If you’re a teen driver taking or have just finished driver’s ed, you’re probably aware that there are plenty of resources to help drivers battle the dangers of distraction. However, assistance in becoming a safer passenger and strategies to help your driver stay focused can be a lot harder to find, and that's a problem.
The risks of a ride
If you’re a teen driver taking or have just finished driver’s ed, you’re probably aware that there are plenty of resources to help drivers battle the dangers of distraction. However, assistance in becoming a safer passenger and strategies to help your driver stay focused can be hard to find, and that’s a problem.
Passenger-caused distractions are particularly hazardous for teenage drivers. According to the NHTSA, you are more than twice as likely to exhibit high-risk driving behaviors when you have at least one fellow teenager as a passenger versus driving alone.
No one wants to be twice as likely to be in danger, but eventually, you will find yourself in a peer’s vehicle, and that’s great! Sharing the freedom of the open road with your friends is one of the most exciting parts of getting your driver’s license.
What you need to know, however, is that when you’re with your friends as a passenger, you play a vital role in keeping your driver focused and alert. So read on for some of the best ways to do it safely.
Playing the perfect passenger
Interior Design: Have you ever tried to drive with an unsecured pet in your car? What about with objects rolling around by the brake or gas pedals? As a passenger, you can help ensure the vehicle’s conditions are calm and under control, so the driver doesn’t have to. So keep the snacks and drinks appropriately stowed and wait to toss that frisbee around until you reach your destination.
Car Co-Pilot: You should avoid “backseat driving” at all costs, but another pair of eyes and ears focusing on potential hazards on the road and around the vehicle is always a good thing. Savvy passengers constantly observe the world around them and know when to pause a conversation to allow a driver to focus or point out a potential problem down the road.
Keep calm and ride on: A relaxed and focused demeanor is an underrated aspect of safe driving. Driving while in a negative or extreme emotional state is distracting and dangerous. As a passenger, you need to keep emotions in check and provide a calm environment for your driver.
Keep your seat: Just as a heated conversation or loud bit of music could cause your driver’s attention to wander, so can your physical actions. Don’t turn around to engage in a conversation with the back seat. Don’t invade the front seat from the back. Stay seated and buckled at all times. Avoid quick, sudden movements, and never block your driver’s vision.
Ride Inside: This should go without saying, but you need to keep all parts of your person in the vehicle. At all times. No matter what. Leaning out the window, opening your door, or traveling with your arms or legs sticking out of the vehicle could provide a distraction, and you might force your driver to make a quick adjustment to keep you safe. For everyone’s sake, please do not put them in this position.
DJ Duties: While you want to avoid loud, distracting music and other forms of media, chances are when you’re out driving with your friends that you’ll be listening to something. As a passenger, you can play the role of guest DJ for your driver. If they’re cool with it, you should consider taking some of the dashboard duties, like changing the playlist or adjusting the AC.
You’re not the Captain Now: Above all else, always remember that the driver in any vehicle is the one in charge, no matter the circumstance. Like the captain of a ship, they’re responsible for the safety of everyone in the vehicle and everyone that vehicle might encounter. As such, you have to follow their rules and wishes at all times.
While these tips and strategies will help you become a better, safer passenger, there’s no substitute for a little common sense. You know when you might be engaging in or encouraging risky behavior while you’re out with your friends. The real trick is listening to that inner voice, overcoming any peer pressure you might feel, and making safe choices that you know are right.
One of the real joys of learning to drive is sharing that experience and freedom with your friends. Remember that your role as a passenger is nearly as important as the driver’s. Focusing on being the best possible passenger will help make sure everyone gets home safely.