Sometimes you just know when a fellow motorist is going to be a real jerk.

Tip-offs can include a bobble-head doll in the rear window giving other drivers the finger, mud flaps featuring naked women or bumper stickers that read: “Hit me and my owner hits back.”

While this stuff may seem like common sense, a Ph.D. student in Colorado took the observations several miles further with an extensive study.

Colorado State University’s William Szlemko found that people with any type of car adornment are more prone to driving aggressively, obnoxiously and induced with road rage.

Even if their bumper stickers say “Peace on Earth” or “Good will to men.” And even if the doll in their rear window is graced with a smiling bobble head.

“Both number of territory markers (e.g. bumper stickers, decals) and attachment to the vehicle were significant predictors of aggressive driving, ” says the abstract of his findings, published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

It’s all about territory. “The road” becomes “their road.”

A previous study by Szlemko found that those who personify their vehicles exhibit the same type of behavior.

That means we’re in real trouble if a person not only adorns his vehicle with territorial stickers, bobble dolls and decals, but also has named his auto Maude and refers to it as “she.”

To test the theory in Tucson, I wanted to find someone with a smiling bobble doll who named his car Maude, but it just wasn’t happening.

As a backup, I planned to see what kind of reaction I’d get from different folks if I drove around honking, swearing and tailgating, but I kind of do that anyway.

I’m kidding.

But seriously, I was going to engage in annoying driving behavior to see if people with adorned cars reacted differently than those with plain Jane vehicles.

But I like my car. And I like my life.

So instead I simply observed. A drive down East 22nd Street produced:

• A champagne Accord speeding, cutting off at least two cars and ending up at a red light at a very strange angle. The Accord’s bumper was graced with a circular sticker that said “Life is Good” and a yellow sticker that said something about a motorcycle.

A cruise up South Columbus Boulevard resulted in:

• A gray Volkswagen that kept inching up to ram my passenger door when I ended up blocking the side street it was on. The VW finally gunned behind me into the neighboring lane, narrowly missing my back fender. The VW had no stickers.

• A gargantuan white van that kept, for no apparent reason, making sudden stops. This one we should have known had a sticker. We also should have known the sticker would say: “Caution: makes sudden stops.”

Turning onto South Palo Verde Road meant encountering:

• A silver something-or-other car I had watched weave in and out of traffic for about five miles, including a somewhat insane move around a tanker truck full of fuel.

When he tried to cut me off and I beeped, he gave me an honestly bewildered look, as if to question why traffic, or the world, would not stop to let him in. He had no stickers.

These examples, coupled with several others over the past week, have led me to a conclusion about Tucson drivers and their car adornments.

It doesn’t matter if they have bumper stickers or not. Many Tucson motorists are crappy drivers.

Even if the bobble doll is smiling and their bumper sticker is telling us to “Have a nice day.”

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter who has a single bumper sticker but no bobble-head dolls.


This column originally appeared in the June 29, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.