Will Driverless Cars Make Us Nicer People?

Is the end of road rage in sight? Will driverless cars be programmed to eliminate bad driving behavior?

Somehow, some way, when any of us get behind the wheel of car, we get highly aggressive — bad driving behavior kicks in. It’s not clear why – we’re moving faster than when we’re walking. But, for some reason, despite the increased speed to our destination, we’re less patient. Our tolerance for the other guy is incredibly low.

It’s even got a name: Road rage. Being behind the wheel makes us angrier. And leads to bad driving behavior.

Riff on Road Rage

Listen to how the brilliant comedian Louis CK frames the issue from one of his stand-up bits:

“It’s amazing how nasty we can get as people. I am the worst person I can be, when I’m behind the wheel. Which is when I’m at the most dangerous. Because I’m driving a weapon. And, yet, (driving a car) is the worst people get.

One time I was driving and there was a guy ahead of me, and he kinda, sorta drifted into my lane for a second. And this came out of my mouth: “Worthless piece of sh*t.” I mean, what an indictment. What kind of way is that to feel about another human? That’s somebody’s son.

And the other things I’ve said to people. I was once driving, and this guy in a pick-up truck did… I don’t know what or even remember. But, I yelled out my window: “F**k you!”

Where outside of a car is that nearly, even OK? If you’re in an elevator, and you’re like right next to a person’s body, and – whatever – he leaned into you a little bit. Would you ever turn right to their face and go: “Hey, f**k you.” “Worthless piece of sh*t”.

No. Literally, zero people would ever do that. But, put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between you, and there’s nothing you would not say to them.

“I hope you die!” I said that to a person. Why? Because he made me steer my wheel for half a second of my life. “You tested my reflexes, and it turned out…. FINE! So, now I hope your kids grow up motherless.” I’d like to think I’m a nice person. But, I don’t know, man.”

Why Does Driving Bring Out the Worst in Us?

Most of us want to think we’re nice people. But, somehow, driving often brings out the worst in us. We turn aggressive, and that can lead to road rage.

Why is that? Though mostly a mystery, psychologists hypothesize that it has to do with our basic territorial instincts. Just like any mammal aggressively protects their territory, we protect ours. A driver cutting you off is akin to someone breaking into your house. It’s a violation of your space, sort of. And that makes us angry.

That’s probably why we don’t get as angry about bad-mannered drivers when riding in a taxi. It’s not our space that’s being violated. It’s the cab driver’s. It may annoy us, but not in such a visceral, territorial way as to cause outrage.

Still, like Louis CK so cleverly observes, we want to think we’re nice people, even though there is an inherent duality to human nature. We can be aggressive and angry drivers, but polite and rational during everyday interactions.

Want to prove it? Try this experiment:

Next time you’re on a highway, and there’s a defined lane for an upcoming exit, watch the behavior. Most people will patiently drive slower in that exit lane and follow the protocol.

But, there’s often one guy who just doesn’t want to wait. He (or she) will exhibit bad driving behavior — cutting into that exit lane at the last minute, effectively jumping the line. It’s asshole behavior, and most of us would respond angrily. But, is that cutter a true jerk? They probably don’t look in the mirror and think so. They can justify their line-cutting in their head – I’m in a rush, others won’t mind, etc.

And, if you want to prove it, just try cutting in front of that cutter. Almost always, they’ll let you in. In fact, they’ll be nicer than if you were to cut off anyone else in the line. Because the cutter knows he/she doesn’t deserve that premium position. So, they’ll almost always be extra polite to one who – in turn – cuts them off.

Will We Temper Road Rage in the Next Decade?

Now, let’s fast-forward to the era of true driverless cars. What will be our natural instincts? Will we exhibit bad driving behavior and react territorially, like we do today? Get angry and aggressive at other drivers who behave badly? Or, will we react like passengers in a taxi – mildly annoyed, but nothing near road rage?

My bet is that driverless cars will make us calmer, nicer. Because we’ll be paying less attention to the road. We’ll feel less violated by those who act aggressively. Driverless cars will lower our national blood pressure, because as passengers we’ll feel less territorial.

Or maybe…..

Second-generation driverless cars might have an adjustable setting. One which controls the level of aggression that a car will use to drive itself. The setting would control whether a car speeds up to pass another one. Or cuts into an exit lane. Or, alternately, behaves nicely. You’d set the “Aggression Control” based on your driving personality. And be tone deaf to the honks and curses of the other cars that feel violated. (Perhaps we’ll have “Honking Control” levels as well).

I hope not. Driverless cars give us the opportunity to significantly reduce road rage. All it takes is legislation to control the built-in aggression levels allowed in driverless vehicles. Certainly, for driverless taxis.

A federal mandate for collective courtesy? Now, wouldn’t that be nice.


Article written by: Charles Bogle 3.0.  Submitted: 4/8/17

Comments & thoughts to: cb@dryve.com

Do you think that driverless cars will lessen road rage?

What do you think causes road rage in the first place?



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