Fears in the Fast Lane

The road can be a scary place: From inclement weather to reckless drivers, there are plenty of reasons to want extra protection behind the wheel. For many Americans, that desire prompts the practice of some small ritual, such as tossing change in the back seat of a new car. Others trust a charm – whether traditional or personal – to ward off danger. Some call these customs superstition, while others swear by them. Whatever you make of these mystical habits, they’re a distinctive part of driving culture.

In this project, we surveyed over 1,000 drivers about their own superstitious practices on the road. Our findings uncover which habits were the most popular and which driving-related fears provoked their use. We then studied respondents’ driving records to learn if these traditions corresponded to better outcomes. Could riding with a charm really keep you safer? Read on to find out.

Better Safe Than Sorry

According to our data, performing some superstitious action while driving is more common than one might imagine. While women were slightly more inclined to observe some ritual behind the wheel, a majority of men did so as well. Among genders, however, specific superstitions differed: Men were more likely to possess a lucky charm of some kind, while women seemed to prefer religious symbols. The top two habits for men and women alike, though, were holding one’s breath while driving through a tunnel and lifting one’s feet when passing over a bridge or railroad.

Talismans and Tickets  

One’s charm of choice is a matter of personal significance, and most respondents steered clear of the classics, such as a coin or rabbit’s foot. In fact, fewer than a quarter of respondents employed any driving charm at all. Among those who did, most cited a trinket or religious icon with luck-bringing properties.

Just 2.5 percent of drivers carried a lucky form of currency in their car, and even fewer rode with a rabbit’s foot. Perhaps our respondents viewed these items as too cliche, even for mystical matters. 

Regardless of talisman, however, lucky charms seemed to bring little good fortune in dealings with the law. In fact, those who employed some charm were ticketed with much greater frequency. Drivers with money or coins were the most ticket-prone cohorts, followed by those with other miscellaneous lucky items. While people with religious icons and rabbits’ feet fared slightly better, they too received citations with greater frequency than those who went charm-free.

Motor Vehicles Fears and Myths

As if driving didn’t include enough dangers already, some specific driving horror stories have loomed large in the American consciousness. While female respondents were more likely to give credence to these fears, some were held to be true by a large portion of both genders. For example, more than a third of men and nearly 48 percent of women believe criminals impersonate officers to pull over innocent drivers. About 26 percent of female respondents believed burglars often sneaked into homes by following cars into the garage, and roughly 16 percent of men thought the same.

Even some more far-fetched scenarios were believed by a significant portion of respondents. Many of them concerned methods attackers might use to get a driver out of his or her car, such as putting a shirt or sticky note on a window or hurling eggs at the vehicle to lure a motorist outside. In each of these cases, men were less likely to believe these tactics were really used. Guys were actually slightly more likely, however, to believe thieves could circumvent a car’s locks by jamming a coin in the door handle.

Parked in the Dark

While many frightening situations arise on the road, simply reaching one’s car can be daunting in threatening settings, such as poorly lit parking lots. The vast majority of respondents took some precaution in such scenarios, although women were notably more vigilant. More than 4 in 5 men and over 9 in 10 women kept their keys ready to unlock their cars swiftly. Respectively, roughly the same percentage of men and women surveyed their surroundings for potential danger before approaching their car.

Women were far more likely to take more active precautions, such as talking to someone on the phone or asking someone to accompany them. Similarly, while roughly 5 percent of men ran to their car to avoid potential threats, over 9 percent of women reported doing so. One exception to this trend, however, was carrying a weapon – nearly as many men as women said they were prepared to defend themselves this way. Some self-defense experts recommend more women take this precaution, suggesting tools such as pepper spray or even stun guns.

Safety Over Superstition

As with any other custom, driving superstitions are an entirely personal matter, neither to be disparaged nor judged. If you feel more comfortable behind the wheel with your chosen charm in view, then it may well contribute to your safety on the road. But no superstition is a substitute for responsible action on the road. Whatever your beliefs and preferences, safe driving requires caution and attention at all times. When lives are at stake, it’s not enough to rely on luck alone.

Don’t roll the dice on your insurance either. NetQuote helps you compare competitive prices from the country’s most respected insurers. That means you can be sure you’re getting the coverage you need at the best rates possible – no luck needed.

Methodology

We collected survey responses from 1,014 Americans using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. 54% of participants were male, 45% were female, and 0.5% were nonbinary. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 76, with a mean of 36 and a standard deviation of 11.3 years. Participants were excluded if they were clearly not paying attention (e.g., failed an attention check question in our survey or entered obviously inconsistent data).

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

If you’d like to share this project with your audience, we welcome you to use our findings and images for noncommercial purposes. If you do so, please attribute NetQuote adequately with a link to this page. You don’t need to be superstitious to know that giving credit where it’s due is good karma.