Summer Vacation Etiquette – Part 3: The Car Trip

On The Road – The Car Trip

In addition to crowded beaches and long lines, traveling to one’s vacation destination can test the mettle of the politest among us.  Many road conditions are simply out of our control, but how we behave and react to them is most definitely within our control.  That’s where etiquette for the road comes into play.

For starters, planning and preparation are key elements to a successful car trip.  As tempting as it might be to jump into the car and just take off, there should be no guesswork or making it up as you go along with a summer road trip. Taking responsibility for planning and preparation is a wise safety measure as well as a big component of proper road trip etiquette.  Think of it this way:  It’s inconsiderate and disrespectful to your fellow passengers to get lost, experience a car breakdown, run out of gas or supplies, have a flat tire or get a ticket – or worse — because (a) your license/registration/inspection/insurance has expired or (b) for a traffic violation.

Following are etiquette guidelines and strategies to help your car trip be a safe and pleasant one. (Please note that if you’ll be traveling across state lines or in countries other than the U.S., including Canada, be sure to research all applicable local driving laws, including traffic and driver’s license regulations.)

  • Prepare the car. 
  • Pack an Emergency Kit.
  • Map out your trip.
  • Take special precautions for children. 
  • Protect Your Dog, including your older pal.
  • Take a defensive driving course.  If you haven’t taken one in more than three years, you’re due to repeat it.  It’s a good refresher for maneuvering the highway and it will enable you to renew your 10% savings on your car insurance.  And, it’s a smart decision because DUI is the leading cause of death for teens and young adults, and 80% of accidents are caused by driver inattention, which in today’s world can mean texting while driving.   Combine these issues with the various conditions and situations you can expect to encounter on the crowded roadways during the height of the summer vacation season and you need to master some important behavioral strategies.
  • Let your passengers know that you are in charge of their safety while you are driving.  It’s important that you remind your passengers kindly to not distract you with loud talk or music and excessive movement.  Check that all passengers, including children and pets, have visited the restroom or been walked, are settled in, attended to and comfortable.  Know where the rest stops are located and organize such stops to optimize your time and distance covered.  Ensure that you are well rested, have not drunk any alcohol or taken any illegal or prescription drugs that will make you drowsy or disoriented.  Once you have pulled out of the driveway, keep your eye on the road and monitor the gas gauge and dashboard for any problems.
  • Be an exemplary passenger.  Take care to avoid distracting the driver.  Assume any texting and phoning as well as sign, GPS and map duties.  Be organized, alert and helpful.  Avoid fidgeting, loud outbursts and talking or other noisemaking or playing excessively loud music.  Don’t ask to make unscheduled stops unless it’s urgent or an emergency.  Help to keep any children and pets quiet, content and under control.  Help the children to entertain themselves quietly.  Don’t litter, inside or outside the car.  Don’t’ drink alcohol, take drugs or smoke anything.  Practice good grooming so that you’ll be pleasant to be around during the long ride.  Be upbeat and cheerful.
  • Drive thoughtfully and courteously.  Practicing teamwork on the road will help you to reach your destination safely, comfortably and on schedule.  Just as on any team, all the drivers on the road with you have the same goals.  Keep to the speed limit and keep up with the traffic flow.  Allowing cars to pass you safely and courteously.  Allow one or two cars in a long traffic line to squeeze in ahead of you when you encounter a lane closing, road work, an accident or other delay; indicate politely that you would like the same courtesy when the situation arises.  Avoid cutting off cars.  Smile at other drivers.  When another motorist is kind, gesture your thanks by raising a hand, smiling and nodding, even if you do in the rear view mirror to the driver behind you.  Drivers appreciate it and respond favorably when their kind acts are acknowledged.
  • Don’t return rudeness in kind.  Should another motorist demonstrate rudeness, don’t respond in kind.  Keep a neutral or “I’m sorry” expression while mouthing the word, “sorry,” shrug apologetically.  Adopt a “be my guest” attitude and let the rude person pass you.  Hang back and avoid him or her until you’re clear of the offensive driver.  No matter what type of aggressive driving he/she has done, control your temper and don’t consider retaliation.  The important thing to remember is that you’re on vacation, you want to get yourself and your passengers to your destination safely, and you want to keep the atmosphere happy, fun and positive.
  • Avoid motorists who exhibit aggressive driving and road rage.  Conversely, you should also avoid these types of driving behaviors that are rude as well as dangerous — not to mention in some cases illegal and deadly – and that often trigger driver rage are:
    • tailgating
    • cutting off motorists
    • driving slowly in the left lane when there are cars behind you
    • playing loud music with the windows down
    • texting while driving
    • making rude or obscene gestures

If you find yourself faced with a motorist who is exhibiting these behaviors, get out of the situation as quickly as possible and don’t engage with the rude driver.  If someone cuts you off or makes a rude gesture, forget it and move on.  Keep above the fray; you’ll feel better and be safer, as will your passengers.

Check next week’s post to learn about the next steps in your vacation manners.  And, if you have any additions to the above list, or suggestions, please feel free to comment!

Until next time,


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