Dear PoPville – Are Zip Car Drivers Particularly Bad Drivers?

Dear PoPville,

I had a pretty nasty experience with a Zipcar driver and I’m wondering if anyone else has had this happen.

I was biking down Kansas past Georgia and suddenly a car came right up behind me and laid on the horn. There’s no bike lane on Kansas, and I was already pretty far over to the right, but I pulled over to the curb. Then I saw a small red zip car pull out into oncoming traffic at the stop sign at Taylor (by the SED Center pre-school), run the stop sign, and speed down Kansas toward 13th Street. He blew through the next couple stop signs as well and then turned onto 13th Street, where I lost sight of him.

I got the tag number and later in the day when I got home, I called Zipcar and told them what had happened, and that the guy was really driving aggressively and dangerously. The lady at Zipcar took the info but didn’t ask what time or where this happened. She then told me it was probably somebody racing to get their car back in time!!!

I then told her that if that’s how people drive when they need to turn their cars back in, then Zipcar should be considered a hazard on the road. I finally got her to look up whether the car had been taken out multiple times that day, and if that was the case, maybe she could figure out who it was that needed to race down Kansas at 45-50 mph to return the vehicle. As it turned out, the car had been taken out earlier that morning and the guy still had it.

Anyways, I will definitely steer clear of Zipcar drivers when I’m on my bike, but I was pretty shocked at the company’s total lack of accountability on this.

Thoughts? Anything else I could have done?

73 Comment

  • I feel like if this had been anything other than a Zipcar the question would have been “Dear PoP: are Maryland drivers particularly bad drivers?” or “Are out-of-District drivers particularly bad drivers?” Some people are just inconsiderate and horrible behind the wheel.

    • ah

      +1. Or “BMW drivers” or “SUV drivers”

      The one thing Zipcar has going for it is that because its users don’t own cars, they probably drive less frequently and therefore may tend to be less good drivers as their skills are a little rusty, but the same could be said for grandmas and people who just don’t get out much.

      • On the other hand, they may be hyper-aware because they don’t drive as often. Isn’t there some statistic about how the vast majority of accidents are close to home, presumably because drivers pay less attention when they are more comfortable?

        • Or, it could be simply because the vast majority of car trips (90% or something) are within two miles of home…..

        • I had a friend who, otherwise carless, signed up for a zipcar account and drove like a bat out of hell ALL THE TIME and say stuff like “so what? i have insurance!”
          I stopped tagging along, it was just too scary.

        • shaybee


          I’m a zipcar driver and while I’ve gotten used to driving in DC, I am still very, very careful (at least I think I am) of what I am doing. Particularly because people here drive very differently down here than what I am used to and I’m not 100% sure on traffic patterns, etc. Also, because the car isn’t mine, I tend to drive much less aggressively than I normally would, until I’m comfortable in the car, because I don’t want to get in an accident!

          I’d bet this person was just a loser, as I know plenty of people who use Zipcar and are fine drivers.

      • That would be me…I drive a car maybe twice per year, and am terrified behind the wheel because I’m so rusty and overwhelmed. What I am not is aggressive and domineering on the road.

    • + 1/2. Because MD and VA drivers are in fact particularly bad drivers when they drive in the city.

    • Yeah, there was a bad driver the other day who was wearing Levi’s. Hence, all drivers with Levi’s are dangerous and we should blame Levi’s.

      • This is a false comparison. The OP seems to have meant to discuss whether infrequent drivers, the bulk of Zipcar’s clientele, drive more poorly than other drivers. In your example, wearing Levi’s has no correlation to driving ability. The OP raises an interesting question but muddled it by trying to call out Zipcar drivers in particular. After all, a city dweller might own his own car, drive very infrequently (and poorly), but be indistinguishable in a way the Zipcar client is not (due to the branding of his car). The only way to answer the question of whether infrequent drivers are worse than more frequent ones would be to see some data on accidents. Other posters have correctly pointed out that the OP’s data group is laughably small and his biased question poorly posed.

    • A convertible mini cooper car roared by me the other day blasting “California Gurls” at a unacceptable decibel level. I considered this both inconsiderate and horrible.

  • Why should Zipcar be accountable? You should have called the cops, not Zipcar. Did you also call Toyota to let them know what people are doing in the cars they make?

  • oh come on. this is the dumbest question ever. you may as well ask some equally obvious race-baiting or bike vs car question.


  • I find Zipcar drivers to be worse drivers because most of them do not own a car or are not daily drivers or usually get different cars, so they might not be aware of the local traffic signs or not used to driving that car/huge ass truck or not used to driving period. I am always wary of Zipcars and try to pass them / not drive next to them for that reason. It’s called defensive driving.

  • This sounds like a case of 1 bad driver and 1 bad customer service representative. Nothing more. I have a feel it is not exactly a Zipcar policy to encourage people to race back to their spots.

    • Pretty much agreed on this.

      The OP should have called the police (maybe supplementing it with a call to Zipcar to notify them of the driver’s reckless driving). If the OP gave the police the time, license plate info, etc., presumably the police could follow up with Zipcar themselves.

      The rep from Zipcar should have taken this more seriously. Even if the onus is on the OP to report the incident to the police, you’d think Zipcar would want to know if there were reports about one of their vehicles being driven recklessly. If a given Zipcar user racked up multiple reports, Zipcar (or the actuaries who figure out the insurance cost, likelihood of having to make a payout, etc.) might want to reconsider letting the user drive its vehicles.

  • 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . here come the bike haters.

  • My theory is that because zip car drivers don’t drive as much they are less experienced on the DC Roads and more terrible. Also they might be more nervous driving someone else’s car. It’s not the company’s responsibility though.

  • 1. People who Zipcar do not drive as often as car owners
    2. Lack of practice and being in a city are a dangerous combination
    3. They are no worse than Maryland drivers who are oblivious to the world around them when driving
    4. Zipcar does need to allow more leeway for their drivers in urban areas. Maybe a 15 minute gap between users so people do not have rush if they are running late.

    • All zipcars are in an urban environment. Also you can make the reservation for any length of time, so the driver should have made a longer reservation. The OP makes is sound like the length of the reservation should not have been an issue.

    • 4. Zipcar does need to allow more leeway for their drivers in urban areas. Maybe a 15 minute gap between users so people do not have rush if they are running late.

      I was a member of City Car Share in San Francisco for nine years, and I’ll bet anything that Zipcar is run the same way, since they copied City Car Share’s model. In other words, there *is* at 15 minute gap between reservations, and a grace period for returns.

      But regarding all this “…are they better drivers? Worse drivers?” It’s all silly generalizing. Using a car once or twice a week does not necessarily make you a worse driver. If anything you’re a better driver because you’re not constantly on edge due to the stress of fighting traffic.

      • Zipcar provides no grace period to the customer.

        If the car is due at 4, and you lock it at 4:01 (which is when the charge ends – not turning off the car), you are charged a late fee (50$).

        Zipcar does not block any time. If there is a car and it is set to be returned at 4 pm, you may begin your reservation on that car at 4pm.

  • As an infrequent Zipcar user, I personally have to say that I 1) drive more cautiously given that I don’t know the streets as well and I generally drive safer while in other people’s cars and 2) tend to make stupid mistakes more frequently, again because I don’t know the streets well.

    Not a blanket statement by any means, but that’s just me.

  • Honestly, it’s not a zip car driver thing or a biker thing or a pedestrian thing. It’s a people thing. It’s not that people who do the zip-car thing have personalities that make them more prone to bad driving. You can just hit a bad driver, bad biker, bad pedestrian anywhere, anytime. If you live in this world, you are going to encounter rude, inconsiderate people. I’m not saying it’s good or right or anything like that. It is how it is – and at some point you’re going to encounter these things. Hopefully without injuries, of course.

  • I think what the OP is getting at is that Zipcar could take more action against the account holder, like make them buy premium insurance in case they hit someone.

  • This email is not nearly as judgemental as it sounds. The driver mentioned sounds like a sizeable insurance liability for Zipcar; even if they hold the driver liable there will be legal fees involved. Additionally, since car visibility is a decent sized source of Zipcar’s rep, consistently awful driving and negative rep will make businesses less likely (though not by a large amount) to lease spaces.

    Anyway, if I were a business potentially held accountable for the actions of repeat customers, I would definitely keep track of my risk exposure from them.

    • really? you’d try to somehow keep track of and act on anonymous complaints of random strangers about the actions of your customers that didn’t result in any damage, injury, or criminal prosecution? good luck with that.

      • Eric,

        Yup. Already got one observation, and if I have the time I also have the Zipcar owner responsible. To the extent you’re already handling a phone call via an operator in front of a computer, I assume they can enter a plate number which can link via SQL to the customer ID. I don’t see “crap driver” as a protected class, so I think I’m good there. You don’t have to have the driver, just the accountable customer ID. A policy like this on the front end might help save money on loss mit at the back end.

  • If we replaced the “Zipcar” with “CaBi,” would anyone make the argument that non-owners are worse at operating vehicles (or bikes) and do not obey traffic laws? This, of course, is not to excuse the aggressive driving that the driver in question allegedly engaged in.

    • CaBi users generally do not wear helmets as often as bike owners, and where that’s a law, yes that’s not following the law. I love CaBi, personally. I just think bikers should wear helmets. This isn’t Copenhagen with dedicated bike lanes separated from cars. Oh how I wish.

  • anon. gardener

    You should have called the police and reported it. what in the world is Zipcar supposed to do, hours after the fact? this was a reckless driver, plain and simple, and a matter for the police.

  • Also keep in mind that people tend to notice things on a car when the driver is driving poorly. So we tend to notice zipcars (or Maryland Drivers or SUVs or whatever) when the driver is being a jerk as opposed to all the other zipcar drivers who are doing a perfectly reasonable job.

  • One incident makes a trend?! These kinds of questions are ill-informed and offer nothing except to create arguments & discussions. Like others have stated, replace “ZipCar Driver” with some other descriptor and the same could be true. Please stop posting these silly questions.

    • Agreed. What a silly question. What I want to ask… Do people that have cars drain enviormental resources more than those that use zipcars. BUT, I don’t. To each their own and I support people living the way that is best for them. Lumping people together does nothing. If someone is not following the laws, call the police not the company and not the blog… moving on…

    • lol. This was kind of my reaction too. However, I would also say that this is a “neighborhood’ blog and there may be some value to questions like this. Sometimes people need to hear that they’re approaching things from the wrong angle.

  • I think a sample size of 1 is adequate to make this assessment.

  • Zipcar drivers should have an incentive to drive carefully given that even with the so-called “insurance” included in the zipcar fee, “for both third party and Zipcar vehicle damage claims, the member may be responsible for a damage fee of up to $750 if they’re involved in an incident during their reservation.” Of course, I am not sure that many Zipcar drivers are aware of this fact.

  • Logic would tell you that city dwellers that aren’t used to driving, or haven’t driven in years, would be pretty scary behind the wheel. This has been my experience anyway.

  • austindc

    Have to agree with the first comment by JS. Some people are bad drivers. It’s pointless to try to make all-encompassing judgements about a group. I am sure some Zipcar drivers are less familiar with the roads because they drive less, but that might make them more cautious and alert because they are out of their routine. It’s kind of tough to say. That being said, I am a Zipcar member, and I drive Zipcars 3-4 times per week. I am very familiar with the DC streets, and I am confident that I am a safe driver. Since I primarily walk and bike, I think I may also be more aware of cyclists and pedestrians. However, I am also a safe cyclist and pedestrian, and I always obey traffic signals no matter what mode of transportation I have. So my argument is not that Zipcar members are bad drivers, it’s that there are a lot of jackasses, and probably some of them have Zipcar memberships, but I would be surprised if we found that bad driving occurred at a higher rate amongst Zipcar members than the general population.

  • There are plenty of stupid drivers on the roads. There are plenty of stupid bikers on the roads. And then there are plenty of good bikers and drivers on the road.

    Just be careful out there, yeah? It’s likely that if you’re a biker or driver, you’ve called one or the other the worst one in history. Also likely that you have been called the same for something you didn’t even consider.

  • Well, if the number of dents, scuff marks, creased doors and tailgates are any indication, then yes, I would generally agree that Zipcar drivers are generally worse drivers than the average driver.

    Zipcar cycles in new cars to the lot behind my building every 18 months or so, and within weeks the vehicles are looking years older. “Busted” would be a friendly descriptor

    But doesn’t this make sense. Zipcar drivers drive less than average drivers so of course they are going to be generally less experienced doing it.

    • Actually, I’m willing to bet that zipcars get driven signficantly more often than cars people own, since there are more users. That probably accounts for the wear and tear.

      And what’s with all the hate? I’ve definitely seen people in non-zipcars drive this way and worse. It’s the driver, not the car.

  • I am a Zipcar user, and one time I recieved a call from Zipcar telling me that the previous user was running late (I had the car reserved immediately after them), but would be there in a few minutes. So, there is some leeway in returning the car, but I think most Zipcar users don’t know about this and instead rush to get the car back on time. Dangerous driving just to return a car on time and avoid a $50 over your time-limit fee is a legitimate problem that should be made aware to zipcar so they can better educate their users and perhaps alter their policy.

  • YES! I almost got creamed by a zip car driver 2 weeks ago while crossing Independence Ave. All 4 lanes of drivers stopped, except for the woman in the Zip Car who almost killed me and my son. Blew threw a red light that was apparent to every other driver.

    • I have been almost hit by a car while crossing with the light in a cross-walk more times than I can count. Never once has it been a zipcar. I almost think frequent drivers are worse because they pay less attention to their surroundings since they “know” where they’re going.

      • Same here. Every time I’ve been hit, or almost hit while running or on my bike its been by folks in a hurry or not paying attention – something you can do in a Zipcar or any other car.

        Like they say about guns – guns don’t kill people, people do – can be said for Zipcars. Zipcars aren’t bad drivers, people are bad drivers.

        • Just as people with guns kill people, so do drivers of cars. (Guns in cases and cars in garages do not kill.)

          Occasional drivers in unfamiliar vehicles navigating streets that they don’t usually maneuver, yes, those people are higher and disproportionate risk, one could presume, and I observed one endangering my life. An entirely valid observation to share, whether you like it or not.

  • I utilize zipcar, and know that I need to drive extra carefully/defensively because of how infrequently I’m behind the wheel.

    Also, I would say most zipsters probably utilize bicycling/walking/public transpo as their primary forms of transportation… that being the case in my situation, I make sure I’m extra careful when driving around cyclists/pedestrians (b/c I can sympathize with how bad it sucks to get hit by a car).

    Maybe I’m the minority.

  • What you do in a Zipcar is likely the same kind of behaviour you do if you owned the car. Some Zipcar drivers drive regularly (8 hours/mo) some less so, some use Zipcar as their only car som use it as a second car – therfore it’d be difficult to pinpoint whether or not this is a regular or irregular driver. What it comes down to is that this person is a jerk of a driver – the fact that it was a Zipcar is irrelevant. To the OP – treat a bad Zipcar driver like any bad driver – call the police as they are the only ones that can enforce the law.

    As a Zipcar driver I try to be extra cautious as I don’t drive regularly and I don’t always drive the same car. As for running stop signs – it is my very unscientific observation that the vast majority (75%+) of drivers in DC do not come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Being courteous doesn’t cost anything – and speeding rarely saves you enough time to justify the risk.

  • My biggest problem is that the representative was willing to tell you information about the driver’s reservation. That’s none of your business, and there was no reason you should have been told that.

    • Wow. If that’s your biggest problem, then you clearly didn’t read the whole post.

      • I read the whole post. Inconsiderate driver, hypersensitive OP – there have been a million posts featuring these archetypes. Not too exciting. The fact that a company I do business with will look up customer records and share information with annoying strangers who are persistent enough is something a little more out of the ordinary, and I don’t like it at all.

  • I tried signing up for Zipcar and was denied because I had two moving violations on my record in the past 3 years of my application. This was about 4 years ago when I needed the flexibility of access to larger cars. Actually I’ve got two more highway speeding tickets this summer. So now I’m up to four. Anyhow, Zipcar has a criteria you have to meet to use there cars. I think if they know who was in possesion of the car when this was reported, they should send a warning to the customer and terminate there ability to use the program if they get another complaint call about the same driver. The driver in the story sounded like a wreckless fool.

    Yes, I drive fast, I’ll admit it. But it’s always on the interstate. I drive to and from Rehoboth many weekends a year AND I drive 25 miles on 95 to and from work. So I slip up now and then. In the city I drive respectfully because no matter how fast you drive, everyone always catches up to you at the next intersection and you don’t get anywhere quicker. It’s just easier to go the speed limit, lights are timed and you actually have less stop and go. I also respect all crosswalks because it’s my pet peeve when I’m a pedestrian in a crosswalk and Maryland drivers blow right thru. (even with a sign telling them to stop) I’m also a biker in the city so I feel the pain of the people complaining about wreckless drivers inside the city. I pick on MD. drivers because I rarely see Va. drivers heading north or east. I live between two main thoroughfares that carry Maryland traffic out to Mo Co and PG.

  • I’ve reported dangerous zipcar drivers before. I’ve never followed up on it…but you’d think they would followup out of their own potential liability.

    Maybe POP could ask them for an official response?

  • I tend to agree that Zip Car drivers are rusty and who knows if they remember the rules of the road. I used to think cars with diplomatic plates were the worst drivers, but now the big problem I see in DC is distracted driving. Head down, looking at their smart phone, or heads up, holding it to their ear while trying to shift, sitting at a green light, turning without signalling, driving with both hands at the top of the steering wheel while texting, etc. HANG UP AND DRIVE!
    On another note: If you value your life, get to know the location of the daycares/schools on your route. School dropoffs gum up the works really bad around 8:30 am, and a parent late for daycare pickup or late dropping off (and therefore late to work) will drive like a bat out of hell. Not to mention the kid in the backseat crying for the sippy cup they dropped, which said parent reaches behind their seat to pickup while barrelling along. Ah hem, not that I’ve ever done any of those things.

  • I’ve never thought about the late policy contributing to deliquent driving, but it makes sense. Just wanna point out that the new SmartCar car share service Cars2Go charges by the minute but, there’s a daily maximum, you can park it practically anywhere when you are done, and NO LATE FEES.

  • As a former Zipcar driver and current car owner – yes, I was a bad driver and I currently stay far away from any Zipcars I see! Yes, lots of people can be bad drivers, but you can’t identify them by their vehicles, unless it’s a Zipcar! The whole premise of this is that it’s for people who only rarely drive.

    As a sidenote, I used Zipcar once a month or less for about a year and had three types of bad experiences:

    ONE: more than once the driver before me was late returning the car – Zipcar scored $50 off both drivers but I just had to either wait for the person, or run (on foot of course) to another location if I wanted to be on time. I certainly didn’t receive any of that $50 but I was definitely inconvenienced.

    TWO: once Zipcar locked the car I was driving and had parked and tried to tell me someone had thrown up in the car and I had to go to another neighborhood to get another car. WTF?!

    THREE: they automatically charged me for another year without my knowledge. To be fair I probably agreed to this when I signed up, but I was pretty irritated.

    Zipcar. Thumbs down.

  • This thread has probably been exhausted but I just wanted to add that after years of driving my own car (including in urban environments in the U.S. and abroad with far worse driving than DC), I am now only a Zipcar driver. And after almost running a red light on Georgia Avenue at night in my Zipcar several months ago, I realized the combination of occasionally driving (rusty) plus the likelihood I didn’t know my route (if I needed a car for a frequent route I’d buy one), did not equal good driving. While we don’t have enough data for conclusions, since Zipcar recently conducted a lengthy survey of users, they surely do and it would be interesting to know the results.

  • Call. The. Cops.

    (Preferably right away, when the incident first happens.)

Comments are closed.