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11 Driving Etiquette Rules You Forgot Since Driver’s Ed

It may have been 10, 20, or 30 years or more since you got your license. Take our refresher course on driving etiquette.

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Acknowledge fellow drivers

Remember that even though you’re in a car, fellow drivers can likely still see you. If you let someone merge in front of you, or if someone lets you merge, just acknowledge the action. Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach says, “motion with your hand to let someone go in front of you, or wave and mouth the word ‘thank you’ if someone lets you go in front of them.” If you’ve forgotten this rule, you might not know these 13 subtle driving mistakes that can get you pulled over. 

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Use the shoulder for emergencies only

It is illegal in some states to use the shoulder for anything but emergencies. Never use the shoulder to weave through traffic. Not only could you get a ticket, but you could also be blocking the shoulder from emergency vehicles that need to get through traffic. If you’re using the shoulder to put on makeup or eat some soup, you’re guilty of one of the craziest things people have done while driving. 

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Use the exit lane only to exit

Though it may be legal to do so in some states, it’s bad manners to use an exit lane to speed through traffic. Plus, swerving in and out of traffic unnecessarily can be dangerous. These confusing road signs will stump you. 

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iStock/Alex Potemkin

Don’t tailgate

Leave at least one car length between you and the car in front of you when possible. Try this trick: pick a landmark on the road such as a sign or tree and watch for the car in front of you to pass it. Then, make sure you can count three seconds before you pass the same landmark. Never tailgate—not only is it rude, it could also cause an accident if the drive in front of you stops short.

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Tell tailgaters to move along

If you’re following the speed limit, don’t speed up just because someone is tailgating you. Typically, aggressive drivers will just merge into a different lane if they want to speed up. Whitmore advises that if you’re on a single-lane road, you should pull over, roll down your window, and motion the driver to go around you.

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Honk your horn sparingly

Honking incessantly can be irritating for everyone on the road, so don’t just honk because you’re frustrated at another driver. Instead, honk only to warn other drivers that they’re coming too close to you or if someone is stopped at a green light. Be aware that different honks might signify different warnings to other drivers. According to the Emily Post Institute, a quick beep means “Heads up. I’m here!” However, a slightly longer and louder beep says “Hey, the light’s been green for 10 seconds” or “Watch it!”

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Let others merge

Of course you shouldn’t let someone merge in front of you if doing so would put yourself or others at risk of an accident. However, there are some instances where it’s the polite thing to do. “If someone is trying to pull out into oncoming traffic and you’re at a stop, I would recommend you let them in ahead of you,” says Whitmore. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, “courteous driving consists of allowing other motorists to merge into traffic by giving them the space to do so.” Next, find out why traffic light colors are red, yellow, and green.

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Don’t respond to aggressive drivers

It’s tempting to react and an angry or aggressive way to a driver that, for instance, cuts you off. Instead, take a deep breath and simply don’t respond at all. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, aggressive and dangerous driving accounts for 56 percent of fatal car crashes.

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Be aware in the parking lot

“Whenever you’re getting ready to park, use your turn signal so other drivers are aware,” says Whitmore. “Then remember to center your vehicle so you don’t take up more than one parking space.” She also recommends driving extra slowly so you can watch for pedestrians.

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Handle backseat drivers with humor

We all know the type of passenger that has to offer their opinion about your every move. Whitmore recommends inserting some humor into the situation. “Thank them for their input and then gently let them know you can handle the driving.”

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Don’t drive if you’re distracted

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), “the activity area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to 1/3 when listing to talking on a phone.” Talking on the phone while driving is against the law in some states. But even if it is legal, it’s much safer to keep your focus on the road and avoid any and all distractions. This iPhone trick could stop texting while driving for good.