I love it when data, or alleged data, attempts to shed light on what we take to be the real world. So here’s a brand-new survey that shows that San Francisco is one of the most courteous cities in the country when it comes to driving.
The AutoVantage Driver’s Seat Road Rage Survey, which was conducted in late March and early April, found that drivers in Portland, Pittsburgh and St. Louis were more courteous than those in San Francisco; Charlotte motorists were No. 5 in driving courtesy. The rankings are based on a) what drivers report seeing other drivers do on the road (speeding, running red lights, texting, and such) and the kind of road-rage behavior they admit to (cursing other drivers, flipping them off and other acts of endearment).
Portland ranks first, the survey says, because drivers there are least likely to honk the horn at another driver, least likely to speed, and least likely to cut off other drivers with stupid lane changes. (My observation, from driving a little in the Beaver State, is that drivers there don’t change lanes at all and may not know about automotive devices like horns and accelerators. On the other hand, the first Road Rage survey, five years ago, also ranked Portland at the top of the courtesy list, so maybe drivers up north really are that polite.)
AutoVantage says San Francisco drivers are least likely to have talked on their cellphone while driving, and second least likely to observe another driver doing the same; they’re the fourth least likely to have observed another driver tailgating.
The least courteous driving cities? Houston is reported to be the worst, the survey says, with drivers being the most likely to see another driver cutting them off and most likely to admit performing this behavior, most likely to see someone else slam on their brakes and most likely to admit talking on their phones while driving.
The rest of the Discourtesy Top 5: Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
The casual statistician in me doesn’t put a lot of stock in these rankings. I would guess that the sample size — 2,500 drivers across the entire United States — might allow one to come to general conclusions about national trends but would be unlikely to provide much really meaningful information about each of the 25 cities the report says were surveyed.
And although, yes, I have a little swelling of pride when I read that my native Chicago is ninth least courteous, with drivers there being the most likely to curse or shake their fists at other drivers, the findings for San Francisco — drivers least likely to have talked on the phone while at the wheel — just don’t seem to jibe with what I see every day on the streets. Which is, in short, all sorts of the kind of jerky behavior that I assume goes along with driving a car anywhere. I plead occasionally guilty to the above-named offense.
It’s true that these are relative findings: Fewer San Francisco drivers say they talk on the phone while driving compared to Houston, for instance (a finding that may reveal Houston as a capital of honesty and self-knowledge). I’m not driving in all those other cities, so maybe San Francisco really is more courteous.
But courtesy in this case doesn’t equate with safety. And we’ve got the numbers to back that up, with at least seven pedestrians killed by vehicles so far this year.