FREAK Shots: How Many Bumper Stickers Make a Bad Driver?

Driving a car can be depersonalizing. That’s why drivers use bumper stickers, bobble-heads, fish brake lights, racing stripes, etc. to show others on the road their personalities, explains Tom Vanderbilt in his book, Traffic.

A recent study by Colorado State University psychologist William Szlemko found a link between road rage and the number — but not content — of personalized items on a vehicle.

According to the study, the driver of this car (which sported no other bumper stickers) …


is less likely to have road rage than the driver of this car …


And, just wondering: do dogs in uniforms count as personal items?



Seems pretty straightforward to me. The more you personalize your vehicle, the more personally you view threats to that vehicle.
My car represents me --> my car is me -->
You threaten my car --> you threaten me.

Hence the increased road rage.


Sometimes the irony is just too much.

Like the guy filling up his gas guzzler at the service station. His bumpersticker: No Blood for Oil.

Or the lady with "George Bush: It Takes a Village Idiot" on her car. While driving 10 mph below the speed limit on a major highway. In the lefthand lane. Wearing headphones.


I have a corollary to this rule. The amount of crap (or anything at all really) hanging from the rear-view mirror is indicative of how serious & attentive a driver tends to be - and I try to stay away from those drivers.


A prominent psychiatrist once told me that in his experience anyone with >3 bumper stickers usually has a major psychiatric disorder.

I just put my first bumper sticker on my car last week endorsing my presidential candidate of choice - am I on the path to insanity? Or do you need to know whose name is on the bumper sticker to answer that question?


I don't have any bumper stickers, and I have terrible road rage. What does that mean?

Anyone else noticed that liberal minded people tend to have more bumper stickers? Why is that? Or is it just a matter of current political ideas?


I got tired of looking at cars with stickers that bragged about their kids being honor students, so I put one on my car that said "My pug is smarter than your honor student!"


Dave, now you fall under the liar category. Guess you're still out of luck.

Mark Norman

My theory ... the quality of a person's driving is inversely proportional to the number of bumper stickers on their car. I hypothesize that the more burdened a person is with empathy, the less attention they can give to the road.


Never a bumper sticker, but twice I've put discreet decals in the bottom left rear window.

My first teaching job was at a junior high in 1967, a year of many divisions. I was not allowed, nor would it have been advisable, to talk about my political beliefs. The kids I taught kept asking me if I was a hippie--no, by definition, hippies don't work. I quieted my soul by putting a peace symbol superimposed on an American flag decal on my red VW bus.

About a dozen years ago we acquired new neighbors next door, and their children soon followed, and they are great athletic fans with loyalty to Cal (UC Berkeley). By contrast we are "intellectuals": my husband went to Cal, while I have a degree from both Stanford and Cal. So the unsolicited Stanford alumni decal went on my now ageing Honda Civic.


I'm a voracious reader, successful artist and engineer by profession and I drive a red hybrid car with about six stickers, including "Hybrid cars - so many miles, so little gas".

Hybrids have the best milage when using cruise control, so my speed is steady, I use my turn signals and I'm *not* prone to road rage. In general, I tend to be the kind of forgiving person who assumes everyone's life is as stressful as mine, and that attitude is reflected in my driving.

Stickers come off easily with mineral oil, provide entertainment at stoplights, and fodder for potentially interesting car conversations.

Here's an appeal for more excellent drivers to sticker their cars to sway this disheartening statistic!


Love the double (!) reflection of the cameraman/woman showing in the first pic!


I love the cars with the United States flag and the Confederate flag next to each other. Are they just confused?

Spofford Booth

California has tons of clever bumper stickers, and Santa Cruz may be the world's capital. My favorite: "I wish YOU were sailing" showing a sinking sailboat. They also had "California Native" stickers and the reply was "California Alien".

Ed G

Related to @14, @21 is a "SIMPLIFY" sticker on a Hummer, BMW, or Cadillac.

Ed G

Maybe it's just me, but someone that has a sticker that expresses a view opposite to mine or is particularly obnoxious and commits some kind of transgression while driving (perceived or actual) is easier to depersonalize/label instead of letting it slide.


Just yesterday I saw a license plate holder that read "I Kick Ass and Guzzle Gas". It was on a Silverado pickup truck.

I am guilty of endorsing my presidential preference on my bumper. Alas, Obama has not inspired me to replace my Edwards bumper sticker.

Mike Kitts

Bumper Stickers are for those who are otherwise unable to express themselves adequately.


To Claire (#2) and Dave (#3), you guys made my day today! Thanks for the chuckle!


I find the cars with the "COEXIST" bumper stickers are often bad drivers who probably wish people would stop honking at them.


When that story originally ran in our local paper Vedantam used "Don't Mess With Texas" as his example of an in your face bumper sticker. It made me chuckle. Don't Mess With Texas is actually part of the Real Texans Don't Liter campaign. Excellent job on the research there kiddo. Someone must have pointed this out to him because in this version he's changed it.

The original version is here: