They're much less likely to stop for pedestrians.
If you've just upgraded from a Mercedes-Benz E-Class to an S-Class, science doesn't have very promising news for you. That's according to two separate studies - both found that drivers of pricier vehicles simply aren't nice people. Published on ScienceDirect, the University of Nevada study claims that these drivers are less likely than others to let a pedestrian cross the road. Similarly, a recent Finnish study (from the University of Helsinki), found much the same based on 1,892 surveyed car owners: disagreeable and self-centered men are much likelier to own a BMW or Audi.
According to the Nevada study, the likelihood of a driver slowing down for a pedestrian goes down by three percent for every additional $1,000 that their vehicle costs. While CEOs and doctors everywhere will likely scoff at these findings, the researchers filmed what happened in hundreds of scenarios when drivers of different cars had to decide whether to stop or not for a pedestrian. Quite simply, the cheaper the vehicle, the greater the chance that the pedestrian would be allowed to cross.
"I had noticed that the ones most likely to run a red light, not give way to pedestrians and generally drive recklessly and too fast were often the ones driving fast German cars," observed Jan-Erik Lonnqvist, professor of social psychology from the University of Helsinki. His assessments were proven following Finnish car owners' answers to questions regarding their wealth, cars, and consumption habits. Answers were then evaluated using the Five-Factor Model to assess key personality traits like neuroticism and agreeableness.
The results unambiguously found that men described as stubborn or unempathetic are far likelier to own a car with a high-status badge on the hood. Along with the Nevada study's findings that "feelings of entitlement and narcissism may lead to a lack of empathy for pedestrians," the outcomes - in two very different parts of the world, we might add - sound pretty conclusive.
While we haven't conducted our own study on the issue, there are plenty of memes in circulation pointing fingers at BMW drivers at their disregard for other road users. Perhaps with pedestrian detection technology making their way into more and more cars (especially pricier models), drivers will be more likely to stop for pedestrians.
Until then, we'll leave it up to you to decide whether these studies are an accurate reflection of reality of not, but next time you see a Rolls-Royce Phantom around town, it's probably safer to run in the other direction… just in case.