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Why Are So Many Drivers Rude -- or Worse?

Hello All,

I believe I have a theory as to why drivers act they way they/(we) do when we climb behind the steering wheel of a car.  Please note that this is not a scientific analysis; rather it is something I have thought about over the years of driving on America's roads.

My theory is this:
People drive their cars with the same lack of manners as displayed at home, behind closed doors ... in other words, "when (they think) no one outside the immediate family is looking."

If people are not driving, and we are in a social situation where "everyone is looking", we tend to display our so-called public manners. We seem to display a comparatively great quantity of altruism towards our fellow man or woman.

For example: If you happen to be in a supermarket's check-out line with a cart full of groceries, and someone comes up from behind holding only a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, it is customary for most people to at least volunteer to allow this person to go ahead of you. The person with only one item generally reacts most politely at your kind gesture.

Next: After we have paid for our groceries, and are driving home, our attitude seems to change -- perhaps by not allowing someone to "cut in", or actually performing some "cutting off" another driver, ourselves.  We have all experienced the hair-trigger desire to "flip the bird" or yell obscenities -- almost at the drop of a hat!

Question: What is the difference between the above two scenarios (in line at the supermarket check-out line, and driving home on a public street)? My theory, once again, is that we trade our "public personae" for the way we "really behave" in front of family and loved ones, behind closed doors.

* * * * * * *

Something terribly wrong happens when we envelope ourselves within the supposed security a 2-ton vehicle, and are capable of causing gross injury or even death to others; we are also capable of causing untold property damage -- acts that have the potential for putting us behind jail bars for years at a time!!

Perhaps it is that we perceive "the other driver" as having the potential of inflicting said damage on our lives and property. I also postulate that we seem to possess a "three second" grace period of time. If someone turns into our lane, and we have more than three seconds to react, then all is well.

If, however, someone turns into our lane, and we must take evasive action with less than three seconds' reaction time, we go ballistic.

Any thoughts on this theory?

Your opinions, comments and thoughts are encouraged.


AnonymousButCandid AnonymousButCandid 61-65, M 14 Responses Oct 21, 2012

Your Response


I agree with your analysis. It seems people feel invincible in their cars and lose their inhibitions and manners. Something about a car makes people think they're insulated from the world. Its also why its important to make eye contact with drivers before you cross the crosswalk or parking lot. If you don't receive some acknowledgement from the driver, you need to assume they'll run you down.

I think you think much but whatever you think is exactly correct. The so called mannerism is only limited to public gathering i.e when someone's watching. Let them be invisible for a while and what they do then would be their actual manners

It is an interesting theory. I will have to give it some thought. I do think my behavior changes when someone cuts me off or something because for a second or so I was put in danger. My fight or flight response has kicked in, so I respond like I do if startled or hurt.

The traffic discipline reflects the way a nation thinks. The moment it is anonymous and in passing, people tend to care less..and feel they can get away from being recorded. As, you wrote "no body" sees or judges your action.
It also is related to ,"ego"..because driver's got a machine in their control, which they take pride in, by performance. Cutting in is rude and not allowing is risky, but actually the driver is trying to make the other realize his mistake.
Question is..why does anyone cut his time more valuable.. or others right of way is unimportant for him..ultimately, it seems ..that his ego is bigger...

Interesting scenario's you pointed out, Anonymous, as I say to people in the grocery store, "I hope you don't drive the way you shop." lol

Maybe people act the way they do on the road because they think they'll never see that person again, and perhaps because they're in a moving car (protected, so to say) they might think the person can't do anything to them if they act out, as opposed to standing right next to the person.
Just as online, people seem to think they can say mean things to others because all anyone can really do is type back to them. There's no threat of instant physical violence when speaking to others on the internet.

I'm not so sure it has to do with what family and friends would think. I think it leans more towards 'how close' physically one is or not.

Have I ever flipped anyone off while on the road, yes, but rare, and then felt kinda bad about it, even though the other person was in the wrong for what they did.

My sons have asked me at times, "Why don't you pull off to let them pass?" "Why doesn't it bother you that they're tailgating?" I tell them, "I'm not worried about what they are doing, I'm concentrating on the road. I don't let people like that get to me while on the road." Most times, this scenario happens while on the highway and I'm doing 5 mph over the speed limit and the other people are doing at least 20 mph over. They have the nerve to be mad at ME? ha. lol

I'm right there with you and I'm guilty of turning from Dr. Jekyll in the aisles to Mrs. Hyde on the streets.

Oh and as I read the other texts to this question when there is someone texting and not paying attention then you'll probably be watching if your driving slower and your horn is a great tool to snap someone back into paying attention to the road & not their phone

It extremely frustrating especially if your on the road a lot. Deep breaths and remember if you are a Christian than Jesus is your passenger and he is watching out for you. If this doesn't seem to be your thing than give yourself extra time when driving, drive slower and let the idiots in. Remember this saves on your gas/brakes and your bottom line which is the cost of maintaining you auto

I think that the aggressive behavior of drivers can be linked to a few things. For one, driving creates anxiety. Driving with a lot of other drivers on the road, creates more anxiety. Then, where there are a lot of other drivers, there tends to be a city, so that means, people are most likely driving to a job or have to be somewhere at a specific time, this adds an opportunity for frustration, because someone or something is in the way of the person trying to get to a destination at a certain time. So add frustration, and anxiety, and you have an explosion. (In college we learned that frustration is the biggest trigger of actionable anger - meaning "violence".)

I do not think it has anything to do with how the person is in public or private. I think it has to do with the pressure of the working people, and the often unrealistic time constraints put upon them.

That's fine if you choose do disagree with my theory. After all, it's only a personal theory of mine. I do happen to know people who present themselves as being "nice" in public, but who are jerks behind closed doors -- and their "behind door" attitudes show themselves when they get behind the wheel. Even when they are not specifically in a hurry.

I thought we were talking on a more general basis. Im sure there are exceptions to everything in individualistic expression. Even so called theoretical facts are only 70% correct 70% of the time, which really means when it comes to 'proven theories' that they are not that accurate at all.

I wasn't meaning to disrespect or "disagree". I was just sharing my opinions. I, in no way, meant to disrespect or disregard your ideals or feelings on the matter, and I apologize if it came off that way. :)

I used to be the most considerate driver - I would "give road" to the person who wants to get there faster than me, and always gave the benefit of the doubt to the slower-than-the-speed-limit driver ahead of me. But five years ago I moved to a state where my experiences on the road have turned me into a raving, cursing, aggressive driver. I am NEVER ths way in public or private. I am dismayed that somehow, others have been able to exercise this control over me! A simple commute to work now involves such an effort to squash the anger I feel towards approximately 20% of the people I am forced to share the road with. Although I realize I'm responsible for my own attitude, I am pushed constantly by the inconsiderate, thoughtlessness of others. Grrr!

I identify with your thoughts and concerns, exactly!

I know of people that act like the most upstanding citizen when they are at their job or around people in social situations, etc, but mind you......when they get behind a wheel of a car the horns pop out. I think lots of people are actually pretty much anti-social to sum degree. Perhaps they feel weak, or, not so confident about themselves in a physical or possibly.......mental way. If so maybe the vehicle is their suit of armor (so to speak) and they feel powerful and vent thru it.

lol, I put the wrong "sum" mean"t "some"

I think it is as simple as how patient we are. I get road rage sometimes but I will always, always offer someone to go ahead of me in the grocery line if they have significantly less than me. I am kind but very impatient. And the dangers of it never cross my mind. I think most people drive like a ******* idiot. That's my take lol-

Sounds about right to me!! I had someone give me the finger for stoping at a stop light!!!!!! Drivers are so rude I wish we could all just be nice on the road! I alway try to let people in to my lane if it is safe for me and them to do so!!

Observing people's behaviour,i see many evidences on your theory and i know it;because i was one of these unhappy creatures who puts on a mask of politeness when others are watching as i could not tolerate rude behaviour from myself in front of others.
Enlightening theory .