Bullying self-driving vehicles is the new rolling coal

This is chapter 14 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter mailing list to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.

April 13, 2026

There’s a new sport on the roads of rural America. And, while it might be hard to believe, it’s actually more dangerous than full-contact football.

The new sport? Bullying self-driving cars.

And it’s killing people almost daily.

Joseph Cagney was arrested yesterday and charged with dangerous driving after he ran a red light and cut in front of a Tesla while turning right … from the left lane. The Tesla, sensing Cagney’s turning vehicle, slammed on the brakes but still hit the rear of Cagney’s pickup truck, causing damage and slight injury to its occupants.

“It’s part of a pattern we’re seeing more and more,” police sergeant Denise Witherspoon said in a statement. “People think they can do anything around self-driving cars because the autonomous vehicles are generally so cautious and will always give way.”

In fact, almost a third of drivers of older internal combustion vehicles admit to driving more aggressively around late-model cars, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Group. For diesel-burning pickup owners, that almost doubles to more than half.

Experts says some of it is due to a false sense of security, knowing that advanced safety and control systems on newer vehicles will protect their occupants.

Others say it’s sheer bullying.

“I can’t tell you how many parking spots I’ve lost to gas-burners,” one Nissan Leaf2 owner told me. “They know my safety system will back off, so they just grab the last space in busy lots super-aggressively.”

Modern self-driving cars keep track of all objects near them. They also use predictive route algorithms to make smart guesses about where other cars, people, bikes, dogs, and other objects are going … and the likelihood of collision. If they sense another car’s predicted path will intersect with their own, they stop or turn away.

That’s precisely the behavior that self-described tech neanderthals have adopted.

Part of it is simply the fact that in what are still the early days of autonomy, self-driving vehicles tend to be slow and frustrating to other drivers in busy and congested conditions. Manufacturers, trying to ensure public safety, have built in huge margins for error in an abundance of caution. But part of it is that they have found new ways to strike back at “the man,” technology, and the future of autonomous transportation.

“I really think self-driving cars are stupid. Why can’t people just drive?” one told me via a throw-away email address. “On the other hand, I love it, because I can go wherever I want and the other cars will just stop and let me pass.”

Some practitioners of the new sport capture their exploits via dashcams and share them anonymously on Reddit and other social platforms. Upvoted videos frequently get 10-20 million views.

And that just encourages more extreme behavior, sergeant Witherspoon told me.

As for Cagney?

His dashcam was indeed running … and he had previously uploaded videos showcasing his exploits: police found undeleted footage that corresponds to videos on the /r/selfdrivingbully sub-reddit.

This video, however, is more likely to put him behind bars than go viral.

 


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