Do BMW and Audi owners "drive like idiots"? New research confirms expensive car drivers break more rules

The academic who conducted the study wanted to discover why owners of those brands appear to drive more recklessly, and identified their character traits as "argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic"...

New research appears to confirm what many cyclists will have long suspected – that people who drive high-status cars from brands such as BMW and Audi are the worst drivers and those most likely to break the law

A study conducted by Professor Jan-Erik Lönnqvist of the University of Helsinki sought to answer the question, “Why do BMW and Audi owners often seem to drive like idiots?”

Lönnqvist wanted to establish whether it was the car that made people drive aggressively, or whether certain brands attracted specific personality types who were also more likely to break traffic laws.

He said: “I had noticed that the ones most likely to run a red light, not give way to pedestrians and generally drive recklessly and too fast were often the ones driving fast German cars.”

The professor noted that previous research on the subject had already confirmed that people who drive expensive cars are more likely to break the law.

However, that was assumed to be because “wealth has a corrupting effect on people, resulting, for example, in high-status consumption and unethical behaviour in various situations.”

Instead, Lönnqvist took a different approach, examining whether certain types of people are attracted by high status cars irrespective of wealth, and whether they were also predisposed to ignore traffic laws.

Some 1,892 car owners in Finland were questioned about their car, consumption habits and wealth, as well as being asked questions related to personality traits.

These were then analysed using the Five-Factor Model, which is used to assess personality traits in five key areas – openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness.

Researchers found that “the answers were unambiguous: self-centred men who are argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic are much more likely to own a high-status car such as an Audi, BMW or Mercedes.”

Lönnqvist said: “These personality traits explain the desire to own high-status products, and the same traits also explain why such people break traffic regulations more frequently than others.”

While rich people were more likely to drive high-status cars, given their cost, he said that the research “also found that that those whose personality was deemed more disagreeable were more drawn to high-status cars.

“These are people who often see themselves as superior and are keen to display this to others.”

There was a surprise discovery, too in the research, namely that people with conscientious personality traits were also drawn to high-status cars.

“The link is presumably explained by the importance they attach to high quality,” Lönnqvist explained.

“All makes of car have a specific image, and by driving a reliable car they are sending out the message that they themselves are reliable.”

Within the conscientious group, both men and women were equally likely to be interested in high-status cars.

However, when it came to those with self-centred personality traits, the link was found only among men, not women, which Lönnqvist said may be explained by the fact that cars do not carry the same weight as status symbols among women as they do for men.

He added: “It would be great if consumers had other, sustainable ways of showing their status rather than the superficial consumption of luxury goods that often has negative consequences.

“We are already seeing that driving an electric car is becoming something of a status symbol, whereas SUVs with their high emissions are no longer considered as cool.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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