31 August, 2006

4-Wheel Drives (And What They Say About Us)

I drive a lot. No, let me rephrase that. I drive for long periods. I don't get very far but I spend a lot of time in my car. That's because I'm a commuter. I drive 30km each workday from my outer-Brisbane suburb to my city-centre workplace and then back again each evening. It takes me between an hour and 90 minutes each way. Sitting in traffic queues for two or three hours each day, I get to watch the other cars a lot. Here are some things I've noticed:
  • there are a lot of 4-Wheel drives (that's SUVs to my American readers)
  • 4-wheel drives are big and clumsy and ugly and they look like vans
  • the people who drive 4-wheel drives seem very nervous about it.
I saw a report of a study recently from the UK that found that 4-wheel drive drivers are more likely to break the law in various petty, selfish ways (like talking on a mobile phone while driving) than drivers of other vehicles. The investigators concluded that this was because 4-wheel drive drivers feel safer in their big vans so they think they can get away with more. I think this is absolutely wrong and is clearly at odds with my observation that these drivers are actually very nervous - they drive more slowly than other drivers, they slow down more for corners, they become very skittish in bad weather, they are obviously anxious about changing lanes and other manoeuvres. So how do I explain the law-breaking behaviour?

I believe it is to do with the personalities of the people who buy these large, boxy vans. They are selfish, uncaring people and that is why they don't mind taking up so much space, using so much petrol, creating so much pollution, and mangling pedestrians with their roo bars (bull bars outside Australia). This is perfectly consistent with them also breaking laws that the rest of us can see are sensible safety measures - they just don't care what danger they place other people in.

And the nervous driving? Easy. They buy these heavy vans to feed their own egos (also thinking they'll be safer in accidents - the other guy gets mangled, of course, but that's OK by them!) but then find that they are quite scary to drive - they're too big, the all-round visibility is poor, they're too high to be stable, even with 4 litre engines, they're under-powered, and so on. So they mince around in these things like old women on bicycles. But, of course, this doesn't bother them because they don't care that people like me are sniggering at them, or cursing them for holding up the traffic. In fact, they rarely give a thought to other people at all. That's why they bought the ugly great things in the first place - to make themselves feel good, big, powerful, potent, etc., etc., even if the reality is a million miles from their fantasy. Frankly, there is no other reason why so many of these fools would pay so much for technology they never use (the 4-wheel drive capability).

I can only hope that the rising cost of petrol and the fast-falling value of their vehicles will give them pause next time they want to throw away wads of money on an ego-massaging device. Although it probably won't. The sheer number of 4-wheel drives on the city roads is evidence that many, many of us are selfish, uncaring people. Worse, it says that so many of us are not very bright, and that our insecurities easily overwhelm our judgement. It tells us that many, maybe most of us, would put propping up our egos above the harm we might do to other road users and the environment.

It tells us we're a pretty sad bunch of losers.

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