Study: Wealthier Motorists More Likely to Drive Like Reckless Jerks

You know the stereotype of the arrogant Porsche driver? Well, science says there’s some truth to it.

People driving luxury cars are more likely to fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk and to engage in other unethical, antisocial behavior, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Drivers of more expensive cars are more likely to cut off other drivers and violate pedestrians' right of way. Image: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A research team including Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner have been examining the way social status and wealth affects morality. Their findings — which are getting a lot of media attention — broadly show that wealthier, higher-status individuals are, essentially, more likely to cheat.

Piff and Keltner, working with researchers from the University of Toronto, conducted seven experiments. Two of them measured the behavior of drivers at four-way intersections and at crosswalks.

The team used vehicle make, model, and year as shorthand for the driver’s social status. In both cases, when controlling for the sex of the driver, time of day, and other factors, the research team found that higher-status drivers were more likely to cut off other drivers at the intersection or fail to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

In the first experiment, about 12.5 percent of drivers proceeded through an intersection without yield to other drivers with the right of way. The drivers of expensive cars were much more likely to engage in this illegal behavior — 30 percent of the drivers classified in the most “high-status” category cut off other drivers. In the second experiment, 35 percent of all drivers failed to yield to pedestrians, compared to 46 percent of those driving the fanciest cars.

The research team wrote that the findings are, of course, not to imply that morality is an absolute function of social class, but that “unethical behavior in the service of self-interest that enhances the individual’s wealth and rank may be a self-perpetuating dynamic that further exacerbates economic disparities in society.”

By way of explanation, the authors wrote: “Upper-class individuals’ relative independence from others and increased privacy in their professions may provide fewer structural constraints and decreased perceptions of risk associated with committing unethical acts.”

In terms of traffic enforcement, the findings provide more justification for graduated fines, which vary according to the motorists’ income. In European countries, where traffic fatality rates tend to be much lower than in the U.S., it is common to assess higher traffic fines on higher-income law-breakers.

  • Rex

    Once I was driving calmly in a lane in my modified Dodge Coronet and suddenly a guy, most probably in his 18s came out of nowhere in his BMW, and he suddenly slowed down next to me and started challenging me for a race,well anyway it was less of a race and must be more like a humiliation for him because I just stepped on my gas pedal and blew his faggy BMW into weeds, looks like that ignorant brat either didn’t notice the supercharger intake sticking out from the bonnet of my car or it is possible that he was suffering from the usual “Beemer Syndrome” that lot of BMW owners suffer from (Symptoms: Delusion that they own the road. Overconfidence about the abilities of their car. Behaving awkwardly with those who drive other cars). Though my car is heavily modified and I can unleash 1400 bhp of insane power whenever and wherever I like but I still prefer to drive responsibly because I don’t like endangering life of others just for my momentary satisfaction, for racing I can do that on drag strips or tracks, but these BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz owners, I sometimes feel that they have some mental disorder or something.

  • Rex

    I often find it weird to see that people think that we hot-rodders are aggressive and irresponsible but it is not us but the glitzy BMW, Merc and Audi drivers who are real assholes.

  • evcharger

    Maybe these folks were jerks to begin with. Poor or rich they behave like jerks. Being a jerk also helps to get a head in this society.

  • evcharger

    Maybe pedestrians also can open carry in Florida? Maybe this will lead to an exciting shoot out.

  • soddy

    Wealthier or in more vehicle debt?

  • Yuu Phuck

    Cool story bro. Sounds entirely fabricated.

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