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How to Be a Good Driver: Driving Etiquette & Basic Driving Tips

How to Be a Good Driver: Driving Etiquette & Basic Driving Tips

A quick refresher on driving etiquette where we review driver etiquette everyone should know and unsafe driving habits that you may have developed over time. 

Last Updated Mar 05, 2024
5 min read
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Road Etiquette Every Good Driver Should Know

All drivers have a responsibility to obey the laws. And let’s face it –  no one likes to see red & blue lights in the rearview mirror. Beyond that, most people appreciate it when another driver displays a little road etiquette and practices safe driving habits.

Here are 17 driving etiquette protocols to keep top of mind the next time you get behind the wheel:

  1. Drive at a Safe Distance
  2. Change Lanes Safely
  3. Merge Appropriately
  4. Use Caution in Parking Lots
  5. Gas Up First
  6. Use Your Turn Signals
  7. Use Your Headlights Effectively
  8. Minimize Distractions
  9. Avoid Angry Reactions
  10. Match the Flow of Traffic
  11. Use Your Horn in the Right Situations
  12. Use the Slow Lane When You Need It
  13. Respect Semi-Trucks
  14. Yield Safely
  15. Pay Attention to Motorcycles
  16. Accept a Missed Exit
  17. No Rolling Stops

1. Drive at a Safe Distance

The National Safety Council recommends drivers follow the 3-second rule when following another vehicle. How does it work? Pick any landmark, then watch the car in front of you pass the landmark. Then, count the seconds it takes for you to pass the same landmark. If it takes 3 seconds or less for you to reach it, you have time to reduce your speed if traffic stops abruptly. 

You can learn how to maintain a safe driving distance and other good driving habits through a defensive driving course, which may also save you money on car insurance rates.

2. Change Lanes Safely

Research shows that 75% of accidents happen when a driver changes lanes. To change lanes safely, take these steps in the following order:

  • Turn on your turn signal.
  • Look in your side and rearview mirrors to see if it’s clear.
  • Look over your shoulder to check your blind spot.
  • Change lanes when the traffic is clear.
  • Turn off your turn signal. 

3. Merge Appropriately

When merging, accelerate until you match the speed of the traffic you are merging into. Yield to the oncoming traffic. Look for a safe gap to merge into. Check your mirrors and blind spots to be sure everything is clear. Continue checking your mirrors as you enter the new lane. Accelerate smoothly into the new lane. 

A few tips for driver etiquette for merging are:

  • Signal early
  • Anticipate the flow of traffic
  • Be patient

When two lanes merge into one, the recommended driving etiquette is to use the zipper merge. A zipper merge is when drivers take turns merging into a single lane. It works much like the teeth of a zipper that join together – first one side, and then the other. 

4. Use Caution in Parking Lots

Drivers and shoppers present hazards in retail parking lots. Parking lots are not always designed to give drivers ample room for backing. Signs and lighting fixtures may block your view. Even when cars move slowly through a parking lot, shoppers and small children may not pay attention to them.

To navigate safely through a parking lot, use your side and rearview mirrors to keep an eye on other cars trying to park or leave the lot. Where signs or other objects block your view, creep forward a bit until you can see past them before making a turn. Be extra cautious around designated crosswalks and pedestrians who may be crossing outside the crosswalks. 

Use extra doses of caution and patience when driving in parking lots as a matter of driving etiquette. 

5. Gas Up First

It is a good practice to fill your gas tank before you travel any distance, even if you are in a hurry. You may not be able to predict problems like lane closures, road construction, or detours. With a full tank, you won’t have to worry about getting stranded after running out of gas.  

6. Use Your Turn Signals

Do you remember a time when you got frustrated because another driver forgot to use their turn signal? Turn signals are important because they tell other drivers where you want to go. When drivers use their turn signals, other drivers can make good decisions and traffic flows smoothly. If you don’t use your turn signal when you should, it could cause a car accident or cost you a ticket.  

Use your turn signals at intersections, when making a turn, and when changing lanes. Also, use them any time you want other drivers to know where you’re going.  

7. Use Your Headlights Effectively

Do you know when to turn your headlights on? The laws for headlights vary between states, but a good rule of thumb is to use them starting 30 minutes before the sun rises or after the sun sets. Also, turn them on whenever visibility is less than 200 feet. For example, use headlights when you are driving through fog, smoke, rain, or snow. 

Despite the name, fog lights aren’t designed to help you see better in the fog. Fog lights shine a low, broad light to help you see the lane lines better. To practice road etiquette, turn off your fog lights when you don’t need them. 

AAA offers some good advice for when to use high and low beams. Use your low beams when it’s dark, raining, or visibility is poor. Use your high beams only when visibility is bad. If you need to use your high beams, it’s proper driving etiquette to dim them when you see an oncoming vehicle. 

8. Minimize Distractions

Driving while distracted can put drivers, their passengers, and others in danger. The Texas Department of Insurance has some good tips for preventing driving distractions:

  • Be aware of distractions – eating, drinking, texting, writing emails, phone use, or focusing on children or other passengers.
  • Turn off your phone or silence alerts and calls when you’re driving. 
  • Keep calm and don’t respond to other drivers who drive erratically or aggressively. 
  • Prepare for your trip ahead of time. Clean out your car and pre-program your music. Set your GPS, and get familiar with your car’s features. 
  • Be on the alert for distracted drivers who drift from their lanes or appear to be distracted. 

By staying focused while you drive helps you avoid accidents and maintain a safe driving record, which can also help you save money through a good driver discount.

9. Avoid Angry Reactions

As frustrating as it may be to encounter an angry driver, it is risky to be combative. As your anger rises, it may impair your judgment. You could cause an accident if you react by tailgating or erratically changing lanes. An angry reaction on your part may escalate and lead to a confrontation with the other driver. Any of these situations could place your personal safety at risk.

It’s tempting to react when a driver is being aggressive, but don’t engage. If ignoring them doesn’t work, move out of their way if you can. 

Keep control of your vehicle. Be prepared to break gently if a driver cuts you off. 

Pull over to the side of the road if you feel your emotions are ramping up. Focus on where you’re going and try to calm down. 

Be aware that an angry driver may follow you, and call the police if you feel you’re in danger.

10. Match the Flow of Traffic

Driving too slowly disrupts the flow of traffic and could cause an accident. If you can’t match the flow of traffic, be sure to stay in the right lane or put your emergency flashers on. 

While it’s important to keep up with the flow of traffic, heed the speed limit. You may get a traffic ticket if you’re driving slower or faster than the limit. 

RELATED: Does a Speeding Ticket Affect Your Insurance?

11. Use Your Horn in the Right Situations

All vehicles must have a working horn to be roadworthy, and it’s important to use it for the right purposes. 

For example, it’s okay to blow the horn to avoid a collision or you’re in someone’s blind spot. You can also sound the horn if you’re sliding on ice or the light is changing from yellow to red in an intersection and can’t stop. It’s also okay to use the horn if the vehicle in front of you doesn’t move during a green light. 

Don’t honk merely because you’re frustrated or a driver made a mistake. It happens to all of us at some time or another, and it could lead to road rage. Also, don’t honk at someone who doesn’t turn right on red. They may be able to see things you can’t. 

12. Use the Slow Lane When You Need It

Drivers may encounter situations where it doesn’t make sense to match the flow of traffic.

For example, if the traffic flow is moving far faster than the speed limit, it may be best to stay in the right lane to avoid getting a ticket. Staying in the slow lane when other drivers are in a hurry will help smooth out the flow of traffic. 

If you’re having car trouble, you may need to move over to the right lane so you can pull over safely to stop.  

Also, be aware that some states have a “Slowpoke Law”. This means where two or more lanes are going in the same direction, drivers must drive in the right lane unless they are passing another vehicle or preparing to exit on the left.  

13. Respect Semi-Trucks

Semi-trucks can carry 40 tons when fully loaded, making it hard for drivers to maneuver them. They can’t stop on a dime or turn sharply. The  U.S. Department of Transportation gives us these tips for sharing the road safely with semi-drivers:

  • Stay out of their blind spot. If you can’t see their side mirror, they can’t see you. 
  • Pass them safely. Make sure you can see them in your side mirror before changing lanes in front of them. 
  • Don’t cut them off as drivers may not see you. It’s possible they may not be able to stop in time to avoid a crash. 
  • Keep a safe distance behind them. If they have to stop, your car could slide underneath the truck. 
  • Give them room to make wide turns. Don’t try to squeeze by them. Stop behind white lines to give oncoming trucks room to make a wide turn. 
  • Be patient. Some trucking companies use technology to govern the speed of their trucks and drivers may have other operating restrictions. 

14. Yield Safely

Certain situations require drivers to yield the right of way. For example, when two drivers reach an intersection at the same time or emergency vehicles or pedestrians are present.

If two drivers reach an intersection and one is turning left and the other is turning right, the driver turning left should yield to the driver turning right. 

Pull over safely when emergency vehicles are passing through with their lights on. It’s against the law not to yield to them.  

The laws in many states also require drivers to yield to pedestrians. 

15. Pay Attention to Motorcycles

Motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks making them difficult to see. Additionally, motorcycles have manual transmissions so they brake and accelerate differently than cars and trucks.

Motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks making them difficult to see. Additionally, motorcycles have manual transmissions so they brake and accelerate differently than cars and trucks.

When sharing the road with motorcycles, check your blind spots carefully. Also, allow a reasonable stopping distance behind a motorcycle as they may not be able to stop as quickly as you think. 

Don’t forget to be extra cautious when driving around motorcycles during inclement weather. Motorcycles sometimes do not have as much traction on wet or slick roadways.  

16. Accept a Missed Exit

It happens to the best of us. You realize you need to exit just as you’re passing it. The rule here is simple – take the next exit. Don’t back up or stop. It’s also unsafe to cross multiple lanes or cross over the median. Take a deep breath and remember you’ll get where you’re going eventually. 

17. No Rolling Stops

A rolling stop is when a driver slows down at a stop sign yet doesn’t bring the vehicle to a full stop. Drivers can get a ticket for not stopping completely.

A full stop also gives drivers time to assess other drivers and watch out for pedestrians. Also, drivers at an intersection can’t know whether a driver rolling through a stop is going to stop or go. Drivers that don’t stop completely make it difficult to know which driver has the right of way, and it could cause an accident.  


Common Driving Habits That Are Unsafe

For most people, driving is a part of their everyday routines. Great responsibility comes along with earning the right to have a driver’s license. While it’s tempting to take shortcuts or get around the laws, drivers who don’t follow driving laws or etiquette cause risks to themselves and others. 

Here are some of the common unsafe driving habits, drivers exhibit. 

Yielding when you have the right of way

Driving practices are designed so that all drivers are playing by the same rules. If you have the right of way and don’t take it, the other drivers will be confused as to which driver has the right of way next.

Driving slowly in the fast lane

It disrupts the smooth flow of traffic, causing bottlenecks and congestion. It frustrates other drivers and may cause them to take unnecessary risks. 

Slowing down traffic to let someone merge onto the freeway

When a car is merging into traffic, driver etiquette is to maintain a consistent speed. The driver who is merging should adjust their speed accordingly, which helps to improve the traffic flow, prevent accidents, and reduce congestion. 

Clogging up the parking lot

Drivers who wait a lengthy time for someone to back out clog up the parking lot unnecessarily. Long waits frustrate other drivers who are looking for a parking spot. If a spot you want isn’t open, look for another one or circle back around.

Asking for help with parallel parking

Not everyone is good at parallel parking, yet there may be times when it’s necessary. Asking for someone’s help may undermine your confidence and judgment and cause an accident. Getting assistance from someone else may also create a line of traffic behind you. It may be better to find a different place to park until you have mastered your parallel parking skills.

Helping your kids while driving

Helping kids while driving can take your attention away from the road which could compromise everyone’s safety. Make sure they’re buckled up and have what they need before you drive. If they still need something, find a place to pull over where you can tend to them safely. 

Coming to a complete stop in a roundabout

Roundabouts were designed to keep the traffic flowing and reduce congestion. Stopping in a roundabout confuses other drivers and could cause a rear-end collision. 

Having others follow you to avoid getting lost

Asking someone to follow you so they don’t get lost can impede your driving and theirs. It may distract you by constantly trying to keep track of where they are. The driver following may feel pressure to keep up causing them to take risks they would not otherwise take. 

Scooching forward at a red light or intersection

By creeping forward prematurely, your vehicle may be in the way of a crosswalk which could make it unsafe for pedestrians to cross. Inching forward also impacts other drivers’ decisions as it may confuse them on whether they should stop or go.

FAQs About Driving Etiquette

What are 5 driver etiquette practices you want your passengers to follow?

  1. Wear a seatbelt.
  2. Don’t distract the driver. 
  3. Don’t be a backseat driver.
  4. Don’t turn on the overhead lights at night.
  5. Keep interactions reasonable.

Is it rude to pass people on the road?

Not always. It’s okay to pass in a passing zone if the driver ahead of you is driving too slowly and you can safely do so.

What should you never assume when driving?

You should never assume another driver is safe or practicing driver etiquette. Be a defensive driver. 

How do you deal with rude drivers?

Stay focused on your driving, and do your best to ignore them. It won’t be helpful to confront them, make provocative gestures, or start driving erratically. Keep a safe distance and call the police if you feel unsafe. Above all, remain calm.

Safe drivers can save hundreds per year on car insurance

In This Article:

Safe drivers can save hundreds per year on car insurance
Safe drivers can save hundreds per year on car insurance
Drivers appreciate rewards on their car insurance, and safe driver discounts reward responsible drivers for their regular, safe driving habits. 
Driving safely should always be your top concern when you're behind the wheel of a car - whether alone or with passengers. With so many potential hazards on the road, staying alert and taking precautions to prevent accidents is essential.

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