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Road Safety Tip: Steer Clear Of Bumper Stickers

Today's "Department of Human Behavior" column in the WaPo explores the observed link between drivers who exhibit road rage and those who slap bumper stickers on their vehicles. And we're not just talking aggressive "Looking for your cat? Check under my tire"-type bumper stickers; even folks who beg you to "Hug a Manatee" or "Visualize World Peace" are more prone to acting out on the roads than those whose bumpers are sticker-free. (To clarify: It's not that they get any madder than other drivers; it's that they are more likely to vent that anger at others.) 

In the piece, researchers offer up a fairly complex explanation for this correlation, based on territorality and how marking one's vehicle may cause drivers to perceive the road more as private territory to be defended than as a public space. 

Maybe. But it seems to me there's a far more basic factor at work here as well: People who choose to adorn their vehicles are, pretty much by definition, people who feel compelled to share their thoughts, feelings, religious beliefs, political preferences, personal accomplishments, and/or sexual proclivities with those around them. It's not just that the owner of that 1968 Chevy Nova loves his dog, his gun, and his wife (in that order); he wants you to know it too. As for the driver of that Ford Escape Hybrid, she wants to be very clear about the fact that she is Pro-Child and Pro-Choice--and she graduated from NYU! 

Given this impulse toward vehicular self-expression, it's hardly shocking, then, that these are the same people who feel that a roadway slight is not something they should suffer in silence. If they are unhappy, they damn well intend to let the rest of us know it--and especially the person perceived as reponsible for their unhappiness. If this requires honking, tailgating, swerving, gesturing obscenely, or waving a loaded pistol out the driver's side window, so be it. 

So maybe bumper sticker manufacturers should consider a bit more truth in advertising with some of their wares. Something along the lines of: "Visualize World Peace; just don't do it in my blind spot, jackass, or I'll run you down like a rabid dog."  

--Michelle Cottle