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Auto Etiquette

A considerate driver is a safer, as well as a more appreciated, driver. Cars are so much a part of our everyday lives that we take them for granted and usually forget that driving manners cannot be separated from safety.

Say What?

A back seat driver is really getting on your nerves. What do you say? “You know, your comments are really interfering with my concentration. Can you hold off until the car is stopped?”

Here are general tips that should be helpful for drivers and passengers:

  • If it's your car and you are in the driver's seat, you are the boss. It's up to you to make sure your car is in good condition and is sufficiently fueled. You have every right to ask your passengers to wear their seat belts and to insist that very young children have child safety seats. Pets, too, should be contained properly when you are driving.
  • Taking chances is not only unsafe, it is disconcerting to your passengers. Speeding, passing, dashing through yellow lights—all create tension.
  • Never smoke in another person's car. The tobacco odor is nearly impossible to get rid of. Don't even ask if you can smoke unless the driver is smoking.
  • Don't use a cellular phone unless it is absolutely necessary, particularly in challenging traffic. Driving requires complete focus.
  • Your trunk should be equipped with a first aid kit, flashlight, flares, blanket, ice scraper, and shovel.
  • An investment in an emergency road service association such as AAA will pay off in peace of mind even if you never have to use its services.
Safety Precautions

Remember that you are responsible for the safety of your passengers as well as your own safety. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Park in well-lighted lots at night. Lock the doors and use a steering wheel bar. When you return, check the back seat for intruders before you enter the car.
  • If you're traveling with children, make sure all doors are locked, and be especially careful when closing doors. Kids just seem to have a way of getting their fingers and feet in the way. Factor in frequent stops and take along snacks, toys, and games.
  • Never stop when waved down by someone standing by a “disabled” car. Drive on to the next service station and tell the manager or attendant.
  • Never stop for a hitchhiker.
When You're in Trouble

Lots of things can happen on the road. Here are some examples and some suggestions on how to react:

  • If you are stopped by the police for a driving violation or for any other reason, don't try to schmooze the officer. It will only annoy him or her. Be straightforward and polite, never argumentative.
  • If you're involved in an accident, stay cool. Don't trade accusations with the other driver. Exchange identification. Be sure to get insurance data and write down the license number on the car.
  • If you scrape a car fender and the owner is not in sight, don't just take off. You would not want to be treated this way, and besides, somebody is apt to get your license number. Then you'll be hit with a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Good manners and self-interest coincide in this situation. Leave your name and telephone number under a windshield wiper blade.
  • If you are really frightened by the way somebody is driving, just tell the driver to stop and let you out of the car. If the driver says, “Maybe you would like to drive,” take up the offer.
Seating Etiquette
Faux Pas

The polite driver does not park in a handicapped zone, discard litter, use the horn unnecessarily, or take up two parking spaces.

It is up to the driver to suggest where people sit. The seat of honor is the front passenger seat. It is polite to defer to older persons and give them that seat. In a business situation, the client or the highest-ranking person gets that seat. If a couple has a single person in the car, it is best to offer the front seat to that person rather than to isolate him or her in the back.

(Note: Accommodating a passenger with long legs may have to take precedence over the above considerations.)

Chit Chat

For some reason, people seem to feel chattier in a small car. Large sedans often feel studied and formal. Generally, it is safest to hold a conversation with the person you are sitting next to, rather than to try to turn around or talk over a seat.

Driving is an activity that requires focus and good reflexes, so no one should feel uncomfortable about remaining quiet during a ride.

A driver can signal “no conversation” by turning on the radio.

The Limousine

The seat of honor in a limousine is the curbside back seat. The guest of honor or senior executive is seated here. Junior executives take the jump seats or sit in the middle. A junior executive may also sit up front with the driver. Although the junior executive won't be able to schmooze with the boss, the driver is often a good source of information about the locale, information that might impress the boss later. When in doubt, ask the senior executive or host where you should sit.

It is polite to have the driver lower the seat divider when a member of the party is sitting in the front seat.

The Rented Car

Try to speak with the actual office where you are renting rather than the national reservation center. National centers are sometimes unaware of local or seasonal differences that may affect the rental. Specify exact times and, if you find you're running late, call the office to make sure that the agency doesn't give your car to someone else. Write down the confirmation number and the name of the person to whom you spoke. Make sure you're comfortable with the car and everything in it before you leave the lot. The rental company expects you to return the car clean and in good condition, so make sure it is clean and in good condition when you accept it. Return the car with about the same amount of gas as when you rented it.

It's generally a good idea to rent a car that is similar in size and performance to your own. I have found that, when driving in “stay to the left” countries such as England and Ireland, small cars take some of the terror out of getting used to the system.

Some companies won't rent to persons under 25, and all require some sort of deposit. The easiest deposit is a credit card. You can pay in cash when you return the car to avoid charges on your card. On the subject of credit cards, many customers have a false impression that their credit card company will provide all the insurance coverage they need. It's best to contact the card company and specify ahead of time what sort of car you intend to rent and what you intend to do with it. Most card companies provide only secondary coverage to your personal insurance. Some do not cover you at all if a third party is picking up the expense of the rental. Also, some credit card companies have limits on the number of days you can rent a car and the value of the cars you can rent.

Even if you think you have adequate insurance coverage, you might want to consider the collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver offered by rental companies. Covering things as minor as flat tires, these policies provide peace of mind, and if you return the car damaged, they can save you the deductible and, perhaps, a subsequent increase in your car insurance rates.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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