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Setting an Example on the Road: Driver Etiquette 101

Contrary to popular belief, learning about road etiquette doesn't end at driving school. As long as you're driving, you need to know how to deal with different people and situations on the road.

There may be some behaviors you've picked up over the years that aren't exactly the best driving practices, but don't worry because we’ve prepared a quick refresher for you. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran on the road, here are a few helpful driving etiquette tips that you may find useful in your daily commute or next big trip.

Top 7 Rules of Driving Etiquette You Need to Live By

There are things we all need to keep in mind to keep ourselves, our passengers, and other people safe on the road. Let's take a look at a few driving etiquette rules we all need to remember:

oxygen sensor
turn signal
emergency vehicle
avoid tailgating
car horn
proper parking
high beam

Always Respect the Right of Way

Right of way refers to a set of rules that govern how drivers and pedestrians should interact in situations that may cause conflict (i.e. who goes first in an intersection). Right of way is the basic foundation of most driving etiquette and polite driving practices, but specifics may differ from state to state. This set of rules was written to help prevent road accidents and covers not only drivers but also pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists.

Did you know?

Many states have laws that require motorists to stop for buses that are dropping off or picking up children. While some of these buses have stop signs or other indicators, it’s still good practice to familiarize yourself with this law and practice it (if your state enforces it).

Stats

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), failure to yield the right of way was a major factor in 3,724 fatal crashes in 2019.

What Happens if You Don’t Respect Right of Way

Aside from getting tickets for traffic violations, the risk of accidents, vehicle damage, injuries, and death increases.

State/Federal Laws and Regulations on Intersection Safety

While regulations may differ from state to state, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has an online resource on Driving Safety and Speed Management. You can also use the FHA’s website to view state-specific legislation, policies, and guidance on local road safety, and more.

Tips

Even if you have the right of way, you should never assume that other drivers are going to accommodate you.

Always Remember to Use Your Turn Signals

Giving other drivers (and even pedestrians) a heads-up before you make a turn, change lanes, or get off an upcoming exit is basic driving etiquette, but a lot of people tend to forget this. Using your turn signal gives other people on the road enough time to adjust and react to your intended action and prevents accidents, injuries, and even possible fatalities.

Did You Know?

You can still hear the characteristic clicking sound of turn signals even though the original mechanism that produced those sounds isn't used anymore, because vehicle manufacturers didn't want to shock drivers who grew up with the sound.

Stats

According to a study conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), nearly 2 million accidents a year are caused by drivers' failure to use turn signals.

What Happens if You Don't Use Your Turn Signals

Defective turn signal lights or not using them altogether can get you a ticket. Your odds of getting in a traffic accident also increases.

State/Federal Laws on Turn Signals

Drivers are legally required by federal law to have operational turn signal devices and to use them before pulling over, pulling into traffic, changing lanes, parking, merging, and turning right or left. Defective turn signal lights can get you a ticket.

Tips

Whenever you're changing lanes on a highway or trying to find your way through a parking lot, a blind spot alert system can be handy. Blind spot alert systems come with various sensors to detect the presence of another vehicle in your blind spot.

Move Over for Emergency Vehicles

Accidents involving first responders and emergency vehicles (i.e. ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles) are a growing problem today in the United States. Some motorists tend to ignore emergency vehicles and not give way. In some cases, first responders are even killed or injured as they’re parked on the side of the road. Pulling over and clearing a path for these emergency vehicles is important, so first responders can get to where they're needed as soon as possible. Someone’s life may depend on it.

Did You Know?

The world's fastest ambulance was made in Dubai. Based on the Ford Mustang, this ambulance can reach speeds of up to 180 miles per hour and can reportedly arrive at the scene of an accident in four minutes, instead of the usual eight minutes.

Stats

Approximately 6,500 accidents involving ambulances happen every year, and almost 60% of these accidents occur when the ambulance is used in an emergency. About 35% of these crashes resulted in severe injuries and the death of at least one occupant of the vehicle involved.

What Happens if You Don't Move Over for Emergency Vehicles

Emergency vehicles need to travel at higher speeds to reach crisis situations as fast as possible. That's why emergency vehicle-related accidents often result in severe injury or death.

State/Federal Laws on Emergency Vehicles

All 50 U.S. states have Move Over Laws in effect. This law protects emergency responders and other personnel working on the side of the road. Failure to comply can result in a fine or license suspension. In some states, the violation can be punishable by jail time.

Tips

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), if you see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights pulled over or parked next to a roadway, make a lane change into the next available lane that’s not immediately next to the emergency vehicle. If you’re not able to change lanes, at least slow down to a reasonable speed.

Avoid Tailgating

Road rage is characterized by aggressive behavior such as yelling, honking incessantly at another vehicle, shouting obscenities, and tailgating. Road rage and other aggressive behaviors are a factor in more than half of all fatal crashes in the United States. It’s easy to lose control once you've lost your temper, but that doesn’t mean you can endanger other people on the road. Always maintain a steady speed, especially when driving on the highway, give other drivers space, and practice good manners on the road.

Did You Know?

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), tailgating causes phantom traffic jams, which are 100-1,000 meter-long traffic waves that halt hundreds or even thousands of vehicles along the highway.

Stats

According to the AAA Foundation's 2019 report, 78% of the drivers they surveyed admitted to engaging in aggressive behavior on the road. It means that out of the 214 million licensed drivers in the US, 5.7 million of them had bumped or rammed another vehicle as a response to road rage.

What Happens if You Tailgate

Tailgating is illegal. Violators can be issued a civil infraction that may result in more than $100 in fines and fees and two points on their driving record.

State/Federal Laws on Tailgating

Like most of the traffic rules on this list, specific laws on tailgating may differ from state to state. For example, the Michigan Vehicle Code prohibits the driver of a passenger vehicle from following another motorist "more closely than is reasonable and prudent" based on speed, traffic volume, and other conditions.”

Tips

If you’re a tailgate victim, don't slam on your brakes to get back at the motorist tailgating you. It may make the situation worse and can also damage your braking system.

Don't Use Your Horns Indiscriminately

Honking your horns to harass another person on the road is considered an act of road rage. As a responsible driver, you should only use your horns when necessary. For example, instead of honking your horn repeatedly to get someone moving, you can just honk briefly to alert the other driver and give them a polite heads-up.

Did You Know?

Most car horns of today are tuned to F-sharp or A-sharp, but until the mid-1960s, they were tuned to E-flat or C.

Stats

According to a study by the AAA Foundation, 32% of all drivers across the United States (that’s 71 million people) are likely to honk at other drivers or make rude gestures in an act of road rage.

What Happens if You Keep Honking Your Horn for No Reason

Breaking car horn-related laws in some states can result in fines, tickets, and marks on your driving record.

State/Federal Laws on Car Horn Etiquette

In states such as Michigan and Washington, there are laws against honking horns for anything other than safety. In the state of California, specific rules and regulations for horn use are in their official driver's handbook.

Tips

Use your horn to help others drive safely. Unless there's a safety risk, there's no reason to honk your horn, no matter how angry or frustrated you are.

Observe Proper Parking Etiquette

Did you know that 20% of vehicle accidents happen in parking lots and garages? Why are there so many parking lot accidents? That's because drivers tend to let their guard down in these environments. To avoid running someone over or damaging someone else's property, you need to observe good parking etiquette. A couple of friendly reminders: don’t take up two parking spaces at once and be mindful of PWD (persons with disabilities) parking spaces.

Did You Know?

The world's largest parking lot is found in the world’s largest shopping center, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. This parking space can accommodate up to 20,000 vehicles.

Stats

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 9% of parking lot deaths occur while a vehicle is reversing into pedestrians.

What Happens if You Don't Park Properly

According to the NSC, parking lot accidents result in thousands of crashes, hundreds of deaths, and thousands of injuries.

State/Federal Laws on Parking Etiquette

Parking regulations are controlled by city police and private companies. If you get a parking ticket, you need to post the payment to the appropriate office within 30 days of incurring a penalty.

Tips

As of May 2018, rearview monitoring systems have been made a requirement for all new passenger cars, trucks, vans, and other vehicles. These systems are very useful, especially when you need to park in particularly tight spots. Rearview monitoring systems, along with parking assist sensors, can help you park more efficiently and safely.

Don't Flash Your High Beams at Oncoming Traffic

Flashing your high beams at oncoming drivers can temporarily blind them and may be taken as an act of aggression by some drivers. Also, if you drive a tall truck or an SUV, your lights may shine directly into the back window of lower cars and distract other drivers. You should only use your high beams when there are no oncoming motorists on the road. Also, make sure your headlights are well-maintained to keep yourself and other people on the road safe.

Did You Know?

The interior-mount control system, which allowed drivers to switch on external lights from inside the vehicle, was invented by Cadillac in the mid-1910s.

Stats

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), around a quarter of all driving in the United States takes place at night, but that's when 52% of driver fatalities and 75% of pedestrian deaths occur. Limited visibility is a contributing factor to nighttime accidents.

What Happens if You Flash Your High Beams Onto Oncoming Traffic

Some people take up to five seconds to get their full sight back when they're blinded by extremely bright headlights. In that time, drivers may lose control of their vehicle, causing accidents and property damage.

State/Federal Laws on High Beams and Flashing Headlights

U.S. law requires that you have two functioning headlights that need to be switched on whenever it's dark out (sunset to sunrise). In Tennessee and Georgia, headlights are required to be switched on 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise, when visibility is low, and in adverse weather conditions.

Tips

There are no universally accepted and consistent standards for flashing your headlights or high beams. Even if you mean it as a courtesy, the other driver may take it as an insult. If you need to warn another driver of a safety hazard on the road ahead, you can use hand signals or your vehicle’s emergency flashers.

All in all, the golden rule is to keep others as safe as you would yourself and your passengers. Be mindful of other people on the road, respect their space, and don’t let your temper dictate your actions. Happy driving!

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