Top 10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Believe Asians are Bad Drivers
Recently, ListLand debunked the stereotype that women are bad at math and science, and we’ve also addressed the continued need for affirmative action along with various other issues that—in spite of all the progress made in the 21st century—continue to have pernicious effects on American society.
One stereotype that continues to be perpetuated (often through comedy among other things) is that those of Asian descent are “bad drivers.” I haven’t driven with every asian driver so I can’t give you a firsthand account on their average driving ability, but I can tell you that my best friend is Korean and a woman (which means she’s up against the “asians are bad drivers” stereotype and the ever-annoying “women are bad drivers” stereotype) and she drives just marvelously. I am not of Asian descent, but I am a woman (hi there) and I can attest that my driving skills are pretty legit, if I do say so myself.
My and my friend’s driving ability aside, below we will detail the top ten reasons why you shouldn’t believe asians are bad drivers. Enjoy!
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has Debunked this Myth
Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope officially debunked the myth about Asians being bad drivers by citing statistics posited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Adams writes that, “…Driving accidents are the leading cause of death for all races ages 4 to 34 (the four-year-olds were passengers, not drivers, before you start getting smart). That said, in 2006 (for example) the crash fatality rates for the Hispanic, white, and African American populations were very similar — 12.27, 12.50, and 12.31 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. The real differences show up with Asians — whose fatality rate was only 4.00 deaths per 100,000 — and Native Americans, whose rate was more than twice the national average, at 31.17.”
Adams goes on to note that the high rate of accidents involving Native Americans is not to do with race, but alcohol intake. Asians actually are reported to engage in less drinking and—more importantly—less binge drinking than any other race in America, which actually may account for the fact that their vehicular fatalities have proven to be significantly less than other races.
In Australia, Asian Drivers are Actually Considered Safer than the Rest
The Straight Dope and other websites looking to examine stereotypes have made reference to a study from researchers at Sydney University. According to the study, “…Young Australians born in Asia are significantly safer than Australian drivers born everywhere else. Their crash risk is half that of Australia-born drivers. The researchers used answers from 21,000 P-platers aged to 25 and crash reports provided by police to arrive at a startling result few people would be prepared to believe!”
With information such as this, why does the stereotype of Asians being “bad drivers” continue to be perpetuated throughout the world? An extensive post by Philip (no last name is give) on You Offend Me You Offend My Family notes that this and other stereotypes are easily perpetuated when any incident occurs that seems to parallel ideas within that stereotype.
For example, you may never personally witness someone of Asian descent driving recklessly or being the cause of an accident. However, what if one day you got read-ended and upon stepping out of your vehicle you noticed that the driver was Chinese-American. After hearing the stereotype noted in jokes and anecdotes for so many years, you may just think, “Oh, the driver that just hit me is asian because of course he’s asian.”
Similarly as a woman myself, and my gender is often stereotyped as being bad at math and science. I’d like to point out that I actually have a degree from a college that gives out degrees to people (as I imagine most colleges do) in Health Science, so I’m actually not terrible at science and it’s only advanced math that horrifies me, i.e., for God’s sake please don’t ask me to do long division without a calculator. That being said, I’m only one person, and there is actually nothing to the stereotype that I would be terrible at math and science simply because I’m sans “Y” chromosome.
Moving right along…
People Like to Compartmentalize Information
Sometimes stereotypes are born out of a need to categorize and compartmentalize in able to make social information understandable. Judging a person based on their personality and individual traits alone would certainly be ideal, but apparently that’s not always what human beings like to do, so stereotypes such as “Asians are bad drivers” are perpetuated as a “short cut” to understanding incidents and taking in social information.
According to the Association for Psychological Science, “As people share information, the researchers [of a study published in Psychological Science] hypothesized, they tend to break it down into categories that are simpler and thus easier to understand. Cultural stereotypes may then arise as the unintended but inevitable consequence of these shortcuts for sharing social information.”
For the study, the researchers gave groups of 13 to 27 students, “…Different types of space alien creatures that combined unique sets of features and personality traits…The students were then asked to identify the traits of all 27 creatures, including the 14 they’d never seen before. The attributes these participants selected were then used as the training materials for the next participant in the chain through seven ‘generations.’ Like a game of ‘Telephone,’ the information that people remembered about the alien characters changed as it travelled down the chain.”
The final results of the study showed that the participants ended up overestimating “…the likelihood that aliens who shared features also shared the same personality attributes. Over multiple generations, certain features became so strongly associated with specific attributes that they could be used to accurately infer information about previously unseen aliens.”
It was concluded that the oversimplification and categorization of groups of people (or, in this case, aliens) can lead to stereotyping. As far as I can see, none of the aliens were hurt during the study, but if it weren’t for they’re being inanimate objects, I’m guessing that several would have been strongly offended.
Traffic Conditions and Laws Vary by Country
In America, we are considered to be amongst one of the most developed countries in the world, due to our economy (even during times of recession we are still much better off than various other countries) and being a first world country that is constantly evolving technologically, politically and socially. Not every country has the same advantages we are privy to—in fact, most do not. The aforementioned article from You Offend Me You Offend My Family made note of a study from TIME that examined the stereotype of Asians being bad drivers and pointed out the traffic infrastructure in various Asian countries, which ends up creating an environment that may be more liable to accidents.
“Asia’s motorists are plagued by hazards faced by travelers everywhere: drunk drivers, bad weather, heavy traffic. But developing countries harbor a host of other factors that heighten the peril. With car and motorcycle sales rising fast, deficit-ridden governments are hard-pressed to build wider, safer highways to accommodate swarms of new commuters. In poorer nations, existing road systems are often badly maintained and lack basic infrastructure such as stop signs and traffic signals. Traffic in Asia is frequently a tumultuous and deadly mix of pedestrians, affordable (but highly vulnerable) motorcycles, cars, pickup trucks ferrying loads of passengers, and heavy trucks that feed the region’s voracious economic engine all vying for places in line along the same overburdened stretches of blacktop.”
Another compelling report came from the New Zealand Herald in 2005, which spoke of a campaign that was launched in an attempt to “dispel myths” about Asian drivers. It was reported that various Asian migrants were experiencing difficulty or hesitancy behind the wheel not because of an innate inability to drive properly, but due to the vast differences between roads and traffic laws within New Zealand as opposed to Asia.
“National MP Pansy Wong, who came to New Zealand from Hong Kong in 1974, was amazed that Asian drivers continue to be tagged as bad drivers when she said statistics showed otherwise. ‘It is that frustrating feeling. I find the [Asian] community tends to react in certain ways. Some laugh over it, others get upset. I think people [making the criticisms] need to examine themselves a bit more.’ Because many new Asian migrants came from densely populated areas where they had less driving experience, they tended to be less confident behind the wheel. ‘Some New Zealand drivers might grow impatient and toot their horns, and that could make [new migrants] even more nervous,’ said Mrs Wong.”
This lends itself to the fact that environment—not race—can have an exponential impact on things like driving and accidents.
Comedy Shows and Comedians Use Racial Stereotypes as a Way to Conjure Laughs, NOT to be Accurate
Some comedians frequently utilize race and stereotypes for bits or TV shows. However, this is often used in a tongue-in-cheek type of way in order to draw attention to just how absurd operating under the pretense of stereotyping can be. Stand-up comedian Dane Cook and the animated sitcom Family Guy are just two examples where the stereotype of bad asian drivers has been used negatively as a way to conjure laughs.
TV Tropes references this and expounds upon our previous point by noting that, “In [real life society, the stereotype of asians being bad drivers] may have something to do with lax traffic laws in Asian countries and the fact that widespread automobile ownership in Asian countries is a new phenomenon for millions of people whose parents could only dream of driving a car. The result is that many of the defensive driving training and techniques developed and stressed in the west have not yet been as widely adapted in Asia. Finally, probably as a result of the workaholism encouraged by many Asian cultures, they are generally in a hurry. Also, China particularly is very heavily populated, which could lead to traffic jams and accidents.”
Moreover, TV Tropes notes that prejudices about asians being bad drivers can often arise from Americans who are opposed to immigration—even though the United States was actually established as a “melting pot” and founded by immigrants. “In the US, it doesn’t help that some of the prominent Asian immigrant communities are in California, New York and New Jersey, three states where the populations in general have reputations (backed by GMAC Insurance’s annual study, no less) for being terrible drivers regardless of race.”
Thus, Asians may bear the brunt of prejudice in these states even though they are nary the ones to be causing the accidents.
…And Some Use Their Comedy to Debunk the Stereotype
My personal favorite comedian (and future husband, should my fantasies ever become a reality), Aziz Ansari, frequently points out the ridiculousness of racial stereotypes in his act. One bit that comes to mind in regard to this ListLand topic is that of his friend of Korean descent being declined services from a locksmith based on his race alone. In recalling the event, Ansari said onstage, “So the locksmith’s getting all his information and is like, ‘What’s your last name?’ and [my friend said] ‘Chun.’ The guy goes, ‘what kind of last name is that?’ And my friend goes, ‘Uh…Korean-American.’ And [the locksmith] goes, ‘I hate Korean-Americans. Korean-Americans are trying to destroy this country,’ and hung up on him.”
Ansari went on to muse about how many Korean-Americans would have to call the locksmith after being locked out of their homes before “economically, he couldn’t afford to be that racist…What if Korean people just kept calling him? Would he be like, ‘…Man I would’ve made $5,000 yesterday if I didn’t hate Korean people! This is so stupid. Korean-Americans aren’t trying to destroy America—they can’t even find their keys!’”
Ansari concludes the bit by mentioning how the hypothetical scenario above could “weirdly get integrated into [the locksmith’s] racism” when suddenly he would assume every Korean-American had an innate inability to find their keys.
Although these views were done in a comical sense, Ansari has shrewdly managed to point out just how absurd—and inaccurate—racial stereotyping is. See the hilarious bit in its entirety here.
Other Asian Stereotypes are Contradictory
It is important to preface this with the fact that stereotypes as a whole are harmful and should not be taken as fact. However, there are stereotypes about individuals of Asian descent that extend outside of driving ability into areas that are actually quite positive—a form of reverse racism, as it were.
While many people are comfortable in believing that being asian predisposes someone to being a bad driver, this same group of people may also regale asians for being superior when it comes to extremely complex areas within math and technology. An article published on NPR by Kat Chow made note of this, stating, “What’s confounding, though, is that the whole ‘Asians are bad drivers’ stereotype clashes with another beloved Internet meme: that Asians are good at all the ‘hard’ things, especially things that include math, technology or coordination.The best-known version of this meme might be captured in the Tumblr Difficulty Level: Asian. It shows people — Asians, in fact — doing uproariously wonderful, hard tasks…You might call it the racist stereotype oxymoron. Mexicans are lazy, but are also taking all the jobs. Asians are bad drivers, but are super tech-wizard ninjas.”
The contradictions displayed in all different stereotypes furthers the argument that any stereotype is harmful and—more importantly—completely inaccurate.
There are A Lot of “Bad Drivers” No One Complains About
There are plenty of people that agitate us on the road and may even be considered “bad drivers,” yet these people are not adding to statistics as they seldom are involved in accidents.
Although meant to be comical, Cracked’s list of 9 bad drivers who no one seems to be complaining about raises some good points, especially with regard to the subject of stereotypes.
As someone who treats the listed speed limit like gospel, I am frequently cut off by those that have a bit of a “led foot” syndrome going on and, no, none of those people have been Asian–at least the ones I’ve seen through the windows. There was one that had a “my pug is a member of the honor roll” bumper sticker, but I’m really not sure what type of category or stereotype that person would fall into, other than someone who is so overzealous about pugs that they have theirs enrolled in some sort of doggie daycare that actually has an honor roll system.
There are people that continually cut us off and there are people who’s borderline addiction to being a “cautious carol” can pose its own consequences. Cracked’s list makes mention of this with headlines about drivers with a perpetual fear of concrete barriers and the like.
Furthermore, There are A Lot of Bad Drivers in General
A report from USA Today cited that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average U.S. driver gets into an accident once every 10 seconds. “Fortunately, only about 25 percent of crashes result in injury, and only about one percent end in a death. Still, that’s about 30,000 deaths per year on our nation’s highways. Despite significant advances in safety and technology, car accidents remain the leading cause of death for young adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.”
The article goes on to note that a majority of vehicular accidents have been caused by male teenage drivers—there is no evidence from these statistics that indicates that Asians are responsible for these accidents.
Moreover, the statistic about male teenage drivers being largely responsible for car accidents is likely due to a number of factors, such as:
- Teenage males are at a higher rate of impulsivity. This is due to the fact that the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, particularly areas that deal with decision-making and impulse control.
- Media franchises that cater to men, such as The Fast and Furious, tend to have a greater effect on males and may encourage teenage boys with their license to want to “show off” by exceeding speed limits.
- Experimentation with drinking and drugs can occur during teenage years, and this can lead to greater impulses, and operation of a vehicle under the influence.
Does this mean that males are more likely to cause vehicular accidents? Perhaps that could be argued, but rather than trade one stereotype for another, I’m going to note that the aforementioned factors actually have much more to do with environment than anything innate (other than brain development which is universal for both genders and all races).
Various Other Stereotypes Related to Race Have Been Debunked
There are various other stereotypes related to race and skill that have been debunked. Various scientific studies have attempted to purport that race and IQ could be linked, but ListLand offered a comprehensive list on how any studies purporting this were later proven false.
On a personal note, as a fair-skinned, redheaded woman, I am apparently supposed to be a “soulless ginger,” because apparently being coppery in the follicular area makes me devoid of a soul. I don’t think there’s been any studies to officially debunk this rumor (and, believe me, I’d rather your tax money go to more important things than having researchers verify I and my ginger friends are not vacant succubus-like demons), but I can assure you that—if souls do, in fact exist—we do have souls, are quite pleasant, and that there is certainly no need to turn our male counterparts away from sperm banks.