• Sep 4, 2010
Being a good passenger does not mean sitting idly by. T... Being a good passenger does not mean sitting idly by. The passenger plays an important role in ensuring the safety of everyone in the vehicle. (Getty Images)
“How to be a passenger?” you ask. “What’s next, ‘how to put your pants on?’ All a passenger has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride, eat a sandwich, talk on the phone or play air drums, right?”

Wrong, actually. Passengers can -- and frequently do -- distract drivers from their task, sometimes with expensive or tragic consequences. But it’s possible, even if you’ve never driven a car in your life, to actively engage in its safe operation as a passenger. AOL Autos spoke to 4-time Trans Am champion race car driver and commentator Tommy Kendall on the subject of responsible ridership whether you’re married, in a band, carpooling or have thumbed a ride.

“I’m not trying to be a killjoy,” Kendall said. “But the equivalent of a football stadium full of people die each year on the highway. An engaged passenger helps the driver and get everyone where they’re going safely.”


Here are a few tips for both new riders and seasoned passengers.

Be a good co-pilot

“Basically, help drive the car,” Kendall says. “Be the eyes and ears when the driver is pulling out onto a highway or making a turn. Turn your head and lean back if the driver’s trying to see if anything's on the right, or look yourself and inform the driver. Don’t make the driver ask you to put your seatbelt on. And If you're a on a journey to somewhere you've both never been and you have no Nav system, be the navigator.“

Hang up

“When a passenger talks on the phone, they are zoning—not paying attention,” Kendall said. “It’s hard for the driver to have to listen to that because you can't walk away from it or plug your ears. Try to keep your voice down and keep it brief, or stay off the phone altogether.”

Contain your vocal reactions in tight spots

“When you yell, you’re actually helping the driver to hit something,” Kendall said. “You need everything you’ve got to get through an emergency situation, and yelling, gasping or exclaiming is a huge distraction that pulls the driver away from concentrating.”

He suggests having a talk with passengers beforehand if they’re nervous.

“People get in the car with me sometimes and they think I’m going to drive like we’re on the race track. But I’m incredibly self-centered and I don’t want to get hurt any more than they do. I just tell them, ‘”I’m not going to do anything to hurt you.’”

Pay closer attention when the car is packed with people.

“Almost without exception when there are people in the car,” Kendall says, “The car slows down, drifts into other lanes and passengers can take the driver’s attention away from the road. The more people in the car, the more everyone has to defer to the driver, which can mean lowering your voices, keeping the music at a reasonable level, and being aware of what’s going on outside the vehicle.”

Do as the Germans do

“American drivers and passengers could definitely take a cue from German drivers,” says Kendall, who has driven in Tokyo, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, France, Australia, England, Italy and other countries. “German driving tests are much more rigorous and harder to pass, and Germans are the best drivers in the world. They pay more attention and take it seriously -- not just the drivers, but everyone in the car.”

Get in and out and close the door quickly on city streets.

“An open door is a huge hazard,” says Kendall. “A 4,000-pound car is a huge amount of energy, and all it takes is a split second for it to take your door off. It’s called situation awareness and it comes down to paying attention.”

Don’t backseat drive, even if you’re in the front seat.

“Some passengers point every little mistake out, and it adds to the driver’s stress level instead of easing it,” says Kendall. “You can and should give the driver information, but not comments or an editorial. Save that for before or after the trip.”


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  • 11 Comments
      balinwire
      • 3 Days Ago
      Drivers should be aware of Motorcycles, I have seen then turn and change lanes in front of them. Also look out for vans and slow vehicles, no matter how much you ride there bumper they have blind spots and cant go any faster with a load. It seems like the bigger the vehicle the more rude they are, a big dual wheelie truck rules the road because it can crush the gas saver Prius. People just got to wake up and drive.
      • 3 Days Ago
      WOW! Sure glad we have a race car driver to tell us how to be a passenger. This must be because race car drivers have passengers with them so often. This article provides so little information ************* hardly worth the space. "Do as the Germans do" ??? What is it they do? Isn't this article to provide that information. Does the writer of the article have a German drivers license? Come on guys, this article could have been a lot better.
      • 3 Days Ago
      The article was informative and timely during this holiday season where more of us will be driving our vehicles with one or more passengers. On any given day, a driver cannot let their guard down, become distracted, or complacent. Especially in heavy traffic or bad weather, remember to: 1) slow down and 2) increase your following distance. These two steps would eliminate most rear-end collisions if most drivers took them to heart. KEEP IN MIND: if you are in a rush to get anywhere, YOU'RE ALREADY LATE!!! Slow down - wherever you are headed it will still be there when you arrive. Next time, plan ahead and leave earlier. Don't put everyone else on the highway at risk just because YOU'RE IN A HURRY! Be considerate of others. Merry Christmas to all!
      • 3 Days Ago
      I see, if you call the readers morons it makes you sound so much more wise and deserving of respect. Also, remember to capitalize everthing.
      • 3 Days Ago
      As a cab driver, my No. 1 peeve is having to answer the question "Where are you from", 16X a day. I can understand passengers try to be friendly by starting conversation, but the best thing passengers can do is to avoid small talk, or at least keep it to a minimum, so drivers can concentrate on getting them to their destinations safely. It's very irritating trying to politely answer a passenger's questions, whilst racking my brain trying to figure out the best route, how to avoid traffic, etc. Invariably, passengers ask the same set of questions, which may be a first time for the passenger, but the millionth time the driver is answering those same set of questions. "Where are you from?" , "Why did ******** here?", "How long have you been here?", "Do you like it here?", "Do you ever go back home?" Or sometimes I get asked about the food in some fancy restaurant. I try to answer those questions politely, but what I'm really thinking is "Dude, if I couild afford to eat in there, I would not be driving a cab. How the **** would I know what the food in there is like?" There is a reason most public buses and trains have signs that read, "Please do not distract driver". Let drivers drive, and leave out the small talk, please.
      • 3 Days Ago
      Because I don't drive but had ground school, I'm frequently a passenger in other people's cars. When I ride shotgun, I'll help the drive w/navigation, especially if the car isn't equipped w/a GPS device. If the driver obtained directions from MapQuest or Google, he or she will ask me to read it to him or her step by step as we reach various points on our route. If he or she doesn't know how to get to my apartment building, I'll direct him or her there. I'll also keep him or her advised about exits, get the $ out for tolls and have it ready for the driver to pay them, and keep him or her advised about when to merge from the on-ramps. I learned how to read maps when I was a teenager, and use this skill whenever I'm with somebody I know or don't know well.
      • 3 Days Ago
      All of this is complete ********. Drive as the Germans do? Sure, next time be sure to go 150 mph on the highway. There's a smart tip. They drive well because their roads are built well. All of this means absolutely nothing. The only people it applies to are four year olds screaming in the car and they can't even read.
      • 3 Days Ago
      I don't understand the bashing of the Germans here. Lets face it, the German drivers ON ANY KIND OF ROAD would run circles around American drivers. Take for example in Finland, it is required that ALL new drivers spend a set amount of hours on a skid pad (if you morons even know what that is) before they are even allowed to drive on the roads. ANYONE in this country can get their license out of a Cracker Jack box. That is why our roads are so dangerous. That is why we require so many laws on the roads. It is because Americans, when it comes to common sense on the roads are idiots. Hang up the phone, put down the coffee, stop messing with the radio, and drive. I plead with the government to update the drivers test/education to where it should be. Knowing who has the right of way at a 4 ways stop sign (people don't remember anyways) and how to parallel park is completely useless anymore. Start enforcing additional rules like "left lane law", and "destracted drivers law" instead of only speeding and such. Don't put the law on the books if you aren't going to enforce it as much as the rest. SO GET OUT OF THE LEFT HAND LANE IF YOU ARE NOT PASSING YOU MORONS..........(sorry, had to add that in there)
      Norma and Bob
      • 3 Days Ago
      Nothing bugs me more than my husband messing with the radio and other things on the dash when I am driving. Also him telling me where to go and where to park ect. ect. He can not drive any more becasue of his very poor eye site so it does present a problem with his so called back (front) seat driving.
      • 3 Days Ago
      To Anydeal19 - Cab Driver: I am guilty of the things you discussed in your post, and let me say to all the cab divers out there, I am sorry. I wanted to be friendly and not treat my drivers like they did not exist. I take a lot of cabs with my job and I never thought how my "small talk" could be distracting or bothersome. Next trip I take, I will think before I chat!
      Lita
      • 3 Days Ago
      I used to give an acquaintance rides more often than he deserved. Invariably, when we arrived at destination, he would fling the door open without looking. When I got a car with power locks, I could better control the situation and locked him in before he could possibly do any damage. I knew if he threw the door open and there was damage done, I would have to eat it because he never had two cents to rub together. If someone is doing you a favor by giving you a ride, the least you can do is be a responsible passenger and not do things that could incur damage.