Driving Etiquette

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Thursday 14th October 2010
In this article
  • Taking etiquette on the road.
  • The daily commute.
  • Common courtesy.

An etiquette primer? In a guy’s mag? Why do we care?

Well, put most simply, if you care about looking good, you should care about etiquette.

Etiquette is just a set of rules designed to make you look skillful and generally in-the-know, so that you don’t piss off people you may end up knowing. Ever cut someone off — even if you’re usually the guy to let everyone in — only to discover you pissed off your neighbor? Or worse, you boss?

When it comes to the way people drive, there’s plenty to get pissed off about. Recall the term… road rage… with an emphasis on the word rage. Most states have more than enough driving laws to handle right of way, speed and other basics. But what about the in-between stuff? Technically legal moves that nonetheless make you look like a complete ass? Read on for a SharpTips refresher on driving tips to keep you on the right track…

Tip One: Think First, Think Fast

Think before you speak and before you act. Prior to whipping into the adjacent lane with only a questionable amount of space between your back bumper and the car behind you — think. Put yourself in his bucket seat… would your action make you mad? Would it cause you to slam on your brakes, possibly spilling morning coffee onto your lap? If the answer is maybe you might want to tone down. Frenetic lane changing has been shown to get you to your destination only marginally faster than the steady, straight approach. On the other hand, driving like Mario Andretti will amp up your blood pressure and pulse rate; not to mention anger the drivers around you. Why not just turn up the music, set a direct course and prepare yourself for the real battle ahead…your job.

Tip Two: Minimize Distractions

Eating, drinking, shaving, reading, crossword puzzles and, of course, mad phoning — we’ve all seen the wild things people attempt to do while maneuvering a 3,000-pound motor vehicle. Some of these distractions are clearly against the law, but recognize that doing anything that causes you to become a hazard is covered under ‘reckless driving’… and therefore, also against the law.

If using your mobile phone is a required part of your commute, lessen your chances of becoming distracted by using a headset or other hands-free unit. There, how hard was that?

Similarly, if you choose to eat or drink on the road, use appropriate travel containers. If you have time, set them up securely so they’re within reach and you won’t be tempted to lunge for them if they begin to tip over.

Besides avoiding distractions that take your hands away from the wheel, try to keep your hands to yourself. In other words, consider refraining from the use of…er… impolite hand gestures. Most road rage violence begins with one driver casually flipping off another driver who’s just having a bad enough day to lose it. And they do. And it isn’t pretty when it happens. As a general rule, limit the hand gestures used in the car to waves of gratitude to other courteous drivers. Now, doesn’t that feel kind of good?

Tip Three: Merging

You know this stuff, but somehow, the more we drive, the more casual we become. Check out this refresher:

Ideally, slow down or speed up to match the speed of the other cars in the lane you’re merging into.

Use your turn signal to let other cars know your intentions.

Allow for enough room once you complete your merge. As a general rule, you’ll want one car length between you and the car in front of you for every ten miles an hour you are traveling — that’s two car lengths of you’re traveling 20 miles an hour, three car lengths for 30, etc.

Finally, only merge one lane at a time.

Tip Four: Bad Weather Safety

Bad weather driving requires us all to be even more cautious. Helpful guidelines for driving in inclement weather, such as rain, sleet, snow and ice, include:

  • Slow down. Since your tires don’t grip the road as well when these conditions are present, lowering your speed can help compensate.
  • Stop checking out your emerging donut in the rearview; make sure your tires haven’t gone bald. The more worn they are, the less they’ll grip the road in any weather.
  • Be patient with other drivers. Impatience usually results in unsafe maneuvers and makes accidents more likely.
  • Leave plenty of space between you and any other cars.
  • Stay in the far right lane to give yourself space to pull over if necessary and to allow faster travelers to pass on your left, where you can see them.

Tip Five: Skip the Rubbernecking

Rubbernecking — the act of slowing down to check out an accident — actually causes more slow-downs and fender-benders than the original accident being observed. Next time you’re sitting in traffic wondering about the accident up ahead, fight the urge to slow down and check out the gore. If there is anything worth seeing, you can catch it on the ten o’clock news.

Tip Six: You’re Not Alone

Got passengers? Think about what they might need, from how hard you break to the cabin temperature and volume of your radio. Set an example by fastening your seatbelt and politely request that everyone follow suit. In some states the driver gets the ticket when passengers are unrestrained. In other states, both driver and passenger do. Either way, if you’re driving, you get dinged.

Tip Seven: Common Courtesy = Communication

What mostly makes us crazy about the way people drive is when we have no clue what they are trying to do. These "other drivers" (never us, right?) are not exactly breaking the law, but — to our eyes — they’re also not proceeding to their destination in a clear and rational manner. It is in these situations that manners, particularly communication, can really help to defray a difficult situation. Consider the following:

Parking space squatters: You’ve watched someone walk to their car and get in. Now, you’re waiting for their space, engine idling, gas gauge trickling, cars backing up behind you, fumes swirling… and yet, the guy in the parked car isn’t moving and you don’t know why.

If you’re the guy who has just gone out to sit in his car to eat lunch or listen to the news on the radio, consider waving off any drivers lining up for your spot. Just a little wave-off should do the trick. And if you’re the guy whose been waiting for the guy who didn’t bother waving you off? Just move on. Try to remember that a display of anger won’t help the situation. Or the rest of your day.

Slow drivers: The speed limit’s 45 and they’re going 15. It happens. It’s annoying. They’re in your way. Are they breaking the law? Maybe, maybe not; the law says you’re to drive at the speed that is safe. The posted limit is the speed you are not to exceed. When you come up on someone driving slowly, consider there might be a traffic hazard you can’t see. They may also be lost, or ill, or having a mechanical issue with their car. The most prudent thing to do is to carefully signal your intention to change lanes, then go around them. If you happen to be the person driving slowly, do your best to communicate to other drivers what problem you are experiencing. Using hazard flashers to indicate car trouble — or danger ahead — will get another driver’s attention. If you’re lost, or ill, pull over to the right shoulder, as stopping on the left side will require you to cross over lanes of traffic.

Looney lane changers: This annoyance can go several ways: One; someone changes into your lane, in front of you and then immediately slows down. Two; there’s enough room in the lane next to you, but once you put on your turn signal, the person who was formerly well behind you in that lane speeds up to block you. In the most extreme case, that person will "sit on" that spot so that you can’t change lanes. And, three; a run-of-the-mill driver who fails to signal before changing into your lane. Yes, all of these lane-changers are aggravating and maybe warrant a honk, hand gesture or angry look. Despite this, your best option is to stay calm and alert. Communicate your intentions. You won’t win every day, but you will have a better day by shrugging off the poor driving etiquette of others. That’s right, consider them beneath you. Feels good, right?

Tailgators: We’re all for the pre-game feasts, but drivers who ride too close to your tail are asking for a fender-bender…or worse. You can try to teach them a lesson by slamming on your brakes and chuckling at their response time, but that’s just as likely to get you a rumpled bumper and a whiplash collar. Fight the urge to get any closer and merge right. Let them pass you. Sure, you’ll have a tinge of "grrrrh," but that will pass a lot quicker than the days your car may need to be in the shop. And if you’re the one riding someone else’s tail? Chill out; we get it that slow drivers in the left lane are annoying, but on the other hand, this isn’t the freaking autobahn.

Residential racers: Guys who speed through quiet neighborhoods. It’s not the just speed. Yeah, you can get a ticket if a cop happens to catch you, but you could also do a whole lot worse. Residential neighborhoods are filled with children at play, runaway dogs and other people who aren’t expecting you to come speeding along. Did you just nail Rover? Oh no!

Show offs: Scratching off at the light… laying rubber… donuts… and anything else associated with a "stupid young driver" is also a moving violation known as "exhibition of speed." ‘Nuff said.

Have a safe trip. And, remember, the most important thing is to live to drive another day.

This article last updated on Monday 4th July 2011
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