What your driving reveals about you

Is a person’s demeanour when driving a reflection of their personality?
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Is a person’s demeanour when driving a reflection of their personality?

OPINION: At the end of last year, my team at work suggested go-karting as a team-bonding activity. I hate go-karting with a passion. I wasn’t going to say anything, because I’m too lazy for conflict, but I was very grateful when a friend in the team openly said they also hated go-karting. The idea was scrapped and we did bowls instead.

I wondered why I hate go-karting. I realised it’s because I hate competitive driving. I’m not a competitive person in the slightest, so I’ve never been sold on the idea of racing around in cars with no discernible end-point.

Yet I like driving. I started driving as soon as I turned 15. I got my restricted and full licence quite early, aside from the fact I failed my restricted test for running a red light. That moment aside, I was a sensible teenager behind the wheel. I frequently sober-drove and ferried my friends around. I’ve driven ever since, from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and overseas. My driving now, however, is limited to transporting the kids around. I don’t enjoy sitting in traffic, to quote Bob Dylan, as it is kinda wasting my precious time. I tend to walk for hours or catch the bus so I can do other more productive things like switch my mind off.

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Music became the thing I enjoyed the most about driving. I had a bag of tapes I made from songs I recorded off the radio. Ever since 2004, when my friends got me a head unit for my 21st (because they got sick of my massive bag of tapes), I've made a six-monthly mix CD of songs I’ve been listening to. I’ve kept this tradition going, and I now have a series of “Bran Mixes” stretching a couple of decades. My eldest daughter now hears a song and says, “Daddy’s played this song in the car.”

Brannavan Gnanalingam enjoys driving, although he doesn’t enjoy sitting in traffic.
Robert Kitchin/Stuff
Brannavan Gnanalingam enjoys driving, although he doesn’t enjoy sitting in traffic.

I’ve often thought that how a person drives a vehicle is reflective of their personality. The above tends to suggest I’m non-competitive, fairly sensible, and pointlessly obsessive about music. Probably about right.

The thing I also notice is how other people drive. Driving is one of the rare instances in society when you’re completely and utterly dependent on a group of strangers following the rules, all the time. When you hope you or they don’t make a momentary mistake in a split-second interaction. People you’d never otherwise deal with. It’s scary when you think about it. I think of the close calls. The young person who rear-ended me and then did a runner. The big guy who rear-ended me and then tried to throw a punch. The person who accelerated through a red light on the quays while pedestrians were halfway across on a green man (including me with my kids).

It’s the small things I notice. I then tend to extrapolate that to the driver’s personality. Did that person indicate left off a roundabout while cars were waiting on the other side? They must be considerate. Were there no cars waiting on the other side, yet they still indicated left? They obsessively follow the rules or are sitting a driver’s test. They didn’t indicate at all, even when turning right? Selfish jerk.

Or how do they react when something doesn’t go in their favour? Does the fact they rant and shout when someone is driving at 54kmh reflect something rant-y and shout-y in their personality? Do calm people tend to be calm drivers, even when someone cuts them off? Would you trust someone who overtakes on a blind corner with your KiwiSaver? Would someone who gives no room to cyclists when overtaking, buy you a round at the pub?

I’m particularly intrigued by drivers who’d breach notions of fair play. The drivers who take advantage of an unexpected merge by driving as far as they can in the disappearing lane. As if they’re above merging like a zip. You’d know what I think of them. Jerks. And probably tax dodgers. Tailgaters? Bullies. The scene in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, when the tailgater gets beaten to a pulp, was very satisfying. While I would never advocate that kind of violence, my reaction to being tailgated, tends to be to drive even slower. I guess I probably have troll-like tendencies on that basis. Or the drivers who don’t stop at pedestrian crossings when I’ve been waiting a while? Either non-observant, lazy, and/or racist.

I find people’s actions when they think no-one is watching fascinating, even when they’re doing something as simple as transporting themselves from one place to another. That they’re reflective of something else. Or perhaps, instead, my obsession with analysing people’s driving habits – including my own – perfectly fits the fact I’m a novelist. And probably also a judgmental jerk.