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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Driving as a window to the personality

Back in 2014, I pointed out that you can tell everything you need to know about someone from watching him work out. The same is true of driving.

Everybody I know expresses his personality perfectly through his driving.

Aggressive people make aggressive drivers. A Wall Streeter I once knew was a textbook narcissistic personality: extremely egocentric and entitled, and he reacted to criticism the same way Donald Trump does. The one time I got a ride from him we were stuck in traffic and a car on a side street was trying to ease out onto our path. The narcissist said, "If that guy thinks he's going to pull in in front of me he's crazy," and moved his car as far forward as he could. He spoke with a tone of aggrievement, as if the other driver were personally insulting him.

I know a woman who only learned how to drive at age 35. When she drove, she would grasp the wheel in a sort of death grip and  when on a highway would stay in the righthand lane and go 50 mph, even when all the other cars were going at least 60. While driving, she couldn't do anything else, like change a CD or even carry on a conversation. Not surprisingly, she had a tendency to find little things overwhelming in other areas of her life as well.

Is someone socially aware? They're more likely to be aware of what other cars in the vicinity are up to, too, and to drive defensively.

How do people react to frustration? If they do so poorly, you may get the full flavor of their personalities when they're stuck in traffic jams. They mutter and grouse and in general act as if the traffic jam was created just to frustrate them. (As in, "Why is this happening to me?") I knew one guy, who, when stuck in traffic, just blasted his horn to express his impatience. It served no purpose, as there was nowhere the people in front of him could have gone; it was just a reflection of his inability to handle frustration.

Likewise, road rage is never a separate, unrelated syndrome; it's just one facet of an overall anger management issue.

I've known two drivers who were probably organic sociopaths. (Meaning, neither was evil -- both were in fact generally good-natured. But both had a high threshold of excitement, i.e., it took more to get them excited about something.) Both, not coincidentally, drove too fast, partly because they enjoyed the sensation of speed, partly because they enjoyed the feeling that they were taking a risk.

One of them told me that once, while on a deserted stretch, he took his car up to 100 mph and then started to masturbate, as a sort of challenge to himself, just to see if he could get an erection while driving at that speed.

The other organic sociopath drove way too fast, too often. He once got something like eight speeding tickets in one year. On a few occasions he took his muscle car up to 140 mph on a straightaway where he knew no police cars could be hidden.

Once I was in a car with him on a winding two lane road where the cars were whizzing past each other at 50 mph with no center divider. When I expressed concern about a possible accident, he actually found my concern funny.

Both organic sociopaths scoffed if I played it safe at a stoplight. One would cup his genitals and say, "Nada." The other would make similar comments. One of these guys was a high stakes gambler, the other was attracted to physical danger.

(Strangely, I can also recall having been driven by two out and out sociopaths, and neither was a particularly bad driver in any way that I can remember.)

Is someone usually courteous? He probably lets other drivers cut in front of him as well.

The two Aspies I've ridden with would both alternately step on the gas and brake constantly. Both would speed up right before stopping at a stop sign. One once exited the highway at a long uphill off ramp; as she did so, she stepped on the brakes -- on principle, because she was getting off the highway -- then stepped on the gas again to make it up the hill to the overpass. It never seemed to occur to her to just take her foot off the gas as she exited to let gravity gradually do its job and slow the car as it climbed the long hill. I joked to both Aspies that I'd gotten whiplash from their driving. (Neither appreciated my comment.)

Is someone able to take blame? The female Aspie I know once dented in the side of a car while rounding a cement-walled corner too soon. She described this as a "scratch." She also once rear ended an elderly driver when their light turned green. She explained this by saying, "He was too old to be driving! He shouldn't have been on the road! We had the green light! He took to long to react! The police officer said that there are a lot of accidents at that intersection!"

The other Aspie, if berated by another driver, would wag his finger at the driver, as if to say "Now now, you're the one who's at fault," even when he was clearly at fault.

I've never actually been driven by anyone who was a bad tailgater, though I seem to have met up with plenty of them on the highway. I would guess that they are pushy and aggressive all the time.

I've never known anyone who (wasn't handicapped who) parked in a handicap space. But I did know a woman who would regularly park in a 10 minute parking zone for an hour or so while she worked out. She was a slippery character in general. She hid money from her husband, and put spyware on his computer. She also had obvious implants, but denied that she had them.

If people are proud of their driving ability, they probably veer towards egotism in general.

Think of the people you know. Do any of them act out of character behind the wheel?


Anonymous said...

I think you're spot on. I think I told you ages ago that I'm a diagnosed Aspie (was Dx'd by a psychiatrist), but I'm unsure as to whether the diagnosis was accurate. Aspies supposedly "drive like grannies", even young Aspies, so I fit that stereotype at least.

I drive with extreme care - never breaking the speed limit, always parking neatly (and then double-checking that I locked the car), always being vigilant about pedestrians, etc. In all my years of driving, I've only once had a crash and that was undoubtedly his fault: I stopped at red lights and the motorcyclist tailgating me was going too fast so he rammed into the back of my car. Since the crash, I automatically get nervous when someone starts tailgating me.

I always like to go a little bit below the speed limit so that I don't accidentally speed if I get briefly distracted. My car insurance company has given me a no-claims bonus, as I haven't needed to claim from them for years. I'm the only person in my family to pass the driving test the first time around. It was simple: I just didn't dare book the test until my instructor was 100% sure I could pass.

I think it's a reflection of what I'm like generally: everything I've ever done wrong in my life has been the result of oversight or misunderstanding, never malice and seldom recklessness. I'm so overly cautious that I've held back from doing quite a few things and, as a result, I feel that I've not always lived life to the full.

- Gethin

taylor said...

I think you're right that people's driving says a lot about their character. I'm noticing similar things about the people I know. I can't seem to do a self-assessment, though.

When I was young I was a reckless driver and I racked up a bunch of tickets because of it. Eventually I learned my lesson, got tired of the costs associated with it, and grew out of it. Now I consider myself to be a good driver. I'm considerate, pay a lot of attention, and though I don't drive very fast I try to avoid wasting time. I'd say I really am very conscious of my own driving and am actually constantly critiquing the driving of other people on the road. Bad driving annoys the hell out of me, to the point where it makes driving unenjoyable for me. I wouldn't get frustrated at general traffic, and I don't get angry and start having road rage. But things like: slow drivers in the left lane, someone not turning right on red when they clearly can, not reacting to a green light, not using a turn signal, etc. all make my blood boil. It just seems so easy!

I can be this way with other things (say, people who are slow to order at a counter, or someone blocking an isle in the grocery store), and I'm not sure what it says about me. I try to let these things go but I can't.

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Thank you. To be honest I don't remember you telling me that you have Aspergers. And I hadn't heard that about Aspies driving like Grannies before. The two Aspies I know were more notable for their herky jerky style of driving.

It's always good to be cautious, though it does sound as if you take it to an extreme. As far as having lot of inhibitions, at least take solace that you're the opposite of a sociopath. I sometimes feel the same way, that I've been he'd back by my inhibitions.

Also keep in mind, if we had fewer inhibitions (when it comes to, say, getting in fights or taking drugs as well as driving), we might be dead by now.

John Craig said...

Taylor --
Yes, people do change. I don't think my own driving has changed that much, but I was never really a reckless driver, even when young. When I was in my 20's, I drove when tipsy a couple times, but never when completely drunk. (I was never much of a drinker to begin with.) I don't do that anymore.

I'm also like you in that I get angry with poor drivers; and I've actually come across two really bad drivers in the past week. Both turned out to be inoffensive-looking women, but both, in the short period of time I was near them, put me in danger twice each, and if I hadn't reacted quickly with both, there would have been an accident.

You don't strike me as the temperamental type, but that tends to change as we get older too, usually querulousness increases over time.

Anonymous said...

I am generally a very careful driver, having had minor accidents (e.g., I once swiped the side of my vehicle while backing out of my garage, causing a scrape above the rear tire, etc.). I attribute that accident to being stressed out about something. My kids think that I drive slow, brake a bit too much, and am nervous at times. Overall, I'm a very safe driver.

- birdie

Taylor said...

Well, if that is true, I will end up something like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.

Speaking of the two women drivers you encountered - this reminds me of something that specifically drove me crazy when driving in Texas. When I lived there, it was legal to text and drive, and it was a college town, so this meant everywhere there were 18-23 year old girls driving-while-texting. When another car on the road did something stupid there was a 1/3 chance it was a distracted sorority girl in a brand new car.

You had a post not too long ago about no longer being a "libertarian". This is that spot for me. It should be illegal to use your phone while driving and the penalty should be pretty hefty.

John Craig said...

Birdie --
That's just how I'd imagine you'd be, safe.

John Craig said...

Taylor --
Ha, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.

Even libertarians wouldn't approve of driving while texting: that basically infringes on others' rights (to live).

Douglas Carkuff said...

It is interesting, though, that many drivers act and react to other drivers in ways that they would never act towards them ordinarily. People routinely give other drivers the finger, for example, who would likely never do it in other settings. Maybe it has to do with the sense of anonymity the being in a car gives them, in the same way that being online free some people up to treat others in way that are unacceptable in real life.

John Craig said...

Douglas --
That's an interesting comparison, and true. I'm probably ruder in the car than I would be if face to face with someone. And yes, all you have to do is go to any comment section on Yahoo to see how liberating a lot of people find anonymity. Anonymity is a little like alcohol that way: it makes people far more likely to speak their minds. And yeah, being enclosed in your car is a little like that.

Smallberries Worldwide said...

I was driving behind a guy the other day that was being a total douche to other drivers. Weaving in and out changing lanes without signaling, not letting other drivers merge, including me. When I got even with him I noticed that it was my former landlord that tried to keep my deposit, lied about the conditions of the lease and a bunch of other things. (The lease included yard maintenence and mowing of the house I was renting, and even though I read it to him line by line he denied that yard maintenence was included.) Looking back on it I guess he was a true blue sociopath, maybe not the organic kind like you mentioned but the self serving malicious kind, whatever that is called. His driving reflected his personality perfectly.

John Craig said...

Smallberries Worldwide --
That's a perfect illustration of what I was trying to point out in this post. Some people are just filled with poison, it's what they are, and they express it in a myriad of ways.

BTW, a "true blue" sociopath is just a sociopath. "Organic sociopaths" aren't bad people, they're just guys who are sort of "adrenaline junkies" but who don't have any of the other characteristics of being a sociopath. Organic sociopaths can often be heroic in their own way.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, I was driving to a vacation spot - I was in the passing lane (I don't hog lanes, just use the passing lane for it's intended purpose, passing other cars, then I return to the other lane). Anyway, an older male driver was behind me. He was obviously agitated, angry over something, being on my tail (he was driving a large newer looking truck), being a total _sshole. He might have honked his horn, I don't remember exactly. Clearly, he was upset over something. I think we might have been in a section of road where there was heavy traffic. Once I got over to the other lane, he sped on by. I prayed during that incident, for protection. Later on, it occurred to me, the man was exhibiting road rage.

- birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
I've noticed that a large percentage of the time when someone is tailgating you in the fast lane that it's a large SUV or larger pickup truck. Those large pickup trucks almost always belong to males, and in the case of the tailgaters, aggressive males.

Steven said...

Yeah I can totally relate. Everyone I can of's driving matches their personality/abilities.

Anonymous said...

I think other personality factors can affect driving behavior, e.g. whether people are claustrophobic or agoraphobic.

I think passenger behavior also provides some personality tells.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's a great point, passenger behavior mirrors driving behavior almost perfectly, in my opinion. Like with the two organic sociopaths calling me a pussy (just because I drive like one). As a matter of fact, the woman who learned to drive at 35 is a very nervous passenger as well. One of the Aspies would constantly complain and criticize. Etc......

Mark Caplan said...

If someone impatiently honks from behind the instant the light turns green, I often sit an extra 30 seconds before accelerating to signal my displeasure. Otherwise, it's Golden Rule all the way.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Dispensing justice in small ways, I like that.

Anonymous said...

Psychopaths who are professional drivers (taxi, truckdrivers) drive defensively and not so aggressively, in my experience. If you are UNTRUSTWORTHY, you should be NON-TRUSTING, so you don't believe the other guy's turn signals.

On an unrelated note, I saw this article about FAKE BABAS, and I thought that you might enjoy investigating the concept of "FAKE BABAS ARE PSYCHOPATHS" although possibly you have already explored this in earlier years on the noble JUST NOT SAID blog:


John Craig said...

I hadn't thought of that, sociopaths don't trust others so drive defensively. Hmm. Could well be, as I said in the post I didn't notice anything particularly off about the way the two sociopaths whose cars I was in drove.

To be honest, I hadn't explored the topic of fake babas before, in fact I had only a vague notion of what they were. And aren't all shamans -- of whatever religion -- sorta fakes anyway?

Anonymous said...

that's a good point about shamans...but, there are a certain percentage of problems that shamans DO SOLVE with placebo effect and theater...I mean, if you substitute "political leader" for "shaman," look at the problems that TRUMP has solved with theater (increased economic confidence, fewer illegal aliens entering, AND SO FORTH)...and then I think the babas know some herbal ayurvedic medicine and healthful yoga and breathing stuff, too

the real bad fake babas are just like wicked insane bums, they tell villagers to do such-and-such rituals or ritual murders and then the villagers are supposed to find buried treasure magically et cetera...I think "tantrik human sacrifice" as a google search will bring you many ACTUALLY UPSETTING cases from India, I am not recommending that topic unless you are in that gritty noir mood

now that I have brought that up, I better change my name away from "FAKE BABA," lest I be thought to partake in Hindu atrocities of which I am entirely innocent.

John Craig said...

"A perennial shrub, Petiveria alliacea, growing in tropical areas of Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean, used to treat a large variety of medical conditions." Sounds like you know a little about herbal medicine as well.

Yes, true enough about political leaders, and a few do solve problems. And while I support Trump's platform almost entirely, he always has had something of P.T. Barnum about him.

Okay, just looked up tantric human sacrifice. Still exists. I guess Kali is a cruel mistress. I guess you could also substitute "cult leader" for shaman or politician too, though they almost never accomplish any good.

Fled The Undertow said...

Taylor: Ditto!

I think what gets me is that when other drivers ignore the basic, courteous driving that "seem so easy" to us, I take it as an insult. Like it or not, what they're communicating is "My time is more important than yours", kind of like how I view people who are chronically late.

I was so thrilled to finally move out of the negro-infested South (where black women are the worst drivers, mostly as an outward expression of the giant chip on their shoulders). We were moving to the Mountain West, where I assumed the lack of blacks would be a vast improvement on the roads.

However, we moved to a ski resort town, where many locals are super-wealthy, several are retirees, and the average age of our city is at least 12 years older than the rest of the state. Not only are these rich white people self-absorbed drivers, their sense of self-entitlement expresses itself as they walk around the retail areas. Locals here DO NOT EVEN SLOW DOWN before walking across the road, much less stop and look both ways! They simply march forward at a steady pace like little monarchs, as though they OWN the roads.

This is a different "entitlement attitude" from the way negro pedestrians behaved down South: blacks would PURPOSELY take their time crossing the street, or walk down the middle of the road, while making unfriendly eye contact with the driver who's waiting for them to cross. In the tiny minds of these urban negroes, they think that making "whitey" wait a couple seconds longer while they saunter across the road somehow "scores a point" against white people in general. (The fact that WE own a car while THEY have to wait at the bus stop doesn't seem to factor into their childish equation.)

The rich liberal whites of the Mountain West, on the other hand, arent being rude to score points...they simply don't care about inconveniencing others one way or the other. They'll drive their Tesla for MILES in the left lane, keeping pace with the car right next to them while chatting on the phone, so that no one can pass.

Ironically, that kind of driving in large metro areas of the Deep South would get a person shot.

Great topic, John!