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Car passenger safety and driving distractions

Along for the ride: tips for being a better, safer passenger

Couple driving on country road 2166x 1384

When it comes to driving safely, the focus tends to be on what a driver should – or shouldn’t - be doing. But we've got some tips for being a safer passenger, which involve more than just picking the perfect playlist. After all, history has shown that a driver is only as good as the person by their side. Would Samuel L. Jackson have been quite as charismatic behind the wheel without John Travolta pointing out any potential road hazards in Pulp Fiction? Would Bonnie and Clyde have made it half as far as they did if they didn’t take turns in the driving seat? And we don’t even need to mention how lost Fred would have been in the Mystery Machine without Scooby, Shaggy and co.

When it comes to safe car journeys, it’s time to put the responsibilities of the passenger in the driving seat.

What driving distractions do passengers pose to a driver? 

When you get in a friend’s car, the expectation is that they'll be competent enough to drive safely. But what can you do to make sure that you – and everyone else buckled in – stay safe? With our survey* revealing that our Members find adult passengers to be the biggest distraction when driving, here’s a look at some of the problems which impact car passenger safety.

  • A little less conversation

We’re not advocating a vow of silence as soon as you hit the road, but you should try and make yourself aware of the extent of the driver's workload. Whether you're just nipping to the high street or off on a road trip, a driver has to juggle complex junctions and other drivers around them, as well as keeping an eye out for all signs or turnings; even the most skilled of multi-taskers would need their full attention. It's always smart to be considerate with your conversations. Try to wait for quieter stretches of road, or when you're waiting in traffic, before going in for a chin wag. And it's probably best to avoid engaging in political disputes, or debating whose turn it is to take the bins out. Winning an argument isn’t worth the driver losing control. 

  • Children

Whether you’re driving across the country or just down the road, children will get restless. When it comes to road safety for kids, it’s best if you can keep them distracted so they don’t do the same to the driver. You don’t need to be Julie Andrews to keep the little ones quiet and entertained either; settle down in the backseat if possible and let them focus their attention on you, not the person behind the wheel.

  • Being young and (too) carefree

Young drivers don’t have the best of reputations, and the statistics back that bad reputation up. The Road Safety Observatory reports that young drivers were twice as likely to crash than older drivers, with that jumping up to 5 times more likely when carrying at least 1 passenger. Younger drivers are typically more likely to show off for their friends, and younger passengers might contribute by encouraging this sort of behaviour.

  • Drunk and disorderly passengers

Just as groups of young friends might encourage reckless behaviour, drunk passengers of any age can be a huge distraction. Blowing off steam with a few (too many) drinks is a Friday ritual for many, but it’s still important to respect your designated driver. Don’t offer them a bite of your kebab as they zip down the bypass, for example.

How to be a better passenger

  • Share the responsibilities

Making yourself useful – whether you offer to operate the sat nav or act as another set of eyes for the driver – can help avoid any accidents that would have happened due to distraction or driver fatigue. Keeping watch for any diversions and reading road signs will also help the driver to focus on the task at hand.

  • Banish backseat driving

Keeping a watchful eye for things the driver might miss is helpful; criticising every move the driver makes could be harmful. If the driver gets frustrated or annoyed, the likelihood is they’ll pay less attention to the road, which could lead to an easily avoidable accident.

  • Seatbelts

Drilled into us since childhood, this one should be obvious but is worth repeating: wear your seatbelt. Under UK seatbelt law, it's the driver's legal responsibility to sure that children are properly belted but once you're 14 it's your own responsibility.  And if you're not wearing your belt you could get a £100 penalty.

Find out more about properly securing kids in the car.  

  • Set the right scene

Six Ed Sheeran songs in a row? You might be asking for the driver to swerve into a lamppost. Besides being a good DJ and picking a perfect playlist, if you can take control of any of the fiddly bits of driving – turning up the radio and turning down the heating, for example – the driver is more likely to stay focused on the road.

Driving with pets – what should I do? 

Who’s to say passengers must be people? Your four-legged friends can have just as much impact on your time on 4 wheels. We’ve looked at ways of keeping your pet safe in the car, but there are ways in which a pet could negatively impact the driver – you could think of them as pet peeves.

Securing your pet is important for their safety, and yours. A pet car seat is one way to ensure your pooch or pussycat doesn't get injured, or end up distracting you while you’re driving. Failing to properly secure your pet in the car could find you in danger of being charged with dangerous driving - after all, what could be more distracting than a loose, unrestrained pet in a close-quarters car? 

Making sure your pet remains comfortable and calm is also important, as a happy pet is a safer pet. Regulate the temperature, ensure there's plenty of fresh air and make regular stops for walks and toilet breaks. If your pet becomes anxious or unruly, you'll be distracted and they could begin to act out, leading to an avoidable accident. However much you love your pet, cuddles can wait until you get home. 

*AA Populus survey of June 2014