Automobile Passenger Safety Etiquette

Woman texting on her cell phone while driving
Never put your life at risk just to be polite. Michael Krinke/Getty Images

Being polite is important in all aspects of life. However, it doesn't mean that you should ever put yourself in a dangerous situation, even if you risk hurting someone's feelings. You should never feel obligated to ride in the car with a bad driver. This is one of those times when etiquette takes a backseat.

Question

I'm 16 and don't yet have my driver's license, so I rely on my friends to get rides everywhere.

One of my friends likes to go to the same places I go, but she's a terrible driver. She takes all kinds of chances, like turning in front of oncoming cars, tailgating, and running red lights. She even laughs when she does this.

I've asked her to back off of the car in front of us and to stop when the lights turn yellow. She told me to stop being such a "backseat driver" and said that I was being rude. She even told me that if I keep telling her how to drive she'll quit taking me places, and I'll have to get my parents to drive me.

I don't want to be rude, but I also want to live. Is there a nice way for me to get her to be a better driver?

Answer

The answer to your question is no, there isn't a way for you to get her to be a better driver. She'll have to do that on her own. Unfortunately, it might take something serious, like a car accident, to get her attention and make her stop laughing. I'd hate for you to be in the car with her if or when that happens.

Getting a ride from your parents might not be as cool as arriving with someone your own age, but your chances of arriving at your destination are much better if you do.

I believe that politeness is always something you should strive for. You need to tell your friend that you cannot continue riding with her if she continues putting your life at risk.

You may even encourage her to have more driving lessons for her own safety, but brace yourself for pushback. She might say you're being rude, but in reality, your safety is more important, even if her feelings get hurt. And she's being rude for trying to make you feel bad for trying to stay safe.

What to Do if the Driver is Careless

In spite of everything you can do as a passenger, you might know someone who is still a terrible driver. Here are some tips on what to do:

  • If you want to go somewhere with a friend or coworker who is a bad driver, offer to drive if you can. However, if you are unable to, find another way to get there, like public transportation or a cab. Never put your life at risk by getting into a car with someone who is unsafe behind the wheel.
  • If you didn't realize how bad of a driver your friend was until after you were already in the car, gently give her some pointers. You can ask her to back away from the car in front of you by saying that you've noticed the brake lights frequently coming on. That probably won't work, but it's worth trying once.
  • If your friend continues to show bad judgment behind the wheel, ask her to pull over at the next safe place. You'll be better off calling someone else to pick you up than to stay in the car with an unsafe driver. This will probably upset your friend, but that's better than being a victim of a serious car accident.

    Good Passenger Tips

    Riding in a car that someone else is driving can be fun and relaxing if she is careful behind the wheel and shows good judgment, but being a passenger carries some responsibilities as well. Here are a few basic etiquette guidelines for passengers:

    • Know the person you're riding with.
    • Make sure the person behind the wheel isn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • Talk to the driver but don't engage in a conversation that startles or upsets the driver.
    • Don't distract the driver with loud noises or quick movement.
    • Keep your hands off the controls.
    • Before adjusting the radio or air conditioner, ask the driver if it is okay.
    • Don't smoke in someone else's car.
    • Don't apply perfume or eat smelly foods in someone else's car.
    • Ask before you bring anything to eat or drink. Some people have rules about food and beverages.
    • Don't hold a long cell phone conversation while you're a passenger.
    • Offer to help pay for gas if you aren't able to take a turn driving.
    • If you ever feel unsafe, don't ride with that person again.

    Parents, talk to your children about the importance of their safety when they ride with someone else. Tell them that they need to call you if they ever feel unsafe.