“Studies Prove BMW Drivers Are Jerks”….And So It Begins

"Look at THAT jerk. What's he up to, I wonder?"

“Look at THAT jerk. What’s he up to, I wonder?”

If you would like to ponder on how prejudices, stereotypes and bias worm their way into our brains, look no further than here, a Yahoo! report, via the Wall Street Journal, about how research backs up the widespread belief that drivers of BMWs are jerks. (Full disclosure: my son drives an old BMW, and loves it dearly. I love it less, because repairing the damn thing has required me to moonlight by entertaining at kids’ birthday parties and rodeos…)

Various studies, we are told, show drivers of the car are less likely to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and to take the upper hand at four-way stops. In addition,

“…in the U.K., motorists were asked to identify the make and color of the car from which they have most frequently suffered road-rage incidents…The study of 2,837 motorists found men between the ages of 35 and 50 driving blue BMWs were most likely to be reported as having engaged in road-rage behaviors such as aggressive driving and swearing.”

Well, that proves it, right? A few more such studies, and we’ll all know to watch that blue BMW on the highway extra-closely, because the driver—this is science talking, now—it’s a nut case, ready to cut me off or go postal if I don’t defer to him at every turn. Naturally, confirmation bias has also been triggered, so everything this car does will instantly be interpreted in the worst possible light. And when I’m looking back on the various irritating incidents in my vehicular travels, sure the ones involving BMWs stick in my mind. Maybe even when they weren’t really involved.

Then, when I go to a dinner party and learn that a new acquaintance owns a Beemer, I begin with the presumption that he’s a jerk, because, well, you know his kind, and besides, look at the statistics! That night, every joke, every bit of body language, everything I learn about him will seem like an embodiment of his residence in the jerkdom. Just look at him double-dipping the baba ganoush!

Wouldn’t it make sense for police to selectively stop BMWs, especially blue ones, to check for expired inspection stickers and proof of intoxication? If we know they are driven by jerks, or the majority of them, anyway, shouldn’t we presume the drivers are somehow being jerkish, or maybe about to be jerkish, and stop as many of them as we can before they hurt someone?

We reason this way about dozens of varieties of people and things, based on experience, lore, history, observation, statistics, and “studies.” It seems logical in the abstract, which is why it embeds itself as a bias. The problem, and the reason why acting on such reasoning is unethical, is that individuals aren’t abstractions, and treating them as abstractions is inherently unjust.

We can tell ourselves that. Living that way is much, much harder.

26 thoughts on ““Studies Prove BMW Drivers Are Jerks”….And So It Begins

  1. On a related note, you should know that car companies actually do pretty crazy studies, although I’m sure the “jerk” one was never authorized. My brother-in-law is an executive at one, and I tend to buy all my cars through him to get his discount. When I bought a particular car at 27, he smiled and told me that the particular car was marketed to young, single, professional women, an average age of 28, who smoked. I didn’t smoke, but I was otherwise annoyed that I fit so nicely into their market research. Another example is where they asked a large number of new owners of two types of cars to take pictures of their favorite outfits. The owners of Car A almost exclusively took pictures of themselves in these outfits and the Car B group almost exclusively took pictures of their outfits laid out on their beds.

  2. You know when you write an article about a car you’re going to get bombarded with personal stories, right?

    Maybe it would be less presumptuous if it were re-phrased: “When people drive BMWs they act like jerks.” I’m with the crowd with this one.

    When I owned a BMW 5 series years ago I was ticketed more frequently than in any other car… Was I driving more aggressively (like a jerk), or were police predispositioned to pull over BMWs and ticket because of that perception? Probably a little of both.

    Now in a Saab convertible for years, which cost as much as my BMW, police could not be less interested. Was pulled over for speeding on Alligator Alley and the cop looked at me and looked at the car and said, ” Imclocked you at 90 and have to give you a ticket for something, how about a seat belt violation (not making this up)?’ Sure!

    We can try to be ethical and not judge others based on their appearance (or car), but cultural reinforcement and personal experience can make that very difficult.

    • I have two non-ticket car-based stories.

      1) I picked up my Mini Cooper convertible in the middle of March a few years ago. That Saturday was the first gorgeous day of the year. Driving in an unfamiliar area, and unused to acceleration (I’d had a Corolla), I went through a speedtrap in a 35MPH zone at around 60. Three police cars, multiple police officers lined up to pull people over, and a guy with a radar gun pointed right at me. They didn’t care.

      2) There’s a college campus by my house that took over an old juvenile mental health facility between my house and the main campus. It’s a wonderful old red brick building with what are essentially long driveways connecting it to civilization on both sides. There’s a wonderful 180 degree switchback right in front of the building. Campus, and these 10MPH posted driveways, are a shortcut to get to my house. I took that 180 degree switchback at 35 MPH one day, and the friendly campus officer sitting behind the building just smiled and waved.

      That’s balancing out getting ticketed in college going 63 in a 55, with cars going the same speed as me that weren’t pulled over both in front of me and behind me. Near a college campus + out of state plates + late on a Friday night + black passenger in the middle of Pennsylvania = police stop.

    • I’m an old man (67) driving a Mustang. I get pulled over often. Usually when they see me they let me go. If I am breaking the law, they usually issue me a seat-belt ticket. So far (10) years, 1 speeding ticket, 7 seatbelt tickets.

  3. On my last road trip, I had much more problems with Mercedes’ drivers than BMW. When someone passes you on the right shoulder of the interstate at 30 mph over the limit and almost rips your front bumper off, you tend to remember it.. We had two other incidents like that, both with Benz drivers. My wife asked “what is it about the Mercedes drivers?”. Since they were all S and CL classes, my only explanation is that when you drive a $100,000+ car, you feel you shouldn’t have to wait like everyone else.

    I do think it has to do with marketing and image. BMW, the ultimate driving machine, is the car for jerks. People who think they are God’s gift to driving (despite no skill, no training), buy new or cheap used BMW’s .. If you search YouTube for carbahnm3 or caravan m3, you get the picture. Classic BMW’s are a different demographic.

  4. Can’t confirm this statment about BMW owners, but I know Michael J (above) is wrong. Mercedes Benz (MB) owners are great people. I own an ’02 S500 MB and everyone gives me props. Sure, when you drive a $100,000 S600 (hopefully my next car) or S63 AMG, you could get a small case of the big head, yeah. But what’s wrong with that?

    • I am with Charles on this one, I am a car/truck guy, and I was always on the hunt for a different ride until I got my MB. I have had everything from sports cars to HD trucks, I still look and test drive but at the end of the day I climb in the silver bullet and drive it like I stole it, at least that is what the perception is. The fact is the car is damn good, it rides and handles far better than the majority of other cars on the road and I take advantage of it. I do tend to stop for little old ladies and kids in the cross walk but if you are in your prime you better get your tail moving because I have places to be and my patience is the same regardless of the car I am driving. Now let’s move on to discussing the ethics of euthanizing those pricks driving the Prius in the left lane, they obviously have lost the will to live and are crying out to be put out of their misery.

  5. “What’s wrong” … is that apparently having a big head about yourself and your fancy car causes many people to disobey traffic laws, which subsequently endangers the lives and wellbeing of other citizens. It may be hard for some of you to understand, but other less wealthy people are actually entitled to use the crosswalk with a feeling of confidence and driving in their car on the interstate while obeying the speed limit.

    Logical thinking, common sense, and basic integrity are not prerequisite to being wealthy enough to afford one of these sorts of vehicles, I suppose. It’s a shame the kind of behaviors and attitudes that denote “success” in the modern age are largely so destructive to society as a whole.

    • Who is this “you” you are addressing here? And do you really think proving you’re a car bigot too addresses the point of the post? I know four BMW drivers, not including my son, who are the furthest thing from jerks that I can imagine. Is your point that all rich people are jerks? That buying nice cars makes one a jerk? That something magic about BMW’s creates jerkiness? My theory is that high performance cars naturally create the urge to take advantage of that ability, and this leads to hot dog driving in some cases, which other drivers notice.

      • Notice how I used the phrases “causes many people” and “It may be hard for some of you to understand” … this does not state that I think ALL drivers of luxury sports cars share this flaw, but it is unfortunate so many do.

        Also, this study on the behavior of drivers does not stand alone in evidence to the fact that people who find themselves in a position of power and wealth often take on behaviors and attitudes that are selfish and lacking in empathy for other parties. Psychological studies have found this phenomena even strikes people of average means when they engage in lab experiments where for even a short time where they find themselves in a role with more power or wealth. And incidentally, the inverse situation is true as well. When they take a wealthier person and put them into a role where they are powerless or a game is rigged in such a way as they will be the loser, they quickly take on a more empathetic stance and a positive attitude toward cooperation/collaboration.

        It would seem the predisposition to use one’s wealth to shield one’s self inside a bubble of entitlement where the ills of the rest of society are largely foreign to your daily experience, builds upon this problem of feeling “above it all.” I suspect this is part of the equation when you end up with a few dozen asshole CEOs trumpeting on about their agenda to “Fix the Debt” … and their proposals exclude themselves from any actual financial sacrifice and instead focuses on cutting social programs that serve the poor, disabled, and elderly. 😛

  6. We lived in Germany for 18 mos. at the end of the 90s.

    Most Germans are uncommonly good drivers because they have to attend and pass driver’s education school (which they also have to pay for; it’s not cheap).
    Additionally, it is sort of a national pride with them to be good drivers – Autobahns and all.

    Naturally, there is one outstanding exception to the rule and that would be the A-hole BMW driver.
    The Entitled Jackass Piloting an Automobile crosses all borders.

  7. How about stereotyping/judging people based on what they drive, such as a Hummer? (hypothetically)
    Do you say, “Whoa, what kind of guy drives a vehicle so guilty of guzzling gas, a shared resource and polluting the environment?”

    • Yes, I do. Unless the person driving that Hummer is wearing camouflage and is driving that vehicle in circumstances that would warrant such an oversize and robust vehicle. There used to be a woman who drove a bright yellow Hummer to the car line at my son’s school to pick up and drop off her child. It did indeed strike me as exceedingly wasteful. She was also one of those moms who sat in the line with the engine on for 25 minutes before dismissal and smoking in the vehicle on school premise with the windows down.

      So yes, I think my assessment would be, “THAT is the kind of asshole who probably drives a Hummer.”

  8. Let me finish this by saying: “The best revenge is SUCCESS!” So everyone out there capable, please, go and purchase yourself an S600 MB or a BMW 760 IL and yes, even a Hummer. Why? So you can have a big head and run clowns like tigerlily78 off the damn road. Stay dominant, my Germany automobile lovers!!!

  9. My first real car (my hand-me-down 1959 VW doesn’t count) was a 1967 or ’68 BMW 200 TI. Mine was white. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/91/BMW_2000_ti.jpg

    This one was a bit of a rarity in the U.S. as Beemers were just entering the market with their sporty little 1600s followed by the 1800s.

    Four doors, four-speed, reclining buckets (all the way down) which served as my sleeping quarters in Ocean City, NJ.

    I was driving back to Valley Forge General Hospital (I was in the Army) after seeing Janis Joplin live at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. I’d been drinking, sure. So I was going plenty fast on whatever the hell road I was on. A cop car pulled out from what seemed like nowhere and I said to myself, (addle brained as I was), Fuck this! and I floored it. I outran that cop, got off on some exit I can’t remember, pulled over and switched off my lights. Waited with baited breath. No cop. I started my engine and drove SLOWLY back to base.

    The car had two two-barrel Solex carbs which were hell to keep in tune. Parts were extremely expensive. When I started college in 1968 I met my future wife. Soon I traded my beloved Beemer for a, get this, Dodge Dart. (Still that old Dodge Dart was steady as rock, and just as boring.)

  10. We decry “racial profiling” but it’s okay to engage in “car owner profiling?” There are just as many assholes driving Priuses as there are driving BMWs. When a black man in a BMW is caught speeding, has he been stopped because he’s black, or because he’s an asshole speeding in a high performance car, or a combination of both?

  11. I wonder if the blue being described was Interlagos, which as far as I know is only available in M cars. As a former owner of an Interlagos blue BMW M Coupe, I can attest to the temptation to drive very quickly from red light to red light.

  12. Never had this problem with people in luxury cars. Usually it is the idiots in the supped up Hondas and such.

    My issue currently is with people who must go 10 to 15 miles under the speed limit, refuse to use blinkers, change lanes without looking, and turn into outside lanes. I do not know how I am always so lucky to find these people who go 20 mph in a 35 mph zone. Or those who like their brakes too much.

  13. The best advice I ever received in new driver training was to watch out for BMW drivers because very often they will do something aggressive or suddenly with no signalling. The many years on the road have only reinforced this belief for me; sure, every group is going to have some asshole drivers but there is a very large core of them in the BMW camp.

  14. Here in Northern Europe , the worst drivers are :
    Bus Drivers : completely lacks respect for other road users , just plough straight out from a bus stop without looking, runs at twice the speed limit , misses people at bus stops , not friendly , runs crappy buses 2.
    Taxi drivers . Utter crap , no sense of direction and very nasty people to meet.
    Bmw drivers no words needed
    Audi and Mercedes : same.
    People at high school who drivs like maniacs.
    At least that is the situation where i live.

  15. Once I was driving calmly in a lane in my modified Dodge Coronet and suddenly a guy, most probably in his 18s came out of nowhere in his BMW, and he suddenly slowed down next to me and started challenging me for a race,well anyway it was less of a race and must be more like a humiliation for him because I just stepped on my gas pedal and blew his faggy BMW into weeds, looks like that ignorant brat either didn’t notice the supercharger intake sticking out from the bonnet of my car or it is possible that he was suffering from the usual “Beemer Syndrome” that lot of BMW owners suffer from (Symptoms: Delusion that they own the road. Overconfidence about the abilities of their car. Behaving awkwardly with those who drive other cars). Though my car is heavily modified and I can unleash 1400 bhp of insane power whenever and wherever I like but I still prefer to drive responsibly because I don’t like endangering life of others just for my momentary satisfaction, for racing I can do that on drag strips or tracks, but these BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz owners, I sometimes feel that they have some mental disorder or something.

  16. I own a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, a 2003 Toyota Corolla, a 2003 Harley Davidson and a 2011 3 series BMW. You’ll never guess which vehicle I get the rudest behavior from other drivers in. I pretty much drive all these vehicles in the same manner. I’m trained in emergency vehicle driving and enjoy taking advantage of each of these vehicles unique power and handling capabilities but by far the BMW has the best power and handling. I will only exploit these capabilities when assured of safety considerations within the handling capabilities of the vehicle. Wide open roads with plenty of stopping distance and no pedestrian traffic are places where I’ll play the pedal or throttle a bit. Toyota Prius drivers seem to be the most upset and hurried people in the world no matter what I’m driving. Are they all running late for work? Or attempting to get to the Hospital? My personal observation would be that I have a tendency to behave as I am treated.

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