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A simple guide to in-car etiquette – Part Two

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about good in-car etiquette for passengers – not messing with the controls, taking your rubbish with you when you go, and so forth.

But it’s just as important for drivers to be aware of how their behaviour impacts upon their passengers. A lot of talk about being a considerate driver focuses on courtesy toward those outside the car – but what about those inside? So in that spirit, here’s Part Two, good in-car etiquette for drivers

Take it easy on the braking and corners

It’s hard to overstate just how much better positioned you are to cope with sharp turns and stops when you’re the driver. Not only do you know when you’re about to swerve or brake – even if only milliseconds ahead of your passengers – but you have the steering wheel against which to balance yourself. Remember, the whole car is designed for you to be in control. Your passengers aren’t quite so lucky. Do try to drive as smoothly as possible and avoid too many sudden or uneven movements. Otherwise, you’re likely to find yourself with a car full of passengers who are uncomfortable at best, and motion-sick at worst.

Don’t be a control freak

Again, think about your car as being like your home. You want visitors – or in this case, passengers – to be respectful, but also comfortable. I love my Dad to bits, but when we were growing up, he was incredibly strict about his car. Feet straight in and onto the mats, don’t touch the carpet, don’t touch the windows, don’t touch the dashboard, hands in lap, no food or drink ever. Phew! Given we were your typical rambunctious kids, these were quite reasonable rules. But as a result, his car was pristine, and we lived in total fear of doing the wrong thing every time we rode in it.

Maintain your car well

It’s easy to get used to your own car’s little quirks. The key is knowing the difference between a routine quirk, and a disaster waiting to happen. Being stuck by the roadside for two hours because you – whoopsy! – forgot to fill up the fuel tank, ignored that clunking sound for too long, or didn’t think that flat-looking tyre was really anything to really worry about, will test the strongest of friendships.

Be prepared to compromise a little

Try to respect your passengers’ wishes as much as possible – and yes, sometimes this might mean a little compromise. You might love the temperature set to ‘tropical’ or ‘arctic’, but be a good sport and adjust it if your passengers are clearly uncomfortable.

Maybe you just can’t appreciate music unless it’s played at 150 decibels and can be felt through to your bones. That’s actually pretty dangerous, and also, not likely to be appreciated by your passengers. You might also be able to hold water like a camel and drive for 10 hours straight, but both common sense and your passengers would suggest regular stops are a better idea.

Clean up your mess

Look, your car is your own space, and if you want to use it to store clothes, office equipment, knick-knacks and snacks for later, that’s up to you. But be prepared for the looks you’ll get when your passenger tries to get in, and has to sweep a wave of takeaway food containers and dirty clothes off your front seat.

Likewise, if they have to nurse a suitcase on their lap because your boot is full of junk. Murphy’s Law also dictates that the messier your car is, the more likely it is your boss / client / that hot person you have a crush on will want or need a ride. You risk either embarrassment when they see that you drive around in a pig sty, or having them forever think you’re a jerk for awkwardly refusing them the favour.

Don’t be a show pony

Sometimes it can be fun to give it a little squirt and show off what your car (and you as driver) can do. But if your passengers are impressed by speeding, breaking the law or taking stupid risks, they’re idiots.

Enjoy your car, by all means, but don’t jeopardise your safety and theirs for cheap thrills. You’ll look like a complete tool if anything goes wrong, but if someone gets hurt, that might be the least of your worries.

Question: Do you think you’re a considerate driver? Any other tips?


  • Monty

    It’s a tough one. My dad had total control of the car because “he was the driver”. If it was too cold (no aircon in those days) you just wore an extra jumper. He felt that he had to be comfortable in order to focus on driving. I know the feeling. I drove mostly on my own for anything up to 50,000 k’s a year. Every now and again I’d pack the family in for the 3-4 hour drive and they’d stay in a motel while I worked the area. It’s a major readjustment! I made sure that I bought a vehicle with dual zone aircon. My sister, often a passenger, sets it to 25 while I have it at 21. There are plenty of opportunities for distractions when you have passengers. Juggling their wants, staying focused, not getting distracted by constant skipping CD tracks……

    • Jane Speechley

      The importance of being comfortable as a driver is a good pint, Monty!

      Yes, this topic was actually prompted by my experiences as someone who almost always drives alone, and who therefore has to work quite hard to adjust to keeping passengers comfortable as well …

    • Andrew Riles

      My wife always takes an extra jumper on road trips because I like the cabin cooler than she does….as a result we have decided that dual zone climate control is a must on our next car….

  • Andrew Riles

    On the topic of driving techniques, passengers may not realise how good you are at judging where the extremities of the car are…..I’ve had a few comments from coming close to gutters when exiting roundabouts or turning left, or braking a little bit late and stopping close to the wall or fence in front of me….

    • Monty

      I told my dear sister a little while ago that I had no idea how I could have survived so long without her constant stream of advice. She told me that she was “just being herself”. *sigh*. Oh, I am 66. She is a widow now and so we tend to spend more time together than we used to. That’s fine before and after the car trip……………

    • Jane Speechley

      Ha! Nothing like that last-minute, panicked ‘look out!’ to increase your chances of *actually* hitting something out of shock …

    • Harry

      Yeah but you’re not making your passengers feel comfortable and/or safe by doing those things.

      When I have passengers I make a conscious effort to drive like it’s a driving test. That way everyone can relax and arrive at the destination with dry armpits.

      Nice article Jane🖒

      • Andrew Riles

        Agreed Harry, though I did find out the hard way…..

  • JaiNormosone

    I think there is a need for Part 3… Courtesy to other road users.
    The big ones obviously include keeping your hand off it (the phone); indicating BEFORE the manoeuvre; no tailgating, etc.
    Here’s one that people seem to forget about: While it is nice to be courteous and allow someone out of a driveway onto the roadway – but doing this is EXTREMELY discourteous to the ten people behind you that you’re holding up on the green light that you’ll eventually run under yellow.
    Let people out from the side, by all means, but do it on the red. Any other way and you become the ignorant turd that creates problems in traffic flow rather than fixing them.

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au