Seeing Someone's Soul By Watching Them Drive September 21 2018

"Give a man a mask and he will show his true face." - Oscar Wilde. Often, people feel hidden and anonymous behind the wheel of a car, somehow insulated from the outside world by glass and sheet metal. You've probably seen people picking their noses at red lights, dancing wildly or belting out lyrics whereas in any other context, they would be too self-conscious otherwise do it in public. People tend to truly be themselves when they get behind the wheel. Over the years, I've seen more and more instances of people's driving habits giving unfiltered information into who they truly are.

It may take years of close contact to truly get to know someone, as everyone tries to manage the image they project to the world. I would argue that seeing someone drive is often a clearer way to peer into their soul. Some of the most egregious drivers I've known seemed fine at first, but later turned out later to be the worst human beings. Conversely, some of the most courteous drivers I've known were confirmed over time to be some of the best people ever. I'd argue that seeing someone drive is perhaps one of the fastest and easiest ways to tell if someone is genuinely a good person, or a giant bag of douche. Here are some driving red flags that I've noticed, and what they can mean about a person. These are not always accurate nor are they based on science, but rather some hypotheses based on anecdotal evidence. There could be multiple reasons why someone behaves a certain way, or other factors that are not accounted for. See these behaviors as red flags that warrant further investigation.

- Turn signal usage. I've found that people who fail to signal tend to be inconsiderate and selfish. There is a spectrum, from signaling all the time, to some of the times, to never. In my experience, consideration for others is proportional to turn signal usage. In my family, if I were to rank everyone in order of how consistently they use their turn signals, and then rank them in order of how considerate they are, the ranking would be the same both times. This seems like common sense, but how often are you in the car with someone who doesn't use their turn signals and not think much of it? In reality, there is valuable information to be gained if you pay attention.

Turn Signal Usage vs Consideration For Others

- Texting while driving. If the overwhelming majority of people agree that texting while driving is profoundly stupid, then why is it still so prevalent? I have anecdotal evidence that links it to a lack of impulse control and/or a naive optimism. In the impulsive group, I've seen fiscal irresponsibly, compulsive eating and a divorce to pursue a new partner just weeks after marriage. Dr. David Greenfield in an article in the Huffington Post writes about the psychology behind texting while driving. When we get an alert on our phone, we have been conditioned to check our phones, because there is a chance the alert might be good news or something funny. The brain reinforces this behavior by releasing a small amount of dopamine in anticipation of the possible reward. Therefore, checking your phone in response to an alert becomes an addiction. Some people can resist these urges, but others cannot.

In the other group are people that are naively optimistic and rarely think that anything bad can happen. Said in a more positive way, these are free-spirited people. There isn't a fire extinguisher in their home, they cross the street without looking as long as the crosswalk says "walk", and they don't look around them before withdrawing money from an ATM. Of course, they are not going to consider the prospect of getting into an accident while texting.

I suspect that many texters have some of both qualities. I once saw a driver texting on the highway in the fast lane. The highway took a gentle turn to the right, and the car kept going straight. The car wandered onto the left-hand shoulder, headed straight for the concrete divider. At the last moment, the driver jerked his car back into his lane. Most people would see this as a wake-up call and stop texting, but this idiot immediately went right back to texting. I have difficulty believing that addiction alone or naivety alone can explain the depth of their stupidity. These people aren't necessarily bad people, but they're typically not good at life either.

- Impatience. We've all been running late before and stressed about making it somewhere on time. We've all tried to make it home before sharting our pants in the car (or maybe that is just me). There are plenty of reasons why someone might feel rushed, but have you been in a car where the driver is impatient for no reason? They're not late, or driving anywhere important, but they're doing 20 mph over the speed limit, tailgating the car in front and running stale yellow lights. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be impatient in the right context. Impatient people can be the type of people to get things done, but they can also be the type that sit back and want other people to get the things done for them quickly. They are typically also demanding, moody and high maintenance. It's a bit obvious that impatient drivers are impatient people, but sometimes we don't make the obvious connection, because we might not know the person that well, and they haven't shown any signs of impatience outside of their driving. Yet.

Study Finds Impatient Drivers are Impatient People

- Road rage. It's not very common to see people yelling in a fit of rage in a public space. However, the exception is that nearly everyone has seen some form of road rage before. People tend to be less inhibited to let their tempers fly when behind the wheel. If someone gets angry behind the wheel, there is an exceedingly high probability that they have anger issues in their life. You just haven't been at the wrong place and the wrong time to experience it yet.

- Teaching the unteachable. There are bad drivers everywhere in a whole assortment of different flavors. There are also certain people that feel it is their responsibility to teach these bad drivers the error of their ways. For example, I hate the person camping in the passing lane just as much as the next guy. However, I also realize that nearly all lane hogs are too inconsiderate or oblivious in the first place, and cutting them off isn't going to change their behavior. It's like trying to convince someone on the internet that they are wrong. Someone close to me does this, and outside of their driving, they can be hostile and adversarial when other people do not think or live life the same way as them. People like this can be difficult because they can be controlling, and everything has to be done their way. They can also inappropriately cross boundaries to attempt to change your ideas or behaviors.

- Poor critical thinking skills. A car you are following signals and slows down to make a right turn. The logical move is to slow down ahead of time to build a larger gap. Then, after the car turns off, you can time it so that you cruise by shortly after the car completes its turn. However, it's fairly common to see impatient drivers continue to follow the lead car closely, until they slow to a crawl and then have to accelerate from that crawl after the lead car has turned off. They're impatient, but yet they have adopted one of the slowest strategies. I know someone in my family like this, and they aren't the best at critical thinking. Sure, they have intelligence in other areas, but critical thinking isn't one of their strengths.

Infographic showing a large following distance to a turning car is a faster strategy than following closely.

How to save gas and maximize speed when traveling behind a turning car.

These are the same drivers that continue accelerating towards red lights, and then brake late. Then, they're at a dead stop when the light turns green, while sometimes the cars that were coasting to the red light are still carrying 20 to 40 mph of momentum when the light turns green and they zoom past. The driver with poor critical thinking skills is impatient, but yet they have adopted one of the worst strategies.

This same driver that I know will skid to an ABS-assisted stop at a 4-way stop sign and wonder why the stopped cars aren't going yet. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating about the skidding, but they come in pretty hot. Of course the stopped cars aren't going to pull into the intersection when they see the madwoman coming in like they're not going to stop. Meanwhile, the madwoman is impatient that the cars aren't already going. They're impatient, but yet they have slowed everyone down, including themselves.

Annoying drivers screech to a stop at a busy intersection and wonder why other drivers aren't already starting to move.

In my experience, the drivers who do these kinds of things are not very good at critical thinking, nor are they the type of people who reflect on how to do things better. These aren't necessarily bad people, but typically they aren't the brightest and they're also generally not great at life. Expect them to do illogical things, with possibly some of the consequences spilling over into your life if you are close enough to them.

- Egregious douchebaggery. These offenders are the worst people in this list, but they are hard to spot in typical social settings. Driving between lanes because there is no traffic immediately around. Driving through red lights after seeing that there are no cops, red light cameras or cross traffic. Driving on the shoulder to cut to the front of the line. These are the most egregious human beings. There is a high likelihood that these drivers are sociopaths or psychopaths. Sociopaths and psychopaths see morals and the laws of society as arbitrary constructs. In their eyes, people who follow society's rules are suckers and if they can skirt around the rules to gain an advantage, they are going to do it and then brag about it later. The thing is that sociopaths and psychopaths are typically charming and manipulative, so it is difficult to spot them in typical social settings. The image that they project to the world is very important to them, so it is carefully constructed. They might not drive like a jerk if there is someone else in the car. However if they are alone, the anonymity of driving might be what takes their walls down enough to peer into their soul. About 1 or 2 in every 100 people you know will be a sociopath or psychopath, so the odds are that you already know a few. Beware of these people and keep them as far away as possible.

These few things to look for are certainly not a comprehensive list, nor are my observations scientifically rigorous, but I do think there is a connection between people's driving and their authentic self. What are some other driving behaviors that you think might give clues to someone's true personality? I'd love to hear your comments below.