If you’ve ever heard the term “riding shotgun,” you know that this is something young people often say to indicate they’ll be riding in the front passenger seat of the car. But you may not know where the term derives from.
According to multiple sources, the term was originally used back in the early 20th century when stagecoaches were the primary mode of travel. The person riding along with the driver was the “shotgun messenger,” or in other words, their right hand man who would deliver a message or greeting on the driver’s behalf.
Though stagecoaches may no longer be used, shotgun-riding passengers still play vital roles in helping drivers keep everyone safe while traveling. Because all too often, passengers’ poor decisions have led to accidents that were entirely avoidable.
According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, when teen passengers are in the car, 16- to 19-year-old boys are six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and two times more likely to act aggressively compared to driving alone, according to Teen Driver Source, a website managed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Though several studies have noted that no one is immune to distracted driving, teenagers are consistently among the most common drivers to engage in this type of dangerous behavior. An estimated 25 percent of teenagers respond to a text message at least once every time they get behind the wheel, according to estimates from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. Additionally, 20 percent of teens say they’ve had an ongoing conversation via text message while driving.
Passengers have a duty to themselves, their driver, and other users of the road to serve as an anti-distracted driving advocate, safety officials point out. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 15- to 19-year-olds represent the largest age group whose accidents are attributable to distracted driving.
“Young people need to understand the dangers of texting and driving before it kills them or someone they love,” said Mark Rosekind, NHTSA administrator. “It’s up to us as parents to set the right example by never texting and driving ourselves, and by laying down the law for our young drivers: no texting behind the wheel or no keys to the car.”
The following are some of the ways in which passengers can advocate for driver safety.
Take command of handheld devices
A great way to keep the driver’s attention on the road is by offering to handle the phone if they need to make a call, text someone, or answer a text. Additionally, if you’re listening to a portable music player, the passenger should play deejay for the time being.
Be courteous of driver’s concentration
GPS systems have helped drivers avoid getting lost, but they haven’t prevented it completely. Not knowing where you are can be a frustrating experience for the driver that requires their attention. As a passenger, you should be sure to do whatever the driver asks to help find the way, whether that’s serving as the navigator, turning down the radio, or just remaining quiet so the driver can collect their thoughts.
Always buckle up
The last thing the driver should have to worry about is whether everyone is buckled. Fastening your seat belt is required by law in most states and has been proven time and again to save lives. Do yourself and the driver a favor by putting your seat belt on as soon as you get in the car, and keeping it on for the duration of the trip.
Avoid ‘turn head’ conversations
You should also be sure that what you talk about doesn’t require the driver to divert their attention. In other words, focus on having conversations that don’t require the driver to look away, where the only way they can understand what’s said is by looking at you. Just a moment’s inattention can be dangerous, especially during inclement conditions or around a construction zone.
These are a handful of ways that you and passengers in general can be the driver’s wingman when it comes to highway safety. For more safe driving tips, check out our distracted driving homepage.