The readers of influential magazine Conde Nast Traveller paid this country a lovely compliment this week. They were asked to nominate the 10 friendliest cities in the world. Queenstown came third, just behind Sydney and Dublin, and Auckland came ninth.

We were the only country to have two cities in the top 10. And I can well believe visitors would find most of us to be friendly. We're not stand-offish, we're not too busy to help and we're willing to put ourselves out — until we get behind the wheel of our cars.

Then we turn into monsters. Heaven forbid someone makes a mistake in front of us. We morph from mild-mannered citizens into Samuel L Jackson clones, beset on all sides by the inequities of selfish men.

And we would love nothing more than to strike them down with great vengeance and furious anger.

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A friend cut into the on-ramp traffic queue on Auckland's Gillies Ave last year when she realised she was heading to Newmarket instead of Ponsonby.

So she indicated and cut in and I'm sure it was irritating for people who were a little more organised and who had been queuing.

I would find it annoying and, depending on my mood on the day, may have tooted my disapproval.

However, I would not have placed my fist on the horn and kept it there while following my friend to Ponsonby, cornering her in a carpark and giving her an invective-fuelled bollocking.

That reaction seems disproportionate, yet so many erstwhile peaceable, hospitable New Zealanders lose all perspective when they become motorists.

I was reminded of this when cyclist safety came up again. The Government is considering proposals recommended by the Cycling Safety Panel, set up after the deaths of 12 cyclists in the past two years.

One recommendation was that motorists leave a 1.5m buffer around cyclists on the open road. Another was that trucks should install devices to prevent cyclists and pedestrians going under the wheels in a collision.

The general response from those who phoned, texted or emailed me was "bugger the cyclists". They're usually the ones to blame for their own misfortunes. They're arrogant. They don't pay to be on the roads. They don't follow the rules. Why should motorists be inconvenienced and forced to travel behind cyclists on winding roads because the 1.5m buffer prevents motorists from passing legally?

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This lack of humanity is common among motorists in the Western world. An article in the Guardian a couple of years ago discussed a branch of science called traffic psychology.

A British psychologist found we dehumanise other drivers, road-users and pedestrians in ways we wouldn't when we interact in public. Bump into someone in the street and we're likely to say sorry, irrespective of whose fault it was. But if another driver dares to transgress on the road, we're off: shouting, tooting and bellowing.

We also behave aggressively towards those we perceive to be of a lower status. Our inner bully comes out and we become aggressive towards other road-users, based purely on their mode of transport.

New cars are higher up the caste system. Bigger cars believe they have right-of-way over smaller cars. Drivers of more expensive cars behave more aggressively towards pedestrians — and although the article didn't specifically mention cyclists, I think we can theorise that everybody believes cyclists to be the bottom of the totem pole.

I think it is because cyclists are unrepentant about being on the road.

When a huge metal beast is bearing down on pedestrians as they try to cross the road, they make placatory gestures and get out of the way. For the all-powerful motorist, that appeases them. The pedestrian has acknowledged the motorist is a higher power.

Cyclists don't. Cyclists take chances and will roundly berate motorists who take them on. Cyclists seem to believe they have just as much right to be on the road as car drivers and I think this is what annoys motorists the most.

This selfishness and inability to see beyond our needs and wants is part of a greater malaise. As this country has become more wealthy we've never been meaner.

We seem to have lost our capacity to be kind, whether it's raising the refugee quota, feeding hungry children in schools or sharing the road with other road-users.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday to Thursday, 8pm-midnight.