Blatant prejudice that colours our view of drivers

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE WHO drive red or black cars are seen as more aggressive drivers and are more likely to be blamed for accidents than those who drive beige or green vehicles, new research has revealed.

An elderly woman who drives a beige 2CV is the most likely to escape being blamed for a motor accident, even if she is at fault. However, a young man who drives a red XR3i is judged as highly aggressive and is most likely to get caught.

People's perceptions of car drivers are vital if they are called as witnesses in court trials where hard evidence is scarce. Although people who drive red cars do tend to have more accidents, not all stereotypes of aggressive drivers are accurate, the researchers said.

"In many road accidents, courts and insurance companies are faced solely with conflicting accounts of the drivers involved," said Graham Davies, a professor in psychology at Leicester University, and author of the study.

"Insurance companies load their policies on accident rates and associated blame, but people's judgements can be influenced by how aggressive they perceive the drivers to be.

"Some assessments are accurate. Young male drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident than elderly female drivers. But young female drivers are rated quite aggressively and their accidents rates are low."

The study showed there were large differences in judgements depending on the age and sex of the driver and colour and make of the car.

Professor Davies, who presented his findings yesterday to the British Psychological Society's forensic psychology conference, said there were differences between people's perception of aggressive car drivers and reality.

The study involved eight models of car, seven different colours and six drivers of varying age and gender. Accident scenarios were given to 24 volunteers who were asked to assess levels of aggressiveness for different cars, colours and drivers.

The Citroen 2CV was rated as the least aggressive car, followed by the Mini, the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Cavalier, Volkswagen Polo and Ford Sierra.

The most aggressive car was the Ford Escort XR3i followed by the BMW - both were perceived as over twice as aggressive as the Citroen 2CV. Colours such as beige, green and white were seen as least aggressive whereas purple, blue, black and red were perceived as increasingly aggressive.

Young men and middle-aged men were considered to be nearly three times as aggressive as elderly men and women.

Professor Davies said he had experienced people's perceptions of aggressive drivers when he drove a BMW. "No one would let me into traffic and it became obvious that they perceived me as an arrogant and assertive motorist," he said.



An elderly woman driving a beige Citroen 2CV is perceived as the least aggressive driver on the road and is the person most likely to escape blame in a motor accident.


A young or middle-aged woman driving a purple Volkswagen Polo is perceived as moderately aggressive. Her chances of being blamed for an accident depend entirely on who is the driver of the other car.


A young man driving a red Ford Escort XR3i is seen as more than three times as aggressive as the elderly driver of a beige 2CV. If he is involved in an accident, it is highly likely he will be blamed.