Don’t Be Mad At Me

I know nothing about psychology beyond the introductory class I took in college in the 1970s. That said, and given the discussion in my post yesterday about the psychology of motorist anger, I want to propose this: People, in general, do not like being the focus of anger.

I believe, with nothing more than anecdotal evidence, that many bicyclists simply assume that the default attitude of most motorists toward bicyclists is anger. I, however, do not believe most motorists are angered by bicyclists. I have no idea what’s going on in the head of your average motorist as they travel from point A to point B unless said person communicates anger in some fashion (and subject, obviously, to my interpretation of said communication).

I want to propose a far more troubling attitude on the part of (all kinds of) vehicle  drivers that we may want to pay more attention to: I call it a dangerous nexus of objectification, complacency, and hubris. To coin a term, let’s call it “objectibrisplacency.”

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time watching car crash videos, such as the one below, on YouTube. There are tons of these things because, apparently, people in Russia and other Eastern European and Near Eastern countries routinely run a dash cam (I assume for insurance purposes). While cultural differences in road behavior obviously play a role here (e.g. guessing alcohol, and, perhaps, uniquely European attitudes of social hierarchy), I think we can also learn some lessons about “objectibrisplacency.”

Here’s that I see: Time and time again people making terrible choices based upon objectifying other people, showing very little care for the danger they might be creating, and acting as if they are the by-god only road users who matter. Thus, “objectibrisplacency.”

I have worked very hard not to care about the rare outbursts of anger from motorists. As long as I am following the law, helping create a safe street environment, and showing appropriate courtesy to my fellow road users, I believe anger directed toward me is misplaced and safely to be ignored. And, yes, hard work to get to that point because of the psych 101 assertion I made to begin this short essay.

What worries me is “objectibrisplacency.” That’s what I have my eye out for anytime I’m driving any kind of vehicle.

When it comes right down to it, I’d trade anger for “objectibrisplacency” any day.

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Comments 12

  1. John Brooking wrote:

    I agree that cyclists are too quick to jump to the general conclusion that motorists hate cyclists, based on a limited number of interactions with angry motorists, and somewhat more frequent instances of motorist carelessness misinterpreted as intentional malice toward cyclists.

    Yesterday I overheard a co-worker telling another co-worker about a jerk motorist she encountered that morning. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing that a motorist would do around a cyclist, and which the cyclist might be tempted to take as “he hates me because I’m a cyclist”. But this was motorist-to-motorist behavior. Some people are just jerks to everyone, or maybe just having a bad day, or need to make their own unwise decision seem like someone else’s fault. It may be much less related to the vehicle you are driving than you might think.

    Another example, from someone on the Chainguard mailing list a few years ago: You are powering slowly up a hill, and oncoming traffic prevents overtakers from getting around you right away. When there is a chance to pass, the SUV driver behind you “guns the engine” as he passes. Is that an expression of driver anger, as we assume? Or is it merely that application of a fair amount of gasoline is necessary to gain speed to get past you as quickly as possible, and that’s just the sound the engine makes when it is called on in that way?

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 11:29 am
  2. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I would not say that ‘all’ motorists are angry at cyclists. However, I reckon a disproportionate number are. Admittedly, my sense of the situation is based on anecdotal evidence, but when, on a weekly basis (sometimes more frequently) I hear cars rev their engines and pass way too close, see them cut me off when I’m in front of them at a left turn, hear them honk at me when I’m doing nothing wrong, etc., etc., etc., I start to get the feeling that their minds aren’t exactly in ‘friendly mode’.

    And that’s not to mention the cell phone use, the ignorance of basic road rules and the general incompetence on display literally on a daily basis, some of which clearly leads motorists to the ‘angry place’, because they think (wrongly) that I don’t belong where I am and/or they mess up so badly that I become a convenient scapegoat.

    And yes, everyone is guilty to various extents of lawbreaking, ignorance about the law, and yes, even road rage. The difference is, some of us aren’t packing 2 tons of steel that we can use as a weapon whenever it suits us, kill someone, then claim “He swerved into my path” and get off with a warning from an LEO not to do it again “or it might result in a fine”.

    Even if drivers aren’t any more prone to road rage than the rest of us, when they are enraged, they’re armed. We are not. That is the basic difference.

    I’m not at the place yet where I can be sure that the next ignorant and enraged moron I encounter (and there will be one) won’t try to kill me – and I’m not sure that would ever be a safe place to work from. While ever there are ANY road ragers out there, I’d rather consign the lot of them to the ‘potential psycho nutcase’ pigeonhole and thereby work from a place of healthy fear, disgust and contempt. Yeah, it’s not very fair to the happy motorist (if such a creature actually exists outside of legend), but life ain’t fair.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 12:01 pm
  3. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    “You are powering slowly up a hill, and oncoming traffic prevents overtakers from getting around you right away. When there is a chance to pass, the SUV driver behind you “guns the engine” as he passes. Is that an expression of driver anger, as we assume? Or is it merely that application of a fair amount of gasoline is necessary to gain speed to get past you as quickly as possible, and that’s just the sound the engine makes when it is called on in that way?”

    Maybe, in that situation, on a hill. What is it when you’re waiting at an intersection with a red light. A van stops behind you, the light turns green on a flat intersection and the van behind you revs his engine, screeches past you and pulls right back in front of you with about 3ft clearance? Admittedly, that’s just one memory I have from about a year ago, but it did happen. I find it hard to attribute such behavior as accidental or just normal.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 12:08 pm
  4. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    When my daily commute involved thirteen miles comprised of suburban four-lane-plus TWLTL, two-lane, two-lane rural, and two-lane state highway, I would be passed by probably a fifteen hundred or two thousand motorists a day. Five days of that a week, and the one weekly overly-angry driver became a fraction of a tenth of a percentage of all the drivers I encountered. Yes, it was weekly–sometimes more than once in a week. And, I’ve heard the “it only takes one” argument.

    Those once- or twice-a-week encounters were with folks who had already seen me, and who, I presume, were in a big enough hurry that they wouldn’t want to be seen hitting me with the time-suck that would result. They just want to go from a to b with minimal fuss and delay.

    Some just like pretending to be jerks by emitting “unintelligible ululations” out the window (excuse me, “winders”) as they go by.

    It has taken me a lot of time to enure myself to such silliness, and I’m not perfect at it. As one who generally avoids confrontation in person, sometimes the yelling gets my metaphorical hackles up. Not having a cage around me gives me a little bit of apprehension when the vociferous anti-cyclist has a car and might run me over out of spite. Gladly, I don’t see that happen. I can empathize with those who fear such outcomes, and part of my teaching is to help them realize that much of the situation control is mine as a cyclist, and can be theirs.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 12:35 pm
  5. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Tom, I actually agree with much of your post, but it has to be said that some of the ‘anger’ situations I experience result from the very fact that I have control when the motorist behind me not only wants control, but thinks it’s his due. The postman yelling “You were in the middle of the street!” last summer occurred precisely because I was in control of my lane while he thought he should be.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 12:45 pm
  6. robert wrote:

    I saw a survey conducted in Florida once and it confirms…….most people hate bicyclists. LOL

    I think Keri is the person who shared it with me.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 2:05 pm
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Link please. Having worked with a psych prof here on a study in hindsight bias in the news media, I learned a little something about survey techniques for making psychological claims. It would be very interesting to see how this study was conducted. Who knows? It may be a good reflection of reality.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 2:32 pm
  8. Steve A wrote:

    I’m skeptical of some of the numbers cited. In my own “long” 20 mile commute, at the website link, I averaged only about FIVE significant motorist interactions per mile of commute. And I was counting carefully. Some of that commute was on Texas highways. During that time, while some unpleasant encounters occurred within 100 miles of each other, one span was 1000 miles. Are drivers really so polite in Texas or are we simply relying too much on fallible memory?

    OTOH, a modified ride obtained worse results as noted in http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2009/05/45th-pass.html which simply proves that you “had to be there.”

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 7:21 pm
  9. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    Ian, you are probably right about the control issue. I suspect that the motorists who are most aggravated at me for controlling my lane have some sort of motorist-superiority complex as well.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 8:01 pm
  10. robert wrote:

    Andy, from what I was told it never went public. Ask Keri, she would know exactly where to find this document.

    Posted 14 Feb 2013 at 10:27 pm
  11. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert … Keri sent a copy to me. so I’ll read it and mention it on CT. Thanks for the heads-up about it.

    Posted 17 Feb 2013 at 9:11 am
  12. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Yesterday and today I had a couple of experiences that illustrate this issue:

    This morning, on our ride to school, my daughter says, out of the blue, “I think motorists hate cyclists”.

    I asked her why she thought so. She explained that a few minutes earlier, the driver of an oncoming car who had to wait for us to go by (because of parked cars on either side of the road) gave us a really angry look. I hadn’t noticed.

    We must have held him up for all of 5 seconds.

    Yesterday, we overtook two cars that were pulled over waiting for an oncoming garbage truck to pass. We slipped past the garbage truck and continued to school. Apparently, my daughter’s friend’s mom was one of the drivers. She spent the rest of his journey to school complaining about how ‘those cyclists’ might make her late for work – apparently, the garbage truck had nothing to do with it.

    Posted 20 Feb 2013 at 6:28 pm