Are Northwest drivers as courteous as they think they are?
SEATTLE--Jan. 23, 2014: Around here, the notion of "Northwest Nice" – our region's shared practice of being polite, if not a tad passive – encompasses an endless number of daily interactions, including our driving habits. But according to the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance, drivers' high opinion of their own politeness may contrast with what actually plays out on the roads.
The Seattle-based insurer found that a majority of drivers (80 percent) say they witness at least three or four aggressive acts by others each month, and about one-third (37 percent) say they see as many as 10 aggressive acts per month, including rude gestures, erratic moves or being cut off in traffic.
In fact, when it comes to evaluating fellow drivers' basic etiquette, the "other guy" doesn't fair very well. Drivers say they see almost one-third of other drivers (30 percent) only occasionally or even rarely use their turn signals, according to the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll.
To make matters worse, more than half of drivers (58 percent) say that other drivers wait until the last second to merge into traffic when a lane ends. Meanwhile, 90 percent say they personally prefer to merge as soon as possible.
"Our data shows a disconnect between how we evaluate ourselves and other drivers, and what we actually see in practice on the roads," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson. "While overall trends suggest we're getting more polite on the roadways, drivers seem quick to point fingers at the other guy's aggressiveness."
Still, PEMCO's Polite Driving Index, an annual survey that measures total acts of politeness and aggression reported by drivers in Washington and Portland, Ore., is five points higher in Washington – meaning more polite – than PEMCO's previous index, while Portland's score remains unchanged. From 2012 to 2013, Washington's politeness jumped from 139 points to 144 points on the index while Portland has held steady at 146.
On the latest index, Washington and Portland drivers self-reported about nine polite driving acts per month, and more than half of Northwest drivers (58 percent) say they're courteous at least five times. When put into practice on the road, for example, a full 90 percent of females say they always use their turn signal.
With so many Northwest drivers claiming to be polite, who are the drivers responsible for the aggressive acts reported in the poll?
According to the poll, drivers under age 35 engage in more aggressive acts than their older counterparts. These younger drivers admit to engaging in more than two aggressive acts per month, while older drivers say they're aggressive just about once per month. Across all age groups, male drivers say they engage in almost twice as many aggressive acts as women.
Drivers under 55 years say they witness more aggression on the road. The 55 and younger cohort says they see 10.4 aggressive acts per month, while the drivers over 55 report just 6.7 of those same actions from other drivers.
Drivers under age 55 are also among the few who admit to merging at the last possible second when they know a lane is ending. In both Washington and Portland, about 13 percent of those under 55 said they waited to merge, while less than 3 percent of those 55 and older said the same.
To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit Pemco Poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll and see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in November 2013.