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  • Writer's pictureJules

The Pecking Order of Cars

Yellow cars are less likely to be let out into traffic (allegedly)

As part of my husband's job as a Motoring Writer, we get to experience different cars to test drive every week. These cars range in terms of price point, size, use, capability and colour. As part of our testing of these cars (for practicality and suitability for purpose) I get to do the school run in them - aka running the gauntlet. Lucky me! There's nothing more hair-raising than trying to negotiate a $150k car that's not yours through tiny gaps and absent-minded drivers.

Some cars are easier to weave through the maze of parked car obstacles and navigate the throng of tired, rushed parents. Little spritely sports cars are my favourite, with massive 7-seat SUVs firmly at the opposite end.

What I've noticed though, is that whether or not I get let out into the queue to escape the car park, is directly linked to which car I'm driving. Not terribly surprising, but interesting nonetheless. All other variables being the same (ie: me, time of day, assumed road rules, etc) it's interesting to see what this effect has.

I know a lot of people would like to think that they let people out based on other factors - revelling in their ability to play either the courteous road user (you seem nice, out you come) or the strict disciplinarian (you look like you're pushing in, stay where you are!). But I think it comes down more to that snap decision people make on you and the car you're in.

Normally, if two feeds of cars are merging, it should be one car from each feed gets let out at a time - like a zipper effect. However, it doesn't always work like this. People with similar car choices as you are more likely to let you out. If your car is newer, then off you go first. If it's small, yellow and of a non-European brand, you're likely to be left waiting on the side for a while. Equally, if your car is sleek and at the upper end of expensive, you might also find yourself waiting a while to be let out (you're not better than me, you can wait). The same goes for the other extreme end - old, crappy-looking and likely to be belting out a fair amount of fumes can wait a bit longer (it's unlikely you'll be quick to get away).

It may also be country related. In England, letting people out into traffic is a well-practiced art, and one that can make people quite irate if you don't do it properly. If you can let someone out, you must, or consider being on the receiving end of a rather pointed stare. In Australia, when out of the school car park, the weight of traffic on the roads isn't the same, so there's less expectation to be let out; you wait your turn.

It seems to be a sort of social triage and I wonder how this also plays out when people aren't in cars, but maybe doing other types of queueing where they are visually more accountable. Waiting for the toilet (probably more a female phenomenon than male) has similar sorting aspects - pregnant women and young children who look like they may wet themselves if they wait, get sent to the front.

Or, when a new checkout opens up at the supermarket, and you have to make a decision on who gets to go first - the person with 2 items who's just rocked up or the person who's been standing there waiting patiently for 10 minutes already.

Where do you stand in the social pecking order of traffic? Do you get let out at junctions? Do you let others out? What influences your choice to do so?

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