What is it with BMW drivers?

In a comment on my post about roundabouts, commenter sonofrojblake talked about the conditions under which problems can arise and how some drivers solve it and then threw in this comment about those who mess things up.

It’s a joy to see, spoiled only by the predictable selfish or oblivious asshole usually driving a BMW who is so important or in a hurry that they HAVE to gain that extra four metres by NOT letting you in.

I noted that utterly gratuitous slap at BMW drivers and wondered if any other commenters would jump to their defense. None did. This does not surprise since I long ago discovered that many people absolutely hate BMW drivers, seeing them as entitled jerks who drive as if the road belongs to them. This strong feeling has also influenced the Urban Dictionary where the top definition of ‘BMW Driver’ is:

Self absorbed, self important assholes.

They drive like they are the only vehicles on the road, don’t know how to use their indicators, don’t know the meaning of the term “speed limit” or at least believe that it does not apply to them, jump the traffic lights, park on double yellow lines/on corners/in front of dropped curbs/across 2 or more parking bays etc (impulsiveness, irresponsibility, poor behavioural control). If you ever see one getting a ticket they will always been full of rage that someone has dared to slight them (grandiose sense of self worth, failure to accept responsibility for their own actions).

They also seem to think they’re better than everybody else, and that the BMW is the pinnacle of human achievement. They imagine that other peoples dislike for them is due to jealousy of them and their car, and that owning said vehicle means they are richer than everyone else (grandiose sense of self worth), and is not in any way due to them exhibiting the behaviours outlined above (lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy).

In short, they exhibit many of the traits associated with being a narcissist or psychopath.

I first encountered this strong feeling a long time ago when a friend of mine, not usually given to harsh judgments, casually spoke of BMW drivers as assholes and since then I have noticed that they do tend to be inconsiderate, more so than even drivers of other luxury brands. But I was not sure if this was just confirmation bias on my part, noticing mainly their bad behavior because I had been sensitized to it. I had previously also been irritated by some BMW drivers referring to their cars as ‘Beemers’. Giving your car’s brand a pet name is a warning sign of unnatural attachment to a piece of metal.

So I looked it up and it appears that there was a study and they found that BMW drivers are actually the worst

Turns out there’s substantial scientific evidence that BMW drivers are some of the most aggressive and selfish on the road.

A study conducted in 2012 by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto examined driver behavior at a four-way intersection and crosswalk on busy roads in California. Drivers were graded on criteria such as whether they cut in front of other drivers or stopped for pedestrians in a crosswalk.

In general, luxury-car drivers were the least likely to be kind to other drivers and pedestrians, but BMW drivers earned a special mention from Berkeley researcher Paul K. Piff.

“One of the most significant trends was that fancy cars were less likely to stop,” Piff told Benjamin Preston of The New York Times. “BMW drivers were the worst.”

Maybe that penchant for aggressive driving has something to do with why the BMW 3 Series and BMW 7 Series hold spots on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s list of the top 10 models that generate collision insurance losses for car insurance companies.

In looking online for any objective evidence for this negative view of BMW drivers, I found sites where people simply express their hatred of them. It looks like they do have some basis for their strong feeling.


  1. Matt G says

    There are two kinds of obnoxious drivers in the US: middle-aged, affluent, white men from Connecticut driving European sports cars, and people driving American cars. Did I paint with too broad a brush? When I get tailgated (admittedly in rural areas of Upstate New York), it’s an American car 95% of the time.

  2. jazzlet says

    I wish I could find it again, but my search skills are rubbish, however I read a study that said an astoundingly high proportion (42% is what I remember, but …) of high end car owners had obtained their wealth through at best unethical and at worst staight illegal means. If that is really the case it is not that surprising that they do not have any consideration for other road users, why would they suddenly start behaving well on the road when they don’t behave well in a significant part of their life?

  3. blf says

    Many yonks ago when I was living in California, across the busy road from the R&D centre was a strip of shops, including several decent restaurants (I now only recall a sushi bar and a salad bar). The problem was how to get to them for lunch (and later return). One method was to walk to the nearest four-way electric lights-controlled intersection (some distance away but not outrageousness), and the other was to play “chicken” with the cars on the road. Most(?) people did the chicken thing, especially after one person pointed out the safest cars to step out in front of were the high-end brands (Mercedes, BMW, and so on). Not only would those cars probably in better repair than the old VW campervan, and the brakes more likely to work, but the drivers would be possibility more alert and probably much more attuned to the financial / legal consequences of hitting an pedestrian.


    Some yonks ago in the UK, there was a case where three(?) cars were attempting to join motorway (freeway) Y from motorway X. However, MY was at a standstill for some reason, so those three cars decided to reverse up the junction road back onto MX. Which is an absurdly crazy thing to do. And it gets more absurd… one of the cars, yes, a BMW, decides the car reversing behind him isn’t reversing fast enough, and so overtakes (passes) the reversing car in reverse back onto MX. (From memory, the police caught all three drivers based on CCTV footage.)

  4. says

    I think the assholes gravitate to the cars that other assholes own, so it’s self feeding. BMW are just the marque currently at the top of the heap. If Tesla made loads more dark, sneering and spiky SUV’s I’m sure they could displace some of the BMW attraction to assholes.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    First of all, let me say that my best friend, the one who was best man at my wedding, drives a BMW and so does his wife, and they obtained them by hard work and I love them both dearly. I still give them a good-natured hard time about it. He even admits he is a worse driver in it than he has been in any of his other cars.

    My theory on the reason for the prevalence is this:
    The really horrible and unethical, really rich people would never be seen in something as plebeian as a BMW. The lower end ones are too cheap and the top end ones (e.g. the i8, which looks like a prop from Tron) are too Premier League footballer. They’d tend toward a Bentley, a Maybach or an Aston Martin.
    It’s a fact that a high proportion of the cars on the road are not in fact owned by the people driving them, but are part of a company fleet. A high proportion of those are either low-value vans and such or low-end cruisers like the (UK model) Ford Mondeo. The people driving those are the bottom-tier reps, and if they scratch the paint more than once a year that’s their bonus gone. Those people are polite enough.
    The BMW gets its rep from the people further up the chain of company car use. The car is a visible symbol of their success, even though they don’t own it -- in fact, BECAUSE they don’t own it, and likely change it every year or two. They know they’re bulletproof.
    Summary: the problem is not people who own BMWs. It is mainly people who drive BMWs.

    The question remains, however, why the same stigma does not attach to Audis. /shrug/

  6. Roj Blake says

    For a long time in Oz it was Volvo drivers, but Volvo has waned in popularity. Not sure who has replaced them, although there are far too many candidates, so maybe that’s why there is now no one brand to hate.

    In New Zealand it was, and I think still is, Subaru drivers.

  7. says

    Roj Blake, Volvo drivers were known for their slowness and ignorance of good driving skills rather than their arrogance. The car types typically seen as replacing Volvos were Toyota Camrys and Subaru Foresters (four cylinder base models especially). BMW drivers are a different class altogether, the middle ranked executives and their partners and children. These are the cars of aggressive social climbers not settled people. They are not nice if you get in their way.

  8. Holms says

    I disagree that ‘beemer’ is a sign of attachment or bias to the car, or at least that it is not the case here in oz. Beemer is shorter than bee em doubleyou to pronounce, much like merc is shorter than Mercedes and Dick is shorter than Richard, and is simply a part of common parlance.

  9. fentex says

    It is my personal experience that Volvo drivers are the most dangerous to others on the road. While cycling I was almost been killed by them several times in my youth (in Europe in particular).

    I had a theory that because Volvo’s had a strong reputation as safe vehicles their drivers took less care.

    Now I’m older and cycle seldom, and drive a sporty Mercedes, it seems to me ‘luxury’ brands are politer. But I live in New Zealand where although such cars are lot more common than they used to be they aren’t that common and generally are driven by older people (who can afford them) who I feel are less hurried and harried and unlikely to be posturing, thus are perfectly polite.

  10. naturalcynic says

    I’m surprised nobody has put in a bad word about Lexus drivers. And then there are drivers of large pick-ups. Slightly less than half are polite and very cognizant of their size while at least a third are total assholes.

  11. ed says

    I drive a “bimmer”, and consider myself a good driver. I do drive fast on the highways and not fast, but efficiently in the cities. That also means that if you’re being a bad driver (e.g. blocking the left lane on the highway), you will get annoyed by how close I am driving behind you, waiting until either I can pass you on the right, or until you realize your mistake.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the above confirms your thoughts about BMW drivers -- that’s how human brains work after all.

    Btw in my experience, the only make of a car that stands out as a container of the worst drivers on the planet ever is Volvo. The other cars are more or less equally bad.

  12. mnb0 says

    At least in the 1970’s the BMW had a very similar bad reputation in The Netherlands as well. But that was because rich Germans drove the car (the middle class drove Opel or Audi, the working class Volkswagen) and rich Germans were very impopular after WW-2 and the football finals of 1974 (when the Orange team lost with 2-1 to Die Mannschaft -- in Mnchen, the capital of Bayern, where the BMW is from …..)

  13. Mark Dowd says

    Never noticed a problem with Beemers.

    Fucking Mustangs on the other hand, that’s a different story. Every time some jackass has flown past me on the highway doing what must be literally 100 mph, it’s been a Mustang. Not a Charger, Camaro, Corvette or anything else like that, but a Mustag.


  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    ed #11: I drive a “bimmer”, and consider myself a good driver. I do drive fast on the highways and not fast, but efficiently in the cities. That also means that if you’re being a bad driver (e.g. blocking the left lane on the highway), you will get annoyed by how close I am driving behind you, waiting until either I can pass you on the right, or until you realize your mistake.

    Classic Dunning-Kruger. If you are tail-gating people, you are driving badly. We know that you’re a super-being who can handle every driving situation with ease (in your own mind), but if you are causing other people to panic, you are driving badly and probably contributing to accidents.

  15. Johnny Vector says

    Reginald Selkirk, responding to ed:

    Classic Dunning-Kruger. If you are tail-gating people, you are driving badly. We know that you’re a super-being who can handle every driving situation with ease (in your own mind), but if you are causing other people to panic, you are driving badly and probably contributing to accidents.

    Probably? No. Ed is definitely contributing to accidents.

    Ed, you’re not a good driver; you’re an asshole. Go read what you wrote: “waiting until either I can pass you on the right…” So you’re tailgating someone who has not been able to move over. And taking up the first chance he has to move over. Yup. Asshole.

  16. ed says

    Predictable responses. I’m not a super being, but I’d bet a lot of money that I’m better at driving a car than you are. This is based on you thinking that I’m tailgating people who want to move over but can’t.

  17. Holms says

    A survey I heard of long ago determined that 80% of respondants rated their driving skill as above average.

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