Driving etiquette - our guide to staying safe

Driving etiquette - our guide to staying safe
When we talk about driving etiquette, we’re referring to a collection of unwritten road rules.

Usually not enforced by law, these behaviours often fall into that category of ‘grey area’ motoring topics. Essentially, it’s a question of manners.

So how good is your driving etiquette?

Letting in and out

The art of ‘letting someone in’ is an accepted two-way process – somebody (finally) decides they’re in good enough spirits to let you enter the flow of traffic, you then offer a friendly wave by way of return.

This is driving etiquette 101 stuff, but the reality is that neither part of the process is actually required by law and simply rely on good nature. As a rule of thumb it’s often said that if everyone lets in one car at junctions and exits where possible, we’ll all get along just fine.

Pulling in behind parked cars

We all (should) know that when driving on a road with parked cars, the right of way lies with the driver whose side of the road is clear. With parked cars in front of you, it’s on you to pull out into the centre of the road, so you should be pulling in behind them first.

Does this always happen? In a word, no. Many drivers believe that putting their foot down and getting to the ‘problem area’ first automatically gives them the right of way, leaving you doing the sensible thing and come to a halt. Similarly, on hills, the vehicle heading uphill has priority in a world of flawless etiquette, although sadly you can’t rely on everyone having perfect manners.

READ MORE: 11 of the most annoying driver habits

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Queue-jumping lane mergers

There’s nothing more frustrating. You do the ‘right thing’ – quickly filing into the left lane queue for turning, only to see others creeping past you on the right, hoping to merge at the last minute.

Here’s the thing though – there’s actually more to so-called ‘zip merging’ than you might think, with some schools of thought convinced the practice is actually a congestion-easing masterstroke.

So where do you stand? Find out more about why drivers who merge at the last minute might be right.

Slowing down to ‘rubberneck’

This one’s barely an etiquette issue, more just one of human decency – but still we’ve all sat in a jam only to start moving again, realising the only thing causing the problem was drivers slowing down to gawp at accident scenes on the other side of the road.

It’s barely excusable and, aside from being insensitive to those involved in the incident, is also a kick in the teeth to the growing queue of motorists behind you. If you’re spotted going so far as to take a picture or video of the scene, you can be rightly prosecuted.

Flashing your lights

While the official Highway Code stance on light flashing says it should only be done to let other road users know we’re there – the unspoken laws of etiquette see us use them otherwise. Maybe we’re saying “thank you”, “you’re welcome” or more problematically “go ahead”.

It’s seen as well-mannered to make such acknowledgement, but it’s increasingly important not to make assumptions about what the other driver is trying to convey. Unfortunately, scams like ‘flash for cash’ threaten to make what is a harmless example of good etiquette into something more sinister.

Over-zealous horn honking

In most parts of the UK we’re actually a comparatively reserved bunch when it comes to horn honking (ever been to New York?). But even we fall well short of what is perceived to be good etiquette.

Horns should only be used when someone’s driving behaviour verges on really dangerous, and should only then be a quick toot. Sustained honking is considered extremely hostile, while the Highway Code dictates that any horn use in built-up areas is not permitted between 11:30pm and 7am. Honk-happy drivers who aren’t reacting to dangerous situations are, as we know, officially bad-mannered.

MORE ADVICE: 13 driving myths uncovered

Using hazards as indicators

A rarer habit, but still something drivers have been known to do. Maybe your indicators aren’t working but your hazards are (contrary to popular belief they have separate flasher units) – but even so, this isn’t the way to go.

Using your hazards before a turn is extremely misleading, and the confusion it can cause is dangerous. If your indicators are out, it’s best practice to go old school and use a hand out of the window (where possible). And get those lights replaced.

Patience at traffic lights

Let’s be honest. The person in front of you who hasn’t yet noticed the traffic lights have turned green is hardly doing it intentionally. Yes it’s frustrating – especially so if they’re looking at their phone (illegally), or turning round to shout at their kids in the back – and it’s a classic example of bad etiquette.

But equally so, incessant honking, shouting, even in some cases getting out of your car to gesticulate is not the correct response. Keep things in perspective. The delay is unlikely to affect your day too heavily, it’s time to take the upper hand and show understanding.

MORE ADVICE: 10 driving offences you didn’t know were illegal

Blaring music

We’ve all laughed at the driver crawling down the village high street with their windows down, blaring out hip-hop music at an uncharitable volume. Bad etiquette, sure, but also potentially dangerous – say for example if it prevents a crossing schoolchild hearing another approaching vehicle.

The standard punishment for playing aggressively loud music is a verbal warning, so again this one should really be dealt with in the etiquette court. Pick your area, and maybe wind those windows up.

READ NEXT: 16 Highway Code rules most people ignore

Roaring engines

For some drivers hearing their engine’s ‘true sound’ is more important than respecting the peace of other road users (or indeed home dwellers). It’s possible to remove the silencer from an exhaust causing a louder sound, a practice undertaken by a small section of the UK’s showier drivers.

Again, this one has the capacity to escalate from a mere etiquette violation – with police able to pull over and investigate any vehicle they suspect may have had its exhaust illegally modified to make it noisier. Ultimately though, common courtesy dictates it shouldn’t have to get to that stage.

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