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June 29, 2018

Science Says: Backseat Drivers Aren't Just Annoying, They're Dangerous

Stuck in traffic, your spouse decides to take the “quicker” route home but makes a wrong turn instead. “Now we will never get home!” you shout from the passenger seat. The children, safely buckled in the back seat, start to cry. With so many distractions, you’ve just increased your driver’s chances of making a careless–and dangerous–move on the road.

As distracted driving continues to spread around the world, most of the attention has been directed at drivers and mobile phones. But one of the top distractions is sitting just a few inches away: passengers! Most passengers are probably unaware of the effect they have on drivers, but researchers have found that their behavior is just as crucial as the driver’s when it comes to safety.

Ways passengers affect drivers

An early study done by the George Institute in Australia showed that drivers with passengers were 60 percent more likely to have a crash resulting in serious injury compared to when driving alone. Passengers influence driver behaviors–both positively and negatively–due to a variety of factors such as the passenger’s age, the relationship of the driver and passenger, and even the gender of the driver relative to the passenger.

For example, while women showed lower levels of risky driving in general, the presence of a man in the passenger’s seat was more likely to cause women to practice risky driving than if traveling with another woman. With passengers in a vehicle, drivers also tend to be less observant and less able to anticipate hazards.

How to be a good car passenger 

Passengers help set the tone for the drive: they can choose to be a helpful, calm sidekick or a bad influence. Here are five ways to be a better passenger:

#1. Be a helpful co-pilot
Take an active role during the drive by navigating, answering the phone, warning of approaching hazards and keeping the driver company.

#2. Don’t distract the driver
If you expect the driver to focus on the road, do your part to minimize distractions. Don’t talk loudly on the phone, constantly change the music or comment on their driving.

#3. Stay awake
Sleeping passengers can increase the chances of the driver falling asleep, too. If needed, swap drivers during long journeys so everyone can take a short nap when tiredness sets in.

#4. Keep kids safe
Avoid meltdowns by being prepared with a snack, book or other activities for children. Your “precious cargo” – everyone in your car – should be safely secured with seat belts and age-appropriate car seats to minimize distractions and maximize safety.

#5. Speak up
You have the right to tell drivers to stop putting your lives in danger if they are driving recklessly or engaging in risky behavior.

Instead of creating or contributing to a problem on the road, you can take more responsibility as an engaged co-pilot. And remember, the next time a driver takes a wrong turn, be the perfect passenger and offer kind words and patient navigation.

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