Media Mash: Are Prius Drivers More Obnoxious? New Study Suggests It Just Might Be So
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My fascination with cars started when I was 4 years old. I would sit in the front yard of the family house and identify the makes of the cars as they drove by. My parents thought I might be a genius, since they couldn't identify the cars as well as I could. But little did they know, I was like the little kid who shocks you into thinking they are reading at an early age, only to discover they've memorized the words to all his books. Me, I memorized hubcaps.
My first car was a '55 Chevy convertible. It cost $300, which I earned mowing lawns in my working-class New Jersey town. As soon as I hit the road, I immediately started noticing how differently the drivers of different cars behave. Some more obnoxiously, in fact. And it seemed it was almost always the Cadillac drivers who behaved the worst behind the wheel, perhaps thinking, as we used to say, that they "owned the road." Those days were early lessons in class distinctions and tensions.
The sociology of driving manners has always been a small preoccupation of mine. I observed who was driving inconsiderately, and what car they were driving. The Cadillac drivers and their ilk hung on for a long time as the kings of bad manners. But eventually they were taken over by the first rash of SUV drivers, who became the new breed of discourteous, pushy drivers, and who seemed to always drive well over the speed limit.
We also read dire statistics and stories of what would happen if your small car got smashed by an SUV… certain death. Also how unsafe the SUVs were, because of their increased height—the dark side of being able to see above the traffic meant SUV rollover rates were scarier. The rule of thumb I always remembered was, the closer to the road, the more stable the car. Normal cars were far less likely to roll over, and little sports cars handled the best, but pity if the SUVs didn't see them.
Some years later, the SUVs were partially replaced by pickup trucks, the engine of the U.S. car industry. It became cool for certain personality types to drive powerful pickups too fast, and frankly they scared me more than the SUVs. The trucks added luxuries, and cabins—room for extra passengers. Sometimes the trucks even became the family car. As with four-wheel drive SUVs, many wondered why people needed so much power and size to drive to Whole Foods or bring the kids to daycare. Trucks became lifestyle, fashion and class statements, like SUVs.
Sales of trucks and SUVs slowed at least for a while because of the recession, when even the 1 percent were not buying giant new cars and trucks. Then, the tide turned. The recovery worked for some and the behemoth SUVS emerged with a whole new level of luxury and pricetag. Cars like the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Suburban and Range Rover climbed back on top the high-end market, replacing the now stodgy SUVS of old. Sales soared.
Perhaps my perspective is a bit warped, because in my apartment building in New York City, I live upstairs from the Trinity School, where many 1 percenters send their kids. The richest of those send drivers to pick up their kids, and the disturbing line of behemoths— Escalades, Range Rovers, Suburbans—stretches out on Columbus Avenue and 91st Street.
Sales of trucks increased dramatically in the last several years, likely because houses were being built again, and carpenters and plumbers were stepping up. Many had held off on purchases for four years or so because of the bad economy. And perhaps those using trucks as personal brand statements were backing off. I suspect those were some of the worst truck drivers. Where were they going? What were they going to drive?