“Catholic driver” stereotypes
I grew up thinking that all Catholics are bad drivers.
St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was popular for Catholics have a St. Christopher medallion hanging from their rear-view mirror or a small St. Christopher figurine mounted on their dashboard.
We also had a large Catholic church down the street from where we lived. So, a lot of Catholics drove by our house, and we often drove by the Catholic church.
Whenever a driver did something bone-headed, and my dad noticed the St. Christopher, he would exclaim with exasperation, “Another Catholic driver!”
That’s how I grew up thinking all Catholics are bad drivers. That’s how stereotypes are formed and perpetuated. (Some of my Catholic friends still wear St. Christopher medallions, although I haven’t seen any dashboard figurines in a long time.)
Like myths and legends, stereotypes often contain a grain of truth. Clearly, that is not the true reality or the whole truth. Stereotypes are formed by us noticing the similarities between isolated incidents. Then we overgeneralize. When we observe similar isolated incidents thereafter, our stereotype is confirmed and perpetuated.
“Sunday driver” stereotypes
Another traffic stereotype I inherited from my dad was the “Sunday driver.” This stereotype is based on overgeneralizing from the people who drive leisurely on Sunday. They are not in a rush to get to work. They are just going “on a drive” enjoying the scenery. When someone drove too slowly, my dad would exclaim in frustration, “Another Sunday driver!”
This stereotype became so widespread that it found its way into the dictionary. “Sunday driver” is a noun, meaning “a person perceived as driving in an inexperienced or unskillful way, especially one who drives slowly.”
“Vietnamese driver” stereotypes
Some traffic stereotypes are based on race, ethnicity or culture, like the “Mexican low-rider.” One common stereotype in west Orange County involves Vietnamese drivers.
Here’s how this stereotype got started. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, tens of thousands of refugees from the Vietnam War settled in Orange County, especially in Westminster, the proud home of Little Saigon. Many of the refugees, especially the older ones, had never driven before. Every novice driver makes mistakes. The stereotyper does not attribute these mistakes to unfamiliarity with their new country, differences in language, or differences in traffic laws, but to ethnicity.
I had personally wondered how some of these Westminster residents got driver’s licenses. We discovered a few years later that a few Vietnamese DMV employees were running a scam. One Vietnamese person took the written test for dozens of people. Another Vietnamese person took the driving tests for dozens of people. Then the applicant had his/her photo taken and license issued without taking any of the tests. It was very profitable, until they got caught.
The Vietnamese refugee community has become a great asset to all of Orange County. Their contribution cannot be over stated. We now have a plethora of Vietnamese doctors, lawyers, professors, elected officials, honor students, judges and business owners.
I conducted a traffic court trial, that for some people, would have confirmed the stereotype about Vietnamese drivers. The defendant was an older Vietnamese man.
The officer testified that he was directly behind the defendant’s car going westbound on four-lane Westminster Ave. approaching the intersection of Beach Blvd. with its six lanes. The light was red. As the defendant approached the major intersection, he started to slow down as if to stop. Then he looked to his right, accelerated, and drove through the red-light across six lanes of cross traffic. It was a miracle no one was hurt.
The defendant testified that he saw the red light, and he was preparing to stop. However, when he looked to his right, and he saw all these little red and white signs on poles saying, “No stopping any time.” “Since it was against the law to stop, I drove through the intersection.” Scary!
Early in my judicial career, I presided over a civil auto accident jury trial in my court in Westminster. The plaintiff was Vietnamese. Both attorneys asked me to broach the subject of “Vietnamese drivers” with the prospective jurors.
When I asked the jurors whether they had any opinions about Vietnamese drivers, a middle age white man’s hand immediately shot up. “They are all terrible drivers. I don’t know if they couldn’t make the transition from riding water buffaloes to driving wheeled vehicles, or what!”
At this point, a smart attorney ignores the prejudiced juror and focuses on the facial expressions of the other jurors. Obviously, I was going to excuse the vocal juror “for cause.” But what about the other jurors? I personally observed that most of the other jurors were shaking their heads in disgust. However, a couple of jurors were nodding in agreement.
“Asian Women driver” stereotypes
Another common stereotype in south Orange County involves Asian woman drivers. (I served as a judge in west Orange County, in Westminster, for about 12 years, and then I served in south Orange County in Newport Beach next to Irvine.)
Irvine has a large influx of well-to-do Asians. While they were adjusting to their new country and learning to drive, the stereotype developed of Asian women drivers. One of my friends often comments, “another Asian woman driver,” even when his Asian wife is sitting next to him in the car.
I had a traffic case, that for some people, would confirm the stereotype. A CHP officer spotted a car going 40 mph in the fast lane of the 405 Freeway. Traffic was light, and the average speed was 70+. This slow car was backing up traffic, and people were making hazardous lane changes in order to get around this car. The officer pulled the car over for “obstructing the flow of traffic.” The driver happened to be an Asian woman. When he confronted her about her driving, she replied, “Driving faster than 40 mph is too scary.”
(While doing a computer search for photos for this post, I was very surprised to discover that the “Asian woman driver” stereotype is a lot more widespread than I thought.)
My current traffic stereotypes
I no longer adhere to my dad’s “Catholic driver” stereotype or the “Sunday driver” stereotype. I never did adopt the “Vietnamese driver” stereotype or the “Asian woman driver” stereotype.
My personal current traffic stereotypes are based on the type of vehicle on the freeway. Tesla drivers and new pickup truck drivers are all “speeders.” Old Buick drivers, mini-van drivers, and Prius drivers are all “slow pokes.”
Those who drive like idiots, greatly varying their speed, or drifting out of the lane, are all either drunk or on their cell phone.
Beware of stereotypes!