Evil drivers

I know many of the readers of this blog also drive and I’m quite sure none of you are evil but perhaps you could help explain to me how some drivers develop a pathological hatred of law-abiding pedestrians once they are behind the wheel of their petrol-guzzlers?

Yesterday I was minding my own business crossing the road legally: I had the pedestrian green light about half way across it started to flash. A very angry taxi driver in an unoccupied cab started trying to push his way past me and the other pedestrians in a most threatening manner. Readers, I confess that I and another pedestrian made a USian hand gesture in his direction at which point he turned red and started pounding his horn like one possessed as we pedestrians calmly completed our legal crossing of the road.

It was an astonishing reaction given that he was breaking traffic laws in a most arseholic manner and we were merely pointing out his arseholery. If he weren’t behind his metal cocoon he would have leapt out and strangled us.

What gives?

I would love to say this is the first such incident, but I have had demonic drivers honk as I and my fellow pedestrians cross the street legally so many times I have lost count. Are they unaware that flashing red signals that pedestrians may complete their crossing? Are they unaware that it is illegal to pound their horn in that manner? It’s also illegal to attempt to run over pedestrians.

Why do so many people turn into monsters behind the wheel?

And some folks wonder why I hate cars.


  1. Liset on #

    you flipped him off!
    that just made my day!
    good for you!

  2. Andrew on #

    I suspect it might just be a Sydney traffic thing… 😛

  3. Allison on #

    I once saw a taxi driver & a bicycler get into an actual fist fight at a red light in Chicago. Then when the light turned green–the taxi driver got back in his car & the biker returned to his bike and they both went along their merry ways. It was highly baffling and amusing. I have no clue what started the fight, but at least they both dispersed when the light turned green.

  4. Justine on #

    Liset: You’re welcome.

    Andrew: Sadly that does not explain similar incidents in Melbourne, NYC, Madrid and London.

    Allison: Probably some arseholery on the part of the taxi driver. Cyclists never do anything wrong.

  5. Miriam on #

    I read somewhere that aggressive driving is related to how people view space. Instead of viewing the car and the road as public space, like a mall or library, a lot of people tend to view their car as private space. So when they drive and someone gets in their way, they take it personally, like someone shoving them in their own living room.

    The study compared a pool of drivers and discovered that having bumper stickers and other personalized stuff on/in the car increased the chance the person would drive aggressively. Also, the more personalized the car the more likely people were to take offense.

    It made sense to me

  6. Jennifer on #

    I literally RUN across every street I cross, because I do not trust drivers to not start revving up their cars and driving at me when I’m in the middle of the road. It happens all the time. I don’t think they care.

    An ex of mine would yell at me for this, but I was all, “I’m 5’4, you’re 6’7. You will do them more damage if they hit you. They don’t give a crap if they hit me!”

  7. Ted Lemon on #

    I am going to theorize here, based on zero knowledge of traffic patterns in Melbourne, based on actual experience with traffic patterns in New York and San Francisco. The deal is that in areas where there is really heavy pedestrian traffic, it is sometimes difficult to make a right turn off a busy thoroughfare because the pedestrian traffic goes at the same time that the parallel traffic goes. This can be really frustrating, and someone who’s already in a bad mood, like a cab driver who’s having a slow day or who just had a really rude fare, might be pushed over the edge by this frustration.

    That’s not an excuse, but you asked for an explanation, not an excuse, so I think this applies.

    The other thing is that a lot of times you have drivers who are from exurban areas who come into the city center for one reason or another. They are used to very low pedestrian densities, and so they simply don’t often have to yield to pedestrians, and are not aware that they are supposed to. And then they come into the city center, where the pedestrian is king, and suddenly they feel like they’re being obstructed.

    A third observation is that when you are sitting in a car waiting for pedestrians to clear a crosswalk, they can exhibit behavior which you see in the aggregate, but which they do not see at all. It’s often the case that pedestrians will accidentally space themselves so that there is no opportunity to cross, when if they’d bunched up together there would have been. If you are the sort of person who tends to take things personally, you may see this as a personal affront, even though the pedestrians in question have no idea that any such thing even happened.

    In any case, flipping the bird at a stressed-out human being is a recipe for creating further stress in that human being. It’s not nice. You shouldn’t do it. Just because that particular human being is behaving like a jerk doesn’t mean you have license to do the same.

  8. Tim on #

    As someone who has only recently begun driving, I have found that many drivers are di… I mean, not very nice people. I don’t know why – but some people are obviously in such a hurry to get wherever they’re going that they completely disregard people and the road rules. I often smile triumphantly when someone speeds up and weaves through lanes only to find themselves stuck at a red light with the rest of us mere mortals.

    With walking, there’s one particular zebra crossing that I have to use a lot (it has no lights), but I’ve stood literally on the end of the road while up to ten cars go by at full speed without stopping. In the end, I just always take an almost-step out so that people think I’m going to walk in front of their moving car. It usually works. And if they seem disgruntled by the fact that I have right of way, I actually have a tendency to walk really slowly.

    Maybe I’m a little bit sadistic and immature, but it is fun to see their rage build at me for using my legal right to walk safely across the road…

  9. Criss on #

    Sadly, I live in Texas – the land of the Big-A$$ Truck. We don’t have taxis or taxi drivers here, since we all own our very own, personal Big-A$$ Truck. And we don’t have pedestrians, either – they also own Big-A$$ Trucks and proudly drive them everywhere. Even to the corner coffee shop.
    I think if we ever encountered a pedestrian attempting to cross in front of one of our Big-A$$ Trucks, we would probably be too shocked to react – it would be as if a jackalope or, say, Rudolph were to walk out in front of our Big-A$$ Truck.
    Sorry, I take that back – if Rudolph were to walk out in front of our Big-A$$ Truck, we’d know exactly what to do: shoot that buck with our Big-A$$ Shotgun. Which we carry in our Big-A$$ Truck at all times, mounted in the back, on the Big-A$$ Gun Rack.

    That said, I would like to take this moment to make a formal, Big-A$$ apology on behalf of Texas to the rest of the world for, well, all of the above.

  10. E. Kristin Anderson on #

    I hate cars, too. And when I lived in New York, I hated them extra. It’s like people get behind the wheel and their penis grows exponentially. Not just talking about guys, here, either.

  11. Lizabelle on #

    I don’t drive, so sympathise fully with the pedestrian side of things here.

    That said, I was surprised when I arrived in Australia to find that so many pedestrian green lights clash with the green lights for vehicles to turn right into the path of the pedestrians. (Gah, I wish I could draw a map here with pretty arrows for cars and pedestrians, but hopefully people can understand what I mean.)

    I’ve nearly been run over twice by drivers who were zooming around a corner on their green lights and clearly thought I was slightly mental for being in the middle of the road.

    Bit of a recipe for squashed pedestrians if you ask me.

  12. Becky on #

    I grew up driving in an area with fairly aggressive drivers. I’m talking no courtesy at all for the pedestrian, let alone those people who wanted to ride their bicycles. In fact, there wasn’t a single bike lane in the entire downtown area of the city. Rather than give pedestrians and cyclists the right of way (or treating them as another vehicle in the case of bikes), they were seen as objects to hit, and were thusly given a point value… Oh wait, you guys didn’t grow up playing the grandma with a walker is worth 500 points game?? My bad…

    Anyhow, three years ago, I moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest (Portland in particular), and the drivers here are SO polite! We have bike lanes and strict laws regarding drivers and cyclists. Today while walking around downtown, I saw a number of drivers stop to allow pedestrians to cross even if it wasn’t their “turn”. It still astounds me to actually be given space to merge on to the highways, and that people WILL let you in when trying to change lanes and get over–even if it’s a last minute thing!

    I have seen some agressive drivers here and there, but I think they’re either tourists in rental cars, or east coasters who haven’t acclimated to driving here yet.

    Speaking of my trip downtown today, Justine, I happened to visit heaven on earth (aka Powells city of Books) and came across something photo-worthy in the YA aisle that I know you’ll LOVE! It will seriously make you smile. I snapped a couple of pics with my phone, but need to figure out how to get them from my phone to my computer tomorrow.

  13. C on #

    I find that drivers get mad at other drivers for following traffic laws, as well as pedestrians. I once was THE ONLY CAR facing a legal direction at a four way intersection, with THREE OTHER ILLEGALLY FACING CARS blocking my every legal move, and all three of them honked at me and flipped me off, while I sat waiting patiently. O_o

    I almost never use my horn out of anger (if it was that bad, I’m busy using my hands to avoid impending doom… not to express my displeasure) but I often find myself wishing for an “oops, my bad” horn, cuz yanno, sometimes drivers are jerks *accidently*. Obviously not your taxi driver, but some!

  14. mb on #

    Cars also seem to give their drivers a sense of entitlement to speed. I once waited (in my own car) to make a left turn, and the driver behind me pounded on his horn as if I were being a complete idiot — never mind the oncoming traffic that I was trying not to drive straight into. Oddest thing of all — We were both just waiting to turn into the parking lot of a grocery store. Who is in this big a hurry to pick up some milk and cereal?

  15. Brent on #

    I could (and probably should) write an extended monologue of the loss of courtesy in our society. Drivers are the most obvious illustration. I would venture to say that MOST drivers do a Jekyll & Hide routine when they get behind the wheel. If people were asked and honestly responded, I think most would answer that: yes, they DO own the road, everyone else on the road is “in their way” and that laws that restrict them from doing what they want are “stupid.”

    Pedestrians vs. cars is a losing battle. Cars are bigger, and in any game of chicken there’s no doubt who’ll come out the winner. Mostly however, it’s majority rule. There are more drivers than pedestrians. And laws are passed to help traffic flow that are anti-pedestrian.

    A good example is the “right turn on red” laws in many US states. You can turn right on a red light (after stopping) when traffic is clear. Practically that means that you have to creep ahead of the stop bar to see if traffic is clear. That means you’re sticking your car in the crosswalk. Green right-turn arrows mean you can treat it like a green light… except that somehow, while making the turn at normal speed, you’re supposed to be able to see a pedestrian in the crosswalk even though most of that view is blocked by other stopped cars. So even a well-intentioned and well-mannered driver can imperil a legally-crossing pedestrian.

  16. Ted Lemon on #

    Brent, when there is a green right turn arrow, the don’t walk sign should be on for the crosswalk that would be crossed by someone turning right. If not, this is a serious safety issue, as you say, but I’ve never seen that – I think it’s not allowed at least in the U.S.

    As for right turn on red, in most cases in the U.S. it doesn’t matter because in most parts of the U.S. the density of pedestrians is so low that there’s minimal conflict, and the cost of conflict is small. In cities like San Francisco, without right turn on red there would be no way to make a right turn off of Market Street during the day. In New York, right turn on red is illegal, and that can be a real problem.

    It’s all very well to complain about tradeoffs, and I would tend to agree that the tradeoffs being made in traffic planning tend to be biased toward drivers and away from pedestrians in most cases. But in cities where people are accepting of the fact that the people with whom they share the road are real people with legitimate needs, you don’t see serious problems, and in cities where this basic level of civility is absent, you do. In New York, people double park all the time, but only one time in my entire time in Manhattan did I see a bicyclist and a driver screaming at each other. In San Francisco, double parking is much less prevalent, and screaming is endemic.

    So I think that what really matters is civility. When it comes down to a dispute over rights, it’s already too late.

  17. cathy on #

    Here in DC I’ve noticed that many drivers interpret “right turn on red” as meaning they have the right of way, hence hostility towards pedestrians and other cars that choose not to make the turn, since, in point of fact, right turn on red is optional and is only supposed to be done if there aren’t pedestrians or other traffic in the way. I’ve also noticed that some some drivers seem to think it’s a good idea to make a left turn from the rightmost lane, which is really just asking for your insurance premiums to go up.

  18. Suzanne on #

    I live and work in a university town where there are crazy pedestrians AND drivers/bicyclists.

    Whenever I drive, bicyclists and pedestrians run out in the middle of the road willy-nilly.

    Whenever I walk or ride my bike, drivers try to run me over.

    The craziness is pretty evenly spread, in other words.

  19. Rebecca on #

    Good for you! Although I have to disagree about cyclists doing no wrong. In Austin, anyway, there are some who blatantly ignore all traffic laws. There are also plenty who don’t, though.

    I haven’t had too many scary experiences as a pedestrian. Maybe it’s a big city thing? Not that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but rumor has it it’s much worse up in NYC and other epically ginormous cities. Not that I’ve ever been anywhere near huge cities, so I don’t actually know. And there are way more peds in NYC and Sydney than where I live.

    I think that when most people get behind the wheel, they are encased in their metal cocoon and stop seeing everyone else as people. Logically you know that they are people, but it’s kinda like it’s easy to hate people when you don’t know them. Which is why there is so much hate, of any kind. Once you get to know people, and take the time to talk to them, and recognize their personhood, you’d never pound on the horn or threaten them with your car.

    I was almost hit once, and the person behind the wheel started laughing, like it was funny, while I was busy seeing my life flash before my eyes and all that jazz. My brother made a certain USian hand gesture at them (it was very sweet of him) and I didn’t stick around to see the result. Some people are just assholes.

  20. Corey J Feldman on #

    I have a not so pleasant commute and I see this sense of entitlement every day on the DC beltway. People drive on the shoulder and cut others off just to push past one or two cars in line. Most of them I am sure would never even think to do something like that if they weren’t insulated by a couple tons of steel.

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