It's amazing how much you can learn through reading foreign newspapers. Through reading The New York Times this afternoon, I've learned that the stigma against BMW drivers as being a tad discourteous is by no means exclusive to the UK. In learning this, I also learned of a joke: “Despite its good brakes, a BMW will usually stop with a jerk”.
Above all, though, I've learned of a study which suggests that rich people - that is, BMW drivers - may drive differently than poor people.
A study at the University of California by one Paul K. Piff linked bad driving habits with wealth. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, the study pitted pedestrians against passing motorists. It found that expensive cars – those most likely to be driven by rich people – are the most likely to drive with lofty arrogance.
The study was conducted in California, where motorists are legally required to stop at crossings when pedestrians are present – rather like our zebra crossings! Piff and his team chose a specific crossing to observe and made a pedestrian appear every time a car approached. This pedestrian would step into the road to test the reaction of 152 drivers.
As part of the investigation, Piff also monitored a four-way intersection over the course of a week, taking note of such behaviour as cutting in front of other cars out of turn. This part of the study observed 274 cars.
In both tests, it wasn't just the behaviour of the drivers that was recorded. Also noted was their age, their gender and the age and appearance of their cars. They devised a system in which “1” indicated a cheap and rattly car and “5” signified a beautiful pristine model worth more than most people make in a year.
And the results? Piff found that on average at both the crossing and the intersection, some 80% of drivers “did the right thing”, but identified “a huge boost in a driver's likelihood to commit infractions in more expensive cars.”
I'll give you a moment to make yourself a cup of sugary tea whilst you deal with the shock of his findings.
“In our [crossing] study,” said Piff, “none of the cars in the [cheaper] category drove through the crosswalk. They always stopped for pedestrians.
“One of the most significant trends was that fancy cars were less likely to stop. BMW drivers were the worst.”
At this point we'd like to point out that the views of Mr. Piff - though backed up by hard statistics - are very much his own and do not reflect those of Nationwide Vehicle Contracts. If you're a BMW driver, we're sure – no, we're certain – that you're lovely. This study was conducted in the US, after all. Things might be different here.
Through monitoring the type of people driving the cars, Piff and his team also found that male drivers are less likely to stop for pedestrians than female drivers. Also, drivers of both genders are more likely to stop for a female pedestrian than a male pedestrian.
And it's not all bad for BMW drivers. Piff also spotted a pattern of bad behaviour amongst Toyota Prius drivers.
The Toyota Prius, with its hybrid electric engine, is considered something of a status symbol in California, where this study was conducted. Has the cloud of smog been replaced by a cloud of smug? Are we – the pedestrians and drivers of less snazzy cars – the 99% - to pay the price?
Vindication, hey? It brings out the worst in all of us.
Image via Flickr user: kenjonbro