Driving poll links anger, diversion

by Jessica Thompson

A recent survey conducted by Progressive Auto Insurance reveals high levels of driver distraction and aggression, as well as differences between male and female drivers.
Released last week, the nationwide survey, “Are Our Cars Turning Into Mobile Homes?” included 29,981 people and was administered between May 17 and July 1.
Driver distraction was one of the survey’s main focuses. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they eat behind the wheel, 12 percent apply makeup or shave, 7 percent read a book or newspaper and 44 percent use a cellular phone.
The survey also shows that 46 percent of respondents express anger at other drivers while behind the wheel.
Distractions and driver aggression are correlated, said Dave Pratt, Progressive’s consumer marketing director.
“It’s a reflection of our society that we try to do more than just drive when we’re on the road,” he said. “Perhaps our busy lifestyles, combined with more traffic and congested roadways, is why nearly half of the drivers express anger.”
Fifty-five percent of those who use cellular phones while driving are in the 18- to 24-year-old age group. This group is also the most likely to use hand gestures, cut off other drivers and speed as a means of expressing their anger.
University students said they agree drivers improve with experience, but argue over what factors affect driving behavior.
Freshman Tiffany Score said she thinks gender is an important determinant of driving habits.
“Guys are generally much more vocally and physically aggressive when they’re driving,” she said. “I think it’s their way of showing how macho they can be.”
The survey studied gender variations by asking respondents to classify their car as classy, sexy, smart, sporty, reliable or aggressive. The results show men are three times as likely to classify their car as aggressive. In addition, 15 percent of people who classify their car as aggressive report speeding as a means of expressing anger.
The study found women are more likely to shout or swear to express anger, while men are nearly twice as likely to use hand gestures.
Carlson School of Management junior Andy Sikora said differences between how men and women express anger are a result of societal influences which cause men to be aggressive and women to be passive.
“Girls know they are not in control of everything everyone else does on the road, so they are more passive,” he said. “But guys see driving as a competition and they feel they have to retaliate to show their manhood.”
Retaliation only makes problems worse, Pratt said.
“Becoming too emotional and too preoccupied with other drivers is just another way to get distracted and potentially lead to accidents,” he said.
Other students said they feel driving behavior is influenced mainly by the kind of car being driven.
“I think women are just as capable of road rage as men,” said junior Shannen O’Brian, who commutes to the University every day. “The problem is that people with sportier, nicer cars are more aggressive because they feel a need to show off.”
Progressive spokeswoman Courtney Neville said the company is not planning on making conclusions based on the survey, but said the implications are apparent.
“There is a problem with driver distraction,” Neville said. “Drivers need to become aware that these distractions exist and that there is a correlation between distraction and aggression.”

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3232