Thank You For Honking


Note up front – I thought of the title of this post and then went looking for a photo. This photo of the clown is undoubtedly creepy but it was just too appropriate to pass on. I think that is sort of a metaphor for this blog: speaking truth to power no matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel. That and characterizing late 20’s cynicism as introspection and worldliness.

Anyway, on to the post, which on the surface is SF-centric, but I promise has a general takeaway. The question- why are people so bad at driving in San Francisco?

It’s a Fact:

I know everyone likes to bemoan the state of their local driving conditions, but this is not just my opinion – State Farm actually released a list of the worst driving cities based on average accident rates, and San Francisco was #9 on the list. That rank becomes even more surprising when you realize that almost all the other cities on the list are northeastern cities prone to far worse weather conditions than San Francisco. Weather is no small matter- a study by the NIH concluded that precipitation significantly increased crash rates and that 28% of all vehicular crashes occurred in adverse weather. The only two warm weather cities in the top ten? San Francisco and Glendale, CA. Let’s stick with SF for now, but I think their problem may be the same.

Reason 1: City Life Be Tough

This would be the argument that San Francisco is fundamentally a difficult city to drive in. I tried to find an objective measure of this, but unfortunately could. My overall read is that while the quality of the roads are below average, SF conditions are no easier/harder than most urban environments. Plausibility 2/10

Reason 2: Demographics

The stereotype (I can’t emphasize enough that this isn’t own personal opinion…sort of). Is that the culprits of a city having “bad driving” could come from a disproportional number of women, the elderly, or Asian people. Let’s see if any of these hold up (I will be brief here, read the linked reports if you have any problem with it)

  • Women
    • Does SF have more than usual? No (fewer than the national average)
    • Do they actually drive worse?
      • Non Fatal Accidents – Yes (12% higher non-fatal accident rate)
      • Fatal Accidents – No (men have an 80% higher fatal accident rate)
  • Elderly
    • Does SF have more than usual? No (roughly same as national average)
    • Do they actually drive worse?
      • Non Fatal Accidents – No (about a third of the average rate)
      • Fatal Accidents – Yes (marginallybe  higher, though that could because being so old makes you more likely to die in the accident)
  • Asians
    • Does SF have more than usual? Yes (~6x the national average)
    • Do they actually drive worse?
      • Non Fatal Accidents –TBD, no data found
      • Fatal Accidents –  No (lowest of all ethnicities)

Given how many Asians there are in SF, I really wanted to know the Asian non-fatal accident rate but couldn’t find it. Reports would indicate that it makes sense that particularly Chinese immigrants are poor drivers due to the inordinate proportion who are first-generation drivers. I suspected it would be the same as for women, where the stereotype is supported by the data that women are more likely to back into cars at Walmart but less likely to try weave through traffic at high speed and end-up being the meat in a semi-sandwich. Overall Plausibility 3/10.

Reason 3: Poor “Training”

This is my pet theory, but I actually think it makes sense. The reasoning goes that because everyone is so “kumbaya, it’s-all-good-dude” in the Bay Area, no one ever honks at all the bad drivers, so most folks are oblivious to how horrible they are and never get their act together. I unfortunately only have anecdote here, but in my judgement you can get away with far worse driving in SF than you ever would in the east coast. If you drive like a jack-ass in Philadelphia, you will hear about it from someone in about 0.2 seconds. You can basically go all day driving in the middle of two lanes in SF, but as long as you stay away from the all-sacred bike lane, no one will have much to say about it. It makes sense that the same “tolerant and non-judgmental” behaviors which has made SF the most socially liberal city in America and causes private schools to forgo grades in favor of hugs and stickers, also makes people less likely to lose their shit over poor driving etiquette. I say, Plausibility 7/10.

I also say screw tolerance when it comes to driving. I just want to get where I’m going as efficiently as possible. So for that I say- thank you for honking.


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