For the past five years, Sanne van Gastelen has commuted almost every day in her car from Utrecht to Wageningen for her PhD research. The more kilometres she drove, the more she became drawn into the aggressive driving behaviour that she actually hates. She was puzzled by this, which led to her provocative proposition.
Sanne van Gastelen obtained her PhD on 22 December for a study of the relationship between methane emissions by cows and the composition of their milk.
Proposition: Typical driving behaviour is contrary to evolutionarily beneficial behaviour.
‘By nature, I’m a well-behaved driver. If someone is stuck in the right-hand lane behind a lorry, I’m only too happy to keep back and let them out. But over the years I’ve gradually become less accommodating in traffic. Lots of people are noticeably much less patient and more antisocial in the car than out of it, and I’ve found that you get caught up in that even if you don’t want to. If you don’t adapt, you’ve had it.
At first sight, such behaviour seems logical from an evolutionary perspective: survival of the fittest. But it’s more nuanced for social species like humans. Animals that live in social groups help one another to get ahead. This is normally the case for humans too, but that seems to go by the board in traffic. It’s all about me, me, me.
I think part of the explanation is our hectic society. There is so much that we have to get done, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible. What's more, we are often alone in the car; there’s no direct social control.
What annoys me most? Tailgating! If I'm in the left-hand lane overtaking, I regularly get somebody driving up really fast behind me and then braking and tailgating me. As if he's saying: you are not supposed to be in this lane, move over! I can get really angry about this as it’s so dangerous. My own flaw is that I then deliberately drive a bit more slowly...’