Four Theories Why BMW Drivers Are Jerks to Cyclists.

Department of complaints.
July 18 2013 5:16 PM

Why BMW Drivers Are Jerks to Cyclists

I have four theories.

BMW M550D.
Chances are this driver just sideswiped a cyclist.

Courtesy of Robert van Dijk/Flickr

I was nearly sideswiped by a BMW on my bike ride home from work today, which was not surprising, because BMWs are always nearly sideswiping me. I ride in the right half of the right lane, and virtually every car behind me slides over to the left lane, passing with 6 comfortable feet of berth. But every month or so, a driver doesn’t change lanes, rides up on my shoulder, and squeezes by with just a few inches to spare, prompting me to squeal in terror and rage.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

After several years of close calls, I began keeping mental track of who, exactly, was threatening my safety. During the time I paid attention, fully half of my dangerous encounters—about 10 of 20, if I remember—were with BMWs. There were two or three Mercedes, and no other make was a repeat offender. In other words, the BMW, a car that has less than 2 percent market share in the United States, was responsible for 50 percent of the menacing. To put it another way: Terrifying research concludes that BMW owners are far more likely than typical drivers to endanger cyclists on the road.

Am I a jerk cyclist? I don’t think so. I do bike on busy streets during rush hour and take my God- and law-given share of the road. But the issue here isn’t whether I’m a road hog. The question is why non-BMW drivers find it so much easier to avoid cyclists than BMW drivers. Everyone is late. Everyone is stuck in traffic. Why is it that only those with BMWs do the bullying?

I’m sure most BMW drivers are kind souls, always stopping to put baby birds back in their nests. My beloved brother drives a BMW, safely and gently. And the overwhelming majority of BMW drivers on my commute pass me with a safe cushion. But of the small minority of motorists willing to endanger my cycling life, a shocking number bear that blue-and-white emblem.

I am not the first person to make a claim about the character of BMW drivers. The first Google result for “BMW drivers” is a Facebook page called “I HATE BMW DRIVERS.” Any BMW driver research will direct you to the discussion board “Are BMW drivers assholes?” Next stop: The listings on MyRoadRage.com, which suggest the BMW is the No. 1 source of other’s road rage (at least in Britain). Finally, there’s the epic tale of the Beverly Hills BMW driver recently caught on camera intentionally ramming a cyclist into a trash bin.

Why? What explains the fact that drivers of this particular kind of car are so dangerous to cyclists? I have four theories.

1. BMWs are luxury cars, and most BMW drivers are wealthy. There’s widespread evidence that wealthy people feel entitled—to their good fortune, to their privilege, and probably to their speedy commute. (See this study suggesting that people who drive fancier cars break more traffic rules.) My bike disrupts that entitlement by slowing the rich man’s forward progress. In fact, he is not aggrieving me—I am aggrieving him.

2. “The Ultimate Driving Machine” is a car lover’s car. BMW owners believe roads belong to cars and bikes shouldn’t mess them up. Bikes destroy the joyful, fundamentally American right to drive fast everywhere, and deserve no quarter.

3. BMW drivers are better drivers. They bought a BMW because they care about driving well. They spend weekends at BMW Performance Driving School. They own a car that steers like champagne. They have close shaves because, superb drivers that they are, they know they can squeeze by me with 4 inches to spare. (Compelling evidence in favor of this theory: I’ve been hit on my bike three times, but never by a BMW.) This is the story that all BMW drivers tell themselves.

4. BMW drivers are assholes.

Got a better theory? Tell me @davidplotz on Twitter, or email gabfest@slate.com.

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