Driving While Red

We act concerned to prevent tickets for "driving while black."   And I recently asked:

Everyone I’ve ever talked to has the impression that women, especially pretty young women, are more likely to be let off with a warning.  If racial bias gets people so upset, why is there little concern about this gender bias?

Today let me ask: why do we tacitly approve more tickets for "driving while red"?   Driving a bright red car, I mean.  I just bought a Mazda Miata roadster (zoom zoom!).  My sons both preferred the bright "true red" color, and it looked good enough to me.  But everyone I talked to thought bright red cars are far more likely to get traffic tickets for the same driving behavior.  So I reluctantly settled for a muted "copper red." 

Yes of course police eyes are naturally drawn to bright red.  But we expect police to correct for biases from eyes being naturally drawn to black drivers.  It seems we approve here of "the nail that sticks out gets hammered."  If we pass a red car being pulled over and ticketed, we are more often smirking in satisfaction than offended by the blatant discrimination.

Added:  One page suggests this is an urban legend, based on one small study.  But the study didn’t control for driving speed, and didn’t focus on bright red sports cars, just reddish cars in general.  And many other sources seem convinced otherwise. 

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  • billswift

    I read recently that police targeting red cars is an urban legend, not supported by statistical evidence. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source for sure.
    It may be John Stossel’s new book, Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel – Why Everything You Know Is Wrong, published last year, but I can’t find my copy to check.

  • billswift

    The contributors here who seem enamoured with “The Wisdom of Crowds” may want to consider what urban legends and the prevalence of religious belief says about the trustworthiness of the “crowd’s” knowledge, much less its “wisdom.”

  • http://thevoiceforschoolchoice.wordpress.com g

    Professor Hanson, I think this is sloppy thinking. Specifically, I think you’re doing induction with insufficient evidence.

    It’s eminently plausible that red cars are pulled over more. It’s only slightly less plausible that cops have heard about this bias; that they think of themselves as being more fair than average; and that they guard against this sort of unfair behavior. Thus, you could construct a scenario where bright red cars are somewhat less likely to be pulled over for speeding, ceteris paribas.

    The answer is we just don’t know

  • _Gi

    The insurance rates for the drivers of bright red cars are also higher, aren’t they?

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    I wonder if the data source from Political Economy at Any Speed had car color, too. That would give you someone at GMU you could ask to check empirically whether red cars received more speeding tickets, all else being equal.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    The obvious difference between driving while red and driving while black is that you can change the color of your car but can’t change the color of the skin. I assume that is (part of) the reason why people get much more upset about discrimination based on skin color than car color.

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    Robin, the two other sources you link seem to be much less credible. The first doesn’t give any hard evidence, and the second doesn’t really either. The second does mention (along with the Snopes article) that insurance companies don’t account for the color of the car when deciding what to charge. That sounds like pretty strong evidence–I figure insurance companies would be very trustworthy on the matter.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Gi and pdf, insurance companies insure against accidents, not tickets. So insurance prices won’t tell us about ticket rates.

    Hal, people are upset about discriminating against religions, even though people choose their religions.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Most people are born into their religions, and it says no more about them than their skin color.

  • _Gi

    Tickets certainly affect insurance rates.
    I remember that insurance companies pay attention to color because I once did an application for insurance company, and car color was one of the fields, and there were special rules for color red.
    Perhaps, insurance companies noticed that red cars bring statistically significant increase in tickets and are trying to automatically adjust for that

  • anon

    Presumably the person who bought the car decided what colour of car they would like. There could well be a connection between the personality of the person who made the buying decision, and likely drives the car, and the colour of car they chose.

    Put another way: If you buy a car because it projects a certain image of you, you cannot complain if it projects that image to the police, as well as everyone else.

  • John

    At least two parts of the Standard Explanation – that red cars are easier to see and appear to be moving faster due to an optical illusion – seem factually questionable to me.

    The photoreceptive pigment in motion-specialized rod cells (rhodopsin) is most sensitive to the wavelengths of visible light that that the sun emits with greatest intensity. Wouldn’t that make yellow cars even worse than red ones?

    Putting on my PoMo-MoFo hat, the story I find myself concocting is that redness (at least to caucasians) signifies health, virility, and strength, whereas yellow carries connotations of jaundice and sickness. So the urban legend about red cars (they signify Mojo to the PoPo) persists because it’s really a story about the necessity of sublimating baser urges to integrate onself into society.

  • laquita

    how does u play games on it