Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SUV drivers often pushy narcissists

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VICTORIA -- The type of vehicle a person owns usually reflects his or her temperament, disposition, personality and attitudes, accumulating data show.

One main focus of the research has been to account for skyrocketing complaints about disrespectful and discreditable driving habits of the operators of some types of vehicles, most notably sport utility vehicles (SUVs). That is why the SUV culture is coming under increasing scrutiny.

According to Keith Bradsher, author of High and Mighty: The Dangerous rise of the SUV, operators of that type of vehicle have attitude.

"They are the embodiment of narcissism," he has concluded.

According to Bradsher, market analyses show drivers of SUVs are more likely to be "self-centred and self-absorbed." They also are disproportionately less apt to do volunteer work, rarely interact with neighbours and tend to have control issues.

A recent U.K. study confirmed that operators of SUVs are four times more likely to ignore laws requiring the use of hands-free cellphones by vehicle operators compared with drivers of other types of vehicles.

Preliminary statistics indicate most drivers of SUVs are women aged 25 to 49 and males over 50.

Sangho Choo and Patricia Moktarican at the University of California have confirmed attitude influences vehicle-type choices by purchasers.

Reubin Aitchison of the Australian Automobile Manufacturing Industry has concluded SUV drivers have an "illusion of superiority... (that leads them to believe they) should be getting somewhere faster than everybody else."

Drivers of SUVs are much more apt to be impatient, involved in accidents caused by impatience, speed in suburbs and school zones, engage in angry tailgating, and yell, swear and gesture rudely to other drivers, the Australian statistics show.

Curiously, preliminary information also suggests drivers of black cars tend to have aggressive personalities and operators of small hatchback vehicles are disproportionately more likely to lane-jump. Tailgating is an unusually common practice among operators of station wagons.

But it is the behaviour of SUV drivers that most consistently irks other motorists, researchers agree.

Kathy Broughton and colleagues at Clemson University confirm motorists commonly gripe about tailgating by SUV operators.

"Many drivers complain of being tailgated by SUVs," concluded Leonard Evans of Science Serving Society.

Tailgating is not only especially irritating behaviour but it is also a dangerous practice. Statistics show over 29 per cent of all motor-vehicle crashes in North America are related to tailgating.

"The most troublesome aspect of the SUV culture is its attitude toward risk," explained journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

"SUV drivers are more aggressive than car drivers," concluded Christina Rudin-Brown in a Transport Canada report.

According to Asad Khattak and Yingling Fan at Old Dominion University, at least part of that aggressiveness might be "because they consider their vehicles more crashworthy than cars."

But motor-vehicle accident statistics do not confirm that erroneous conclusion by SUV operators.

"The kill rate for SUVs is jaw-dropping," Bradsner says. "People in SUVs are more likely to die in rollovers and they are much more likely to kill other people in the process."

According to a study by M. Fridette and colleagues, "drivers colliding with SUVs are 2.12 times more likely to die than if they had collided with cars."

Bradsher has concluded that due to the size of their vehicles, drivers of SUVs overestimate their own security

"SUVs are the biggest menace to public safety... that the auto industry has produced since the 1960s," he cautioned.

Robert Alison is a zoologist and freelance writer based in Victoria, B.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2013 A9

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