Why Do We Call ‘Shotgun’ to Save the Front Passenger Seat?

Yes, it does have something to do with actual shotguns.


If you’ve ever ridden in a car with more than one other person, you know the importance of calling “Shotgun!” before getting in the vehicle. The coveted front passenger seat, extra legroom, and personal pride and glory are all on the line. There are even actual rules about when and how you call. But why say “shotgun?” Why not just “front seat?”

The origin of this phrase takes place in the Old West, although no one actually called it “shotgun” back then. Carriage drivers would often bring along someone to sit next to them and carry a weapon, usually a shotgun. These co-pilots acted as bodyguards and warded off any robbers or miscreants who got in their way.

Years later, as American movie-goers fell in love with westerns, the name found its way into Hollywood scripts and pop culture. The 1921 short story “The Fighting Fool” by Dane Coolidge described a character as “ridin’ shotgun for Wells Fargo.” Probably its most famous appearance in a western was in the classic John Wayne movie Stagecoach, where co-star George Bancroft proclaims, “I’m going to Lordsburg with Buck. I’m gonna ride shotgun.”

Now, of course, our concern with riding shotgun has nothing to do with protecting valuables—unless your ego takes a big hit when you have to sit in the back seat. No matter where you sit, pay attention to how you get out of the car. Odds are, you’re doing it wrong.

(In the real world of firearms, this person was shot, but still doesn’t hate guns.)