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Driving Rules For Passengers: How to Be A Helpful Passenger

Tue, 25/04/2017
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In 2006, a study showed that on average, a driver engages in distracting activity once every six minutes, and 21% of crashes were attributed to driver distraction. A different study conducted in the USA found that 78% of crashes had one form of distraction as a contributing factor. There have been many studies on this subject and the results vary widely, but it seems to be a universal fact that being distracted behind the wheel can cause accidents.

Distractions can be caused by objects, events and activities both inside and outside the vehicle – including passengers. Conversing with passengers or on the phone, using vehicle controls, and reaching for something are just some of the things drivers may do that distract them from the road.

But rather than being a distraction, there are ways that passengers can help the driver, making the journey safer and easier.

Here are a few things you can do to be helpful the next time you are in the passenger seat:

Stay alert

Just because someone else is driving, doesn’t mean that passengers shouldn’t pay attention to the roads. In fact, having a second pair of eyes can be very useful. Passengers may sometimes notice hazards that the driver has not spotted. This is particularly true when driving in an unfamiliar area, as the driver may be more distracted with finding their way and might not be as alert as they usually are. Paying attention, particularly at junctions and roundabouts, can be a real help and may even prevent an accident.

Be the navigator

A study by The AA found that 13% of motorists had been distracted by operating their sat nav while driving, causing them to have a near miss or a collision. When embarking on a long or unfamiliar journey, drivers could delegate the task of navigator to the passenger. Handing over the sat nav and leaving the passenger to programme the route and make any amendments or checks along the way means the driver will be less distracted. Passengers can also clarify directions so the driver can spend less time looking for signs and more time concentrating on the road.

Look after the phone

Keep hold of the driver’s mobile phone so that you can answer it or make calls if you need to. It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving, and drivers who do so are four times more likely to be in a crash. In March, penalties for using a phone at the wheel doubled to six points and a £200 fine. New drivers who use their phone at the wheel will have their licence revoked, as receiving six points or more means a driver must retake their practical and theory tests.

While it is legal to use a hands-free device, drivers could still be prosecuted if they are being distracted by their phone. Participating in and even listening to conversations can be a driver distraction. Therefore if you make phone calls as a passenger, keep them brief.

If you are a passenger and the driver is using their phone while they are driving, or they are doing anything else that is distracting them from the road, do speak up. It may feel awkward to scold a friend or family member for using their phone, but an awkward conversation is better than the potentially fatal alternative.

Look after the children

Children can be a big distraction. Long journeys can make them bored and cranky, not to mention noisy. Keep them occupied so that they don’t distract the driver – respond to their requests for snacks, make sure they have books or toys to keep them entertained, and answer the endless “are we there yet?” questions.

Reduce other distractions

Other distractions include the radio and the lights, so keep the radio at a reasonable volume level, and don’t turn on the interior lights at night as this could affect the driver’s vision.

Don’t be critical

While you should try to persuade a driver to stop if they are doing something dangerous such as using a mobile phone while at the wheel, there is a difference between trying to prevent a collision and being overly critical. Nobody appreciates a backseat driver, and picking on everything a driver does could annoy them, which would make them distracted. An argument would certainly come under the umbrella of distracting activity, so unless you are concerned the driver is doing something dangerous, let them carry on without a running commentary.

Stay calm

Similarly, you shouldn’t act panicky – grabbing onto the door handle, or acting as if a collision is imminent for no reason, are very distracting things to do. Don’t try to grab the steering wheel or handbrake, even if there is an emerging danger – tell the driver quickly instead.

While passengers can be a distraction, they can also be very useful, particularly when navigating unfamiliar or hazardous roads. Passengers can even be lifesavers in extreme circumstances, so while you can enjoy the journey, it’s also important to keep your wits about you and follow these tips for a smooth and safe journey.

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