Want to Be a Classy Driver? Here's Advice From 1949

Want to Be a Classy Driver? Here's Advice From 1949
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Why you should care

Because it takes just one jerk on the road to ruin your commute.

Spotting a well-mannered driver on the road … well, it just gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. You know the type: They let other cars merge (even when it might not be their turn) and never usurp the right-of-way from other cars. Today there’s even some fancy new tech that can help drivers maintain — or up — their etiquette factor. Think intelligent driving aids like blind-spot monitoring and closing-vehicle sensing, which checks even further behind a vehicle for oncoming traffic, designed to help make all of our lane changes good ones.

Back in 1949, decorum doyenne Emily Post set out to educate drivers on how to be courteous and respectful on the road. In Motor Manners: The Bluebooklet of Traffic Etiquette, she laid out the code, which consists of 12 directives to mannering up while behind the wheel. But 67 years later, we are in a different space: Not only are our cars dramatically improved with bells and whistles unimaginable in the 1940s, but we also have the distractions of smartphones and other devices. Surely the etiquette expert’s motor manners list needs a realignment. Or does it?

The list does contain snooty class references (“Well-bred people, whether drivers or passengers, are just as considerate of each other as are hosts and guests in a drawing room”). But if you steer around the antiquated language, many of the dozen tips are “still valid,” says William Van Tassel, manager of driver training operations at the American Automobile Association (AAA). One mandate that doesn’t need a rewrite? “Orderly drivers always keep to the right, except when using the proper lane for turning or passing” is still de rigueur, even if you haven’t ponied up for the latest lane-keeping assist feature. So, if you want to be polite on the freeway, stop cruising in the middle lane. Another: “A courteous driver never fails to signal his intentions to stop, turn or pull out.” This goes without saying: Use your signal— or get into a self-driving car, which will do that for you. There are also directives that hinge on common sense — don’t drive while tired, keep a reasonable speed — and common courtesy — dim your high beams to oncoming cars, park between the lines, avoid rubbernecking.

But, Van Tassel adds, this guide “could be tweaked to reflect modern techniques.” Indeed, now we have the distractions of on-screen texts and beguiling entertainment systems, plus in-vehicle high-tech safety systems. How do these impact a 21st-century “Code of Courtesy” for the road? Know how to use those fancy enhancements like dynamic cruise control, anti-lane deviation, automatic braking systems and pre-collision detection before you get behind the wheel. The AAA maintains up-to-date information on all new technologies within their driver training programs. Van Tassel suggests that safe and conscientious drivers could benefit from a course in order to brush up on new cutting-edge car tech, especially if they plan to purchase, borrow or rent a new car. “It’s better to have the knowledge before you need it,” he adds. Information is also available from dealers.

Once you’ve got the safety smarts, though, what about being a courteous driver in the digital age? Emily Post said, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others,” and if you recognize that awareness, “You have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” This leads to one new rule Van Tassel would add to the list: “Never cause another driver to change their speed or have to steer around you.” Why is this important? If another driver has to adjust their driving because of a move you’ve just made, “that’s not collaborative driving,” Van Tassel says. “That’s just you being greedy or impatient or generally uncaring for others.” Mannering up on the roads in the 21st century means thinking of your car and everyone else’s as one entity, working together. Which might get complicated as a mix of vehicles — traditional and driverless — start to share the road.

But as long as drivers are prepared to navigate that mix, safely and courteously, the roads will be a better place, and we can all get on with enjoying the ride. Plus, you can perhaps feel a little smug every time you don’t honk “as a bad-tempered voice to threaten or scold” or you don’t “cheat traffic regulations,” safe in the knowledge that you’d be as well-mannered a driver in 1949 as today.

Want to handle your fancy new in-car features with some old-school courtesy? Take a page from Emily Post’s Bluebooklet of Traffic Etiquette.

  1. A well-mannered driver will share the road, never usurping the right-of-way from other vehicles or pedestrians.
  2. A well-behaved driver uses his horn as a warning device in emergencies and never as a bad-tempered voice to threaten or scold.
  3. An honorable man or woman would no more cheat traffic regulations than cheat at games or in sports.
  4. Courteous pedestrians will cross busy streets at intersections, respect traffic lights and avoid darting out from behind parked vehicles.
  5. An obliging driver will never fail to dim his lights when meeting other cars in the dark.
  6. Well-bred people, whether drivers or passengers, are just as considerate of each other as are hosts and guests in a drawing room.
  7. An accommodating driver parks his car so as not to interfere with the use of other parking spaces or with the movement of other vehicles.
  8. Orderly drivers always keep to the right, except when using the proper lane for turning or passing.
  9. A courteous driver never fails to signal his intentions to stop, turn or pull out.
  10. Considerate persons always drive at speeds which are reasonable and prudent, considering traffic, road and weather conditions.
  11. One who has any consideration for the safety of others will refrain from driving when physically exhausted.
  12. Kindly persons never show curiosity at the scene of an accident and always give any assistance that may be passable.
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