New Finnish Study Confirms That BMW and Audi Owners Drive Like Idiots

CC BY 2.0. How to park a BMW/ Lloyd Alter

Not only that, they are "argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic." And all men.

Whenever I see the most egregious behaviour by drivers, they are often in BMWs, Mercedes or Audis. This isn't a new phenomenon; I wrote about it a few years ago in Study reveals the obvious: The rich are different from you and me, especially behind the wheel, which measured their behaviour at four-way stops and pedestrian crosswalks.

Now a new study (which we can't actually quote the title of in TreeHugger, as it breaks our rules) confirms our prejudices. A Finnish professor of social psychology found that "Audi and BMW drivers seemed much more likely to ignore traffic regulations and drive recklessly." He's quoted in the University of Helsinki's Newsletter:

“I had noticed that the ones most likely to run a red light, not give way to pedestrians and generally drive recklessly and too fast were often the ones driving fast German cars,” says Jan-Erik Lönnqvist of the University of Helsinki’s Swedish School of Social Science.
Audis do parking

Audis do parking/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Unlike the research described in our previous post, done by logging cars in the street, Lönnqvist asked a lot of questions about why people are drawn to these cars and what kind of people they were.

To gain answers, researchers carried out a study of Finnish consumers. A total of 1,892 car owners answered not only questions about their car, consumption habits and wealth, but also questions exploring personality traits. The answers were analysed using the Five‐Factor Model, the most widely used framework for assessing personality traits in five key domains (openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness). The answers were unambiguous: self-centred men who are argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic are much more likely to own a high-status car such as an Audi, BMW or Mercedes.

But what is most interesting is that in the previous research, the conclusion was that "many rich people have a sense of entitlement and don't think the rules apply to them," that being rich made them jerks. Lönnqvist comes to a different conclusion: They were jerks first, who got rich.

He points out that money is, of course, necessary to buy high-status products, which is why rich people are more likely to drive high-status cars. “But we also found that those whose personality was deemed more disagreeable were more drawn to high-status cars. These are people who often see themselves as superior and are keen to display this to others.”
Mercedes do crosswalks

Mercedes do crosswalks/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This point is confirmed by the fact that another group likes to drive expensive cars: people who are rich, but also "respectable, ambitious, reliable and well-organised." And where the jerks are all men, the conscientious types are belong to both sexes. This is where I believe his methodology breaks down; it doesn't look at how these respectable and conscientious types actually drive. I have been cut off by lots of women in BMWs. Lönnqvist, who is turning into a modern-day Thorstein Veblen, concludes:

It would be great if consumers had other, sustainable ways of showing their status rather than the superficial consumption of luxury goods that often has negative consequences. We are already seeing that driving an electric car is becoming something of a status symbol, whereas SUVs with their high emissions are no longer considered as cool.

Alas, I have seen so many jerks in Teslas; it attracts both the conscientious and the disagreeable. Perhaps we could sell them on really expensive e-bikes.