Basic Driving Etiquette

Woman driving a car in countryside
Follow proper driving etiquette when you are behind the wheel. Ippei Naoi/Moment/Getty Images

Driving can be a stressful activity, which often brings out the rudeness in otherwise very nice people. It doesn't have to be that way. You can maintain a level head while you get to wherever you're going.

Courtesy is something you need to have in every single thing you do in life, including driving. You might think that the whole point is getting from point A to point B, but it's so much more than that.

Remember that you're not the only driver on the road, so you should be as polite as you would be if you were walking among friends.

Polite Driver Guidelines

  • Don't go too fast – Follow speed limits. Not only will you set yourself up for an expensive ticket if you drive too fast, you'll put all the lives in your path in danger.
  • Don't go too slow – Don't creep too slowly on the highway. If the speed limit states that you can drive 45 miles per hour, try to keep your speed as close as possible.
  • Heed conditions – Several things can make driving difficult, including weather, road construction, and heavy rush-hour traffic. When you're faced with blinding rain, don't go so quickly that you can't stop. Be extra cautious when faced with a construction crew that is working hard to keep the roads in good condition. Rush-hour traffic is brutal, so don't make matters worse by honking your horn or weaving in and out of traffic.
  • Stay in your lane – Lanes are marked for a reason. Stay between the lines.
  • Don't be an indiscriminate lane changer – Only change lanes when you have a reason, such as turning or passing.
  • Drive with intention – Don't drive along without a clue of what you are doing or where you are going. If you know you need to turn left soon, get in the left turn lane as quickly as possible.
  • Stay off the horn – People who honk their horns to say hi, punish other drivers, or because they like the sound are annoying and even startling to other drivers.
  • Use your turn signal – If you plan to turn left or right, use your turn signal and make sure it's the correct one.
  • Keep the music in your car – No one else wants to hear your speakers blaring, so keep the volume of your music low enough to only be heard by people in your car.
  • Only drive when sober – If you have had anywhere near the illegal amount of alcohol for driving, don't get behind the wheel.
  • Be polite to law enforcement – Whether you encounter a police officer directing traffic or get pulled over, don't forget to mind your manners.
  • Pull over for emergency vehicles – If you see a flashing light or hear a siren, pull over and let the emergency vehicle pass. Someone's life may be at stake.
  • Bad behavior - Never respond to other people's rudeness with even more bad manners because once tempers flare, the situation becomes dangerous.

What Not to Do While Driving

Not only is participating in any activity besides driving while you're behind the wheel dangerous, it's rude. You have the responsibility of keeping everyone in your car safe, protecting people in other vehicles, and following traffic laws and rules.

Put down your hairbrush, cell phone, and other gizmos – and drive. You should never ignore proper etiquette, even when you're behind the wheel of a car.

Common distractions that make driving dangerous and rude:

  • Cell phone – Never use your cell phone while driving. This includes talking and texting.
  • Brush and comb – Brush your hair before you get behind the wheel. If it's still messy, wait until you can pull off the road.
  • Makeup – Applying mascara requires too much concentration to try to apply it while driving. Not only is it bad form to do this, it's dangerous in so many ways, one of them poking yourself in the eye. Save the primping for later.
  • Looking for music – Whether you're digging under the seat for your favorite CD or poking around to find your favorite radio station, it's a distraction that can have you swerving all over the place.
  • Reading – Do you try to read while driving? If so, stop. You can't do both. Wait until you get where you're going.
  • Fidgeting with a map – If you don't have GPS that can talk and you need a map, look at it before you go. Times when you still can't find what you're looking for, pull into the nearest parking lot, put your car in park, and find what you need on your map before proceeding.
  • Smooching and other forms of affection – Keep your lips – and your hands – to yourself when you are driving. This is not the time for public displays of affection.

Stop Sign Etiquette

When you see a stop sign, you should do just that. Stop. The sign isn’t a suggestion that you need to slow down or look both ways before proceeding.

As you approach a stop sign, start applying your brakes soon enough so you can come to a complete stop before you get to the intersection. Look both ways. You may go once you are certain that you have enough time to get through the intersection before a car on the intersecting road gets there.

There are times when another car coming toward you will reach the intersection at the same time. If both cars are going straight or turning right, you may do so simultaneously. However, if either of you has a blinker indicating that one of you is turning left, the one going straight has the right of way.

During heavy traffic, you may make eye contact with the other driver and gesture that he or she may turn left before you proceed. If the other driver does this for you, the courteous thing to do is lift a hand in a friendly greeting and mouth, “Thank you,” before turning. If the other driver is rude and barges through, wait and let him go, even if he is on the wrong. There is no point in risking an accident just to make a point.

When you see a four-way or all-way stop sign, you may be confused about when it is okay to go. Traffic from every direction is required to come to a complete stop. Proper road etiquette dictates that the first car to reach the intersection goes first.

If two cars reach the intersection at the exact same time, the one on the right has the right of way. In the case of four cars stopping at the intersection, move counterclockwise until everyone has gone. If all four cars come to a stop at the exact same time, generally one driver will be assertive and go first. Otherwise, make eye contact with the other drivers and wave someone through.