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Drivers who disagree with your bumper sticker might treat you with less courtesy on the road

You would have to live in a cave to not know that tweets and online comments can prompt angry comments, irate rebuttals, and so on, and so on, and so on.

On the plus side, those social media commenters are usually far apart while they wage their word wars. But that’s not the case with motorists who share the road while they flaunt their views with bumper stickers and vanity license plates.

According to a recent PEMCO Insurance poll of 1,200 Washington and Oregon drivers, about one in five motorists change their driving behavior depending on whether they agree or disagree with the message of another driver’s bumper sticker or license plate.

Twenty-one percent of the drivers said they were more courteous toward drivers who display messages they agree with. While that’s understandable — people of like views tend to be comfortable with each other — wouldn’t it be nice if drivers were equally courteous to all? (That sounds like a bumper-sticker message, one that would probably irk some drivers.)

Meanwhile, 18 percent of the drivers said they were a “little bit more” to “much more” likely to be discourteous or rude toward drivers whose vehicles carry messages they don’t like.

“That was the big ‘aha’ for us,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesman.

Overall, 25 percent of the drivers said they have bumper stickers or other types of stickers or magnets on their vehicle. Most of the adornments sound innocuous enough, such as stickers from a club or group (49 percent), stickers that say something about the person using the vehicle (22 percent), and stickers with an interesting or humorous saying (21 percent).

Stickers about political views came next in popularity (15 percent), followed by ones about religious or spiritual views (13 percent).

Younger drivers, those under 35, were more likely to change their driving behavior in response to the bumper stickers and personalized plates they see. And while young drivers were more than twice as likely than older ones to be more polite toward drivers with agreeable messages (37 percent vs. 14 percent), they were also three times more likely to be less courteous toward drivers with messages they don’t endorse (34 percent vs. 11 percent).

The poll also found that men are equal to women when it comes to being more courteous toward drivers with messages they share, but more likely than women to be discourteous toward drivers with messages they don’t like (23 percent of men vs. 13 percent of women). Testosterone and gasoline, it seems, don’t mix well.

While the PEMCO poll didn’t specify which bumper stickers were more likely to spark discourteous behavior by other drivers, Osterberg said his gut feeling was that political ones might top the list.

Interestingly, a study published seven years ago by psychologists at Colorado State University in Fort Collins said the number of bumper stickers and other decorations on cars — not their content — was the best gauge whether a driver might commit road rage.

Researchers tallied whether people personalized their vehicles with bumper stickers and other trappings, such as seat covers, special paint jobs, stereos and dashboard toys. They also asked people how they responded to various road scenarios, such as someone driving too slowly in the fast lane.

Their conclusion: People with lots of personal items in or on their vehicle were 16 percent more likely to engage in road-rage behavior.

It appears that people who put in extra effort decorating their vehicle as their private mobile territory are more likely to defend their territory when another vehicle intrudes upon their peace of mind.

How about this for a bumper sticker: “Chill before you get behind the wheel.”

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