Politeness Not Dead On Australian Roads

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A new University of Queensland (UQ) study has found evidence of widespread altruism in Australian society through a study of driving behaviour in Brisbane, Australia.

UQ PhD student Redzo Mujcic and Professor of Economics Paul Frijters have conducted a study into the age-old issue of who is polite and who is selfish at traffic intersections in Brisbane.

They analysed data on about 1000 commuters at selected intersections where commuters had the option to let someone from a side-road enter the main road or to keep going and save themselves a couple of seconds.

What they found was:

- About 40 percent of all commuters stopped for others at an intersection whilst 60 per cent kept going.

- Male drivers were more likely to stop for others than female drivers: 42 per cent of male drivers stopped whereas only 37 percent of female drivers stopped.

- Both men and women were about twice as likely to stop for someone of the opposite gender than they were to stop for someone of their own gender.

- Whilst about half of the older drivers would stop, no more than a third of young drivers would stop.

- Drivers of cheap cars were least likely to stop, with the drivers of the really expensive cars only barely more likely to stop. The cars that stopped most were of intermediate value.

- Drivers were about twice as likely to stop if there was someone in the passenger seat of the car (from 33 per cent of single drivers to 60 per cent of drivers with a passenger).

- Except for gender, like seems to stop for like: jeeps are more likely to stop for other jeeps whilst low-status cars are quite unlikely to stop for high status cars (low status cars were almost 18 per cent less likely to stop for high status cars than for other low-status cars).

- No role for the weather, time of day, or whether it was a relatively rich or poor neighbourhood was found.

The authors interpret this behaviour as evidence for widespread altruism in our society: with more than one-third of the random commuters willing to forego some precious seconds to do someone else a favour, politeness is clearly not yet dead in Australia.

However, this politeness seems to be more easily brought on if someone else is watching and if the person being done a favour is of the opposite gender and driving a similar car to ourselves.

Kindness is hence not blind, though is apparently carried more by the old than the young (the young are more in a hurry, perhaps).

And no-one really wants to stop for a fancy car....

The findings have been published in an Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA), Bonn, Germany paper in which these issues are analysed and from which these numbers are taken:

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