modern industrialized world, territory is still territory, and the need to defend it could very well be hard-wired in all of us.

According to the authors of the study, territory takes on three basic forms. There is personal territory, like one’s home or car, temporary territory, like a job workspace, and public territory, which would, of course, include streets and roads.

It may be perfectly reasonable for someone to defend their car or home, but problems arise when the lines between public and private space begin to blur, as is the case with road rage. In other words, when drivers begin acting as if they owned the roads, which believe it or not happens now and then, then everybody besides themselves (including you and I) becomes a hindrance and a bother.

So the next time that you feel the need to honk your horn or drive too closely to the minivan in front of you, it might not hurt to check the windows and bumper for any stickers, because even if the children were honor roll students at the local middle school, that will in no way predict the behavior of their mom or dad.

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Guest's picture
Lucille

That's funny that they actually did research on this. We have had kind of a running joke that the more bumper stickers on a car the worse they drive. Extra bad if the bumper stickers have aggressive or snotty comments on them.

Guest's picture

Makes a lot of sense. The only time I put anything on my car that didn't come with it was the AAA sticker and a fish sticker that a born again Christian friend gave to me. I guess I'm not territorial about my car. I even let it slide when a woman backed out without looking while I was driving slowly driving through my gym parking lot and she left a dent in my car. My car is already banged up, so I thought I'd do a good deed. Especially since others have been similarly kind to me in this way in the past and I was ever-so-grateful. It felt good to see the look of amazement and relief on her face. : )

Guest's picture
Guest

I, with my "honor student" bumpersticker, am as agressive as someone with their "insured by Smith & Wesson" bumpersticker? Wow, that makes me really, really mad! (I'm kidding...)

Fred Lee's picture

Thanks for sharing your experiences, guys. I grew up in LA and spent most of my life hating humanity behind the wheel of my car. It really stinks, and takes years off your life, and my car was a total junker, though covered with stickers. Shanel, kudos to you for being so Zen about your negative car experience, it ain't easy in this day and age. And Lucille, it's amazing sometimes what crazy things your tax dollars fund in terms of research.

Guest's picture
katy

It is so true! I have seen the 'honor student' one a lot - and the parents drive so speedy.

Another issue: why would you give someone more reasons to identify you? I think these stickers, to say nothing about vanity plates, make people less safe.

Guest's picture
Dar

I'm not terribly convinced by the study. As I understand this study, the researchers basically stopped at intersections with red-lights, and then pretended not to notice when the light turned green. Supposedly, drivers of cars with bumper stickers and other personalizations would honk two seconds earlier on average than drivers of "generic" cars.

You could argue that a person who honks sooner may seem more aggressive, but I think it's a leap. I expect there are other metrics, such as the people who are pulled over for speeding or agressive driving, or the people who run red lights, or the people weaving in and out of traffic, that would be more telling than this.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've always shied away from bumper stickers. But oddly, in an almost territorial way. I went so far as to remove the license plate holders and sticker put on by the dealership. It's my car, I'm not going to give the dealer free advertising!

Another reason I dislike bumper stickers is I feel that they give people a chance to associate the way I drive with my views. I like to think I'm a decent driver, but I make mistakes every so often, and when the guy behind me silently (or not so silently) cusses me out, I'd rather he just call me stupid than a stupid Christian, stupid hippie, or stupid conservative. Katy's point, though I hadn't thought of it, reinforces this. If someone is angry enough to follow me home, why would I want to give them information that might help?

I agree with Dar that how quick someone is on the horn may not be the best metric, but at the same time, it is perhaps the easiest. To get consistent data, researchers needed to essentially "create" road rage without actually breaking any laws or putting other drivers in danger. Access to information about pullovers and tickets versus bumper stickers, while more telling, would require police to do the research.

One last thought: does this mean people with larger families are more aggressive? The rather odd fad of putting stickers representing each family member and pet on the back of a vehicle, if number of stickers is truly proportional to rage, would imply this.

Guest's picture
Guest

Like others I am dubious about this. Now I don't put bumper stickers on my car (apart from an embarrassing one in high school, appropriate to a high school kid of that age I suppose ;-) ) but as someone already said,

I went so far as to remove the license plate holders and sticker put on by the dealership. It's my car, I'm not going to give the dealer free advertising!

Exactly! And I replaced it with a personalized one. I'm surprised by how many people around here leave those on. Do those count as well, according to this study?

And I had a roommate once who had a car completely covered in them. She explained how some friends of hers put a couple on, and now it's a running gag, people find new ones for her to stick on, and when she goes to concerts and such, she finds that she often picks up a sticker there as well. Don't think she was a very aggressive driver, either.

But I guess they'll study anything...!

Guest's picture
Nairb

There used to be a theory: given an infinite number of chimpanzees with an infinite amount of typewriters and an infinite amount of time one will eventually write a Shakespeare sonnet. Well I think the Internet has almost disproved that one. Plus the typewriters will all jam in the first few minutes and they will rust away long before infinity.

So how about a new one:
Give an infinite number of morons an infinite amount of grant money and they will prove that every lame hypothesis in the world is true.

This study certainly helps ratify that theory. How idiotic that displaying bumper stickers would be an indicator of aggressiveness!

I put bumper stickers on my car. (I also remove the dealer's license brackets.) In fact, I just finished removing my old anti-Bush ones and am wondering what is next. So should you worry about me becoming aggressive? Nope. I am not aggressive. I don't speed, don't tailgate, don't dodge and weave, don't carry a gun or a club. I don't even flip off the people who deserve it. I've been driving every day for 38 years without an accident. In fact, I avoid busy driving times because of the aggressiveness that almost everyone seems to adopt.

I do think the display of bumper stickers shows the courage to speak one's mind. One does not need to be aggressive to show this quiet kind of courage.

So in my mind the important question is: what should be my next bumper sticker? I was thinking of the "Imagine whirled peas" one that I saw somewhere. Waddya think?