Don’t Be Afraid

May 22, 2024
Except about bridges, crazy drivers, or cars with no drivers

Ever been startled by a souped-up engine or loud muffler and wondered what kind of person would make their car that loud?

Thanks to Canadian psychology professor Julie Aitken Schermer, now we know: a sadistic psychopath.

"As these exhaust modifications are both a disturbance to people and animals and are illegal in some jurisdictions… understanding who wants their vehicle to be loud is an interesting research question," Schermer wrote in Psychology Today in May.

In order to uncover a correlation between personality traits and a penchant for attention-grabbing vehicles, Schermer surveyed 529 business students about their attitudes toward loud cars, their identification with their own vehicles, and their willingness to modify their mufflers.

Participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire designed to assess dark personality traits like self-centeredness, callousness, and deriving pleasure from others' suffering.

The results of the study revealed that drivers who exhibited signs of sadism and psychopathy were also the drivers most likely to make their car uncomfortably loud.

“It seems to be this callous disregard for other people’s feelings and their reactions. That’s the psychopathy coming out, and it’s also they probably get a kick out of enjoying watching people get startled,” Schermer told the CBC.

Schermer admits that not every driver who loves a loud car is a future criminal, but there are some definite similarities.

“The personality profile I found with loud mufflers is also the same personality profile of people who illegally commit arson,” she said.

Off to the races

A recent AAA study found that 66% of drivers are “afraid” of self-driving cars, while an additional 24% say they are uncertain about the technology.

The results of the first race of the world’s first four-car autonomous circuit race won’t help ease those fears.

During qualifying time trials at the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL) in April, the Formula 1 AI racers randomly spun out, pulled off the track for no apparent reason, or just turned right into a wall.

During the fourth lap of the actual race, the lead car spun out and event officials threw up a yellow caution flag to warn other vehicles about a hazard on the track. This caused two vehicles to come to a stop behind the spun-out car because they had been programmed not to pass another vehicle during a caution lap.

In the end, all four vehicles managed to finish the race in about an hour, which is only half the time that a typical Formula One Grand Prix takes. Of course, those races consist of about 50 laps around the track, and the AI racers only did eight.

Bridge of fears

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland is an engineering marvel. Made of 126,000 tons of steel and 286,000 cubic yards of concrete, the 4.3-mile bridge was the world’s longest continuous steel structure over water when it opened in 1952.

It is also routinely rated as one of the most terrifying bridges in the world.

What’s so scary about driving across the Bay Bridge? For starters, the ascent to the bridge's highest point 200 feet above water includes a curve that creates the illusion that you’re about to drive off the side of the bridge.

If you have a fear of heights, you’ll hate the low barriers along the side of the bridge that offer a clear view of the water below.

Inclement weather can add a unique twist, particularly when storms or fog reduce visibility to the point where no land is visible.

And if the whole experience becomes too much and you need to pull off to the side of the road to collect yourself, well, you can’t because there are no shoulders.

All of these fears are enough for some drivers to opt for a drive-over service, paying up to $40 to have someone else drive them and their vehicle over the bridge.

“I’ve had people request to ride in the trunk before,” Brittney Manzoni, a drive-over service provider for Kent Island Express, told the BBC. “Obviously we can’t allow you to ride in the trunk, we’ll just have you lie down in the back seat and cover up, or just put your head down in the front, cover you face if you need to, and we talk you through it.” RB

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news
since 2000. The stories are all true.

About the Author

David Matthews

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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