At the Helm: The anger behind bumper stickers
Written by The Curry Coastal Pilot   
January 21, 2012 05:04 am

 

Next time you’re the victim of road rage, check the offending vehicle for bumper stickers.

According to a recent study on aggressive driving, there may be a link between aggressive drivers and bumper stickers on their vehicles.

The study is called “Territorial Markings as a Predictor of Driver Aggression and Road Rage,” by social psychologist William J. Szlemko, of Colorado State University. 

Szlemko concluded that 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, they are far more likely than others to use their vehicles to express rage by honking, tailgating and cutting others off.

A curious thing is, it doesn’t seem to matter if the messages on the stickers are about peace and love: “Visualize World Peace,” and “My Kid Is an Honor Student;” or angry and in your face: “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.”

I stumbled across this study while researching last week’s column, in which I questioned an inappropriate window decal on a truck and what such stickers tell us about the driver. I was intrigued by the idea that our vehicles could be consider personal “territory” and, by extension, the roads we drive on. 

Szlemko and his university colleagues found that “people who personalize their cars acknowledge that they are aggressive drivers, but usually do not realize that they are reporting much higher levels of aggression than people whose cars do not have visible markers on their vehicles.”

Drivers who do not personalize their cars get angry, too, Szlemko concluded, but they don’t act out their anger. “They fume, mentally call the other driver a jerk, and move on,” he said.

The study concluded that “Drivers, who individualize their cars, see them as deeply personal space and forget when they are on the road that they are in public territory because the immediate cues surrounding them tell them that they are in a deeply private space or primary territory.”

In plain English that means the more bumper stickers and individual markings (including vanity license plates) a car has, the more territorial, angry and impatient the driver is likely to be.

Right now, some of you are probably nodding your heads in agreement.

Most of us like to personalize our homes, bedrooms and work spaces with paintings, banners and posters, and some of us do the same with our vehicles using bumper stickers and such. It’s a form of territorialism. Problems arise, however, when people mentally merge their territorial space with public space, Szlemko said.

Drivers with road rage tend to think of public streets and highways as “my street” and “my lane” – in other words, they think they “own the road,” Szlemko reported.

Fascinating!

But is it true?

Is Szlemko painting the motoring public with too broad a brush? 

Does an angry ogre exist in every driver with bumper stickers on their car?

Do we have to be wary of drivers with those “Baby on board” stickers? 

Try your own experiment. Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, honks their horn impatiently or makes a rude gesture, take a look at their rear window or bumper. 

Better yet, if you are guilty of any such moves, check your own vehicle.

What do you see?