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Media Mash: Are Prius Drivers More Obnoxious? New Study Suggests It Just Might Be So

The New York Times and I agree: The rich do drive differently than you and I.

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About five years ago, amidst the omnipresence and obnoxiousness of the behemoth cars, I began to notice something peculiar. Some drivers ran red lights more, didn't use turn signals. In California they ignored people in the crosswalks. Lo and behold, these drivers were driving Priuses. In my anecdotal observations, the Prius driver emerged as the most obnoxious driver on the road. (Not all of them, of course. I know a lot of Prius drivers and I am sure they are not obnoxious when they get into their cars.)

Thus I was surprised and felt affirmed when I read an article in Tuesday's New York Times business section titled, " The Rich Drive Differently, a Study Suggests," by Benjamin Preston.

The study was conducted in the Bay Area, where I spend a lot of time. It found that the worst driver behavior was associated with the most expensive cars, with a lot of attention on BMWs. Observations were made of drivers with pedestrians in the crosswalks, and at four-way stop signs to see which cars cut in front of others. Cars were rated 1 to 5, with 5 being the most pricey vehicles, which included Mercedes Benz and BMW, and 1 designating the beatup, low-value cars.

According to Paul Piff, a researcher at the Institute of Personality and Social Research (who knew this even existed?), who conducted the study, eight out of every 10 cars "did the right thing. ...But you see this huge boost in a driver's likelihood to commit infractions in more expensive cars," he said.

Also, male driving behavior was consistently worse than female driving behavior. Another interesting fact was that the beater-car category always stopped for pedestrians.

And here is the clincher: As the Times article says, "In the San Francisco Bay area where the hybrid gas-and-electric-powered Toyota Prius is considered a status symbol among the environmentally conscious, the researchers classified it as a premium model." 

Piff added, "In our higher-status vehicle category, Prius drivers had a higher tendency to commit infractions than most."

Isn't it great when science—or at least some fun version of it—validates what you observe on your own? All those obnoxious Prius drivers cutting me off driving over the Bay Bridge appear to be part of a collective consciousness that makes those drivers feel more privileged. Is it the high gas milage? The sporty design? The feeling that Prius drivers are better than other people, because, well, they drive a Prius? I don't know, and maybe they don't know. But Prius drivers, we are watching you.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

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