How should I cope when sharing a car with a dangerous driver?
September 5, 2013 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I've recently had occasion to take a multi-hour drive with someone who who very consistently drove in a matter that felt very dangerous to me. There was a lot of tailgating, sudden lane changing, and more than a few last-second turns. I sat quietly in the back seat.

This is not the first time I've shared a car with someone who I felt was driving dangerously. My usual policy in this situation is to point out, once, calmly, "Hey, you're following a little close." I know this is already a very contentious move—many people (for understandable reasons) cannot stand having their driving criticized. I know it's generally considered to be rude, so I try to avoid saying anything unless I feel like it would be genuinely irresponsible not to.

At the same time, I find it intolerable to be in a vehicle with someone who's putting my life and the lives of the people around them in danger. I often can't help sudden gasps when someone has to slam on the brakes or make a sudden turn—vocalizations which I can only assume are irritating for the driver to have to listen to.

I'm well aware that trying to change other people's driving is a sucker's game, and that raising a stink about it in the car is not going to make me any friends. So my question is this: How can I feel less threatened when I'm in a vehicle whose driver is driving in a way I perceive to be dangerous?
posted by Sokka shot first to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you feel unsafe when this person is driving, do not ride in the car when they are driving.
posted by JujuB at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2013 [19 favorites]

Best answer: If this is someone who's been driving for years without problems, I do my absolute best to just distract myself. Sure, they're driving in what _I_ would think is an unsafe way, but they're a grown-up who doesn't get in to accidents. So I talk with them or other people in the car. Or look at my phone. Or look out a side window instead of at the road ahead.

This tends to ease my anxiety, which is the main thing I figure I can control in that situation.
posted by ldthomps at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

You should cope by remembering that the person is doing you a favor and other drivers on the road will let the driver of your car know if they are really out of line. Then don't accept a ride with them again.
posted by vincele at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2013

Maybe a discussion that takes an "it's not you it's me" type of approach can be helpful as it may tend to sound less like criticism of their driving and more like them helping you feel comfortable.

I second this, and also add -- because to a large extent it's true -- that it's not you, Driver Friend, it's "them" -- the other less-than-perfect drivers out there who might slam on their brakes while your friend's tailgating, not check recent lane changes, pull out if front of you, etc. So your request is about your own feelings of nervousness -- knowing how other drivers are often negligent or inattentive or texting -- and you'd be more comfortable, please, if your friend could just slow down/back off/signal changes etc. given all those other bad drivers on the road. I don't think you have to be silent when you feel endangered, even if someone's doing you a favor.
posted by third rail at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It depends on who it is.

The other day I was in a taxi with a driver who, in response to some remark by a another passenger in the front seat, started fiddling with the glove box and swerving. I very sharply told him to keep his eyes on the road and told the passenger to stop distracting him. It worked; but that was a driver providing a paid service.

For other people, like in the "co-workers" category, I usually say something like "oh wow... I really don't want to puke in your car... I'm sorry I have such a bad stomach, can you slow down for me?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:52 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

"Hey, you're following a little close." I know this is already a very contentious move—many people (for understandable reasons) cannot stand having their driving criticized.

Indeed. Keep it about you instead.

"Hey, I'm kinda uncomfortable with the way you're driving. Could you ease off a bit?"
"We'll be fine."
"Yeah, but it's still freaking me out."

This keeps it on you. They're not a bad driver, you're a wimpy passenger.

If they really don't know how to ease off then skip driving with them in the future.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was once driving with a friend who was driving dangerously in winter conditions. Another person in the car told her she was driving too fast and her response was "I'm not even speeding" so we let it go. Then she rolled the car. I'm now much more likely something like "I'm uncomfortable with how fast we're going."
posted by carolr at 9:06 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Look, you can drive like this, but I'm going to flinch and gasp and grab for the door handle. I cannot help doing that. It is a reflex. I promise you, I will try not to do it, but you have so much more control over how fast you drive and how closely you follow and how quickly you change lanes. So, I'll do what I can, and maybe you can do what you can."
posted by Etrigan at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some people most frequently drive alone and tend to do what feels right and comfortable to them, whereas the comfort and pleasure of the passenger simply doesn't enter their minds. Also, gripping the wheel gives the body more stability, and sudden turns seem so much less sudden to them than to the passengers...
Your own comfort it your avenue of entry when discussing this issue, that is, if you want to discuss it at all. I would just try to stay away from this type of driver.
posted by Namlit at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2013

Best answer: I hitchhiked to work (we call it slugging here in VA) for about a year, which meant I was getting into strange cars twice a day. To the extent I could avoid getting into the car with a known scary drive I did so, ands there were several vehicles that I would simply not get into. However, the way you figure that out is to survive the ride once. The way to survive the ride is to remind yourself that no matter how crazy the driving seems to you, the driver presumably drives this way all the time and hasn't killed himself / herself yet, so odds are very good you will survive the trip.

Once, upon exiting a particularly harrowing drive at the Pentagon (90+ mph in a driving rain storm down I-95) the active duty Marine that had also been hitching commented that he had done several combat tours in Iraq and had never ben as scared as he was for that drive. I felt a lot better about my fear after that comment.
posted by COD at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]

Early in my driving career, someone told me I was tailgating, and they were doing me a favor. Now, being in a car with someone who's tailgating drives me nuts. I've been known to say something like, "That person (ahead of us) is driving kind of erratically/doesn't look like he knows where he's going, maybe we'd better pass him or back off/give him some room to do whatever he's going to do."
posted by BibiRose at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This used to be my brother. After one particularly hair-raising experience I had to tell him that my wife and I were not going to accept rides from him any more if he was going to drive like that. Fortunately, marriage and fatherhood took care of the problem.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:02 AM on September 5, 2013

My Dad's cousin just killed himself with unsafe, distracted driving. His wife and daughter flat-out refused to drive with him. Before his accident. (Plowing into the back of an ambulance.)

I'd ask politely for the server to ease up. If the driving is still bad, ask to be let out of the car.

I always drive myself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a friend like this who was a terrible driver and got into accidents(minor ones, but still accidents) that were her fault on a regular basis, and the one time I rode with her on the highway I was gripping the seat, praying to any and every possible god to make it to our destination alive, and I was completely silent and not responding to her attempts at conversation because she needed all of her concentration on the road.

It's not worth it dude, just because they haven't killed anyone yet doesn't mean they have less of a chance of doing so during any given car ride. Just don't ever ride with this person.
posted by fromageball at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't agree with the statements of "they haven't killed themselves yet, it's probably fine!". It's not fine. They've been lucky so far, the rules are all there so hopefully one person can make a mistake and it'll end up ok, but if your bad driver ends up on the road with a few other bad drivers they are probably going to take each other out.

I try to put the blame on me and not their driving ("Sorry, I'm feeling really nauseous all of a sudden, can you slow down before I vomit all over your nice leather interior?"), and then I never ride with them again.

I've also flat out told people I won't ride with them because their driving scares me, but I'm not known as a people-pleaser so your mileage may vary.
posted by Dynex at 10:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

You absolutely should tell the person that you don't feel safe the way they are driving and could they please slow down or otherwise you won't be able to stay in the vehicle. A driver should not insist on driving in a way that makes passengers feel unsafe. And that's especially true if there are objective factors that back up your take on the situation, for example the driver is exceeding the speed limit by a relevant margin. However, if the situation is that you are a terribly nervous passenger in general, then you probably shouldn't be a passenger in other peoples' vehicles because no matter how they drive, you will not feel relaxed and safe and they will not be able to ease your fears.
posted by Dansaman at 11:23 AM on September 5, 2013

In times where I have to ride with drivers like this, I try to sit in the back seat--it is generally safer in the back, and as a bonus, I am less able to see just how badly they are driving. It's easier to distract myself by looking out the side windows rather than viewing the whole trip through the windshield. Of course this won't really work if there are just the two of you (would make for an even more awkward social situation) but if it's a carpool I doubt you'll have to ask twice.
posted by Jemstar at 11:51 AM on September 5, 2013

Why would you get in the car with someone you think is an unsafe driver?

I'm not talking someone who drives in a way that makes you nauseous, or anxious, or brakes too hard. You said you think this person's driving is putting your life in danger.

It doesn't matter how relaxed you are if getting in the car with this person increases your chance of winding up dead. Don't drive with them.
posted by inertia at 1:44 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am an aggressive driver and one of my dear friends is easily scared by aggressive driving. The first time I drove her home, she very sweetly told me, "I don't do well when people go fast or zip around other cars." Everytime I make a conscious effort to drive more sedately when she's in the car with, to the point that a few weeks ago she mentioned that I was one of the "good drivers" in her book.

My mom on the other hand, does the gasping and stomping and hanging on for dear life every single time I make a turn. So I hit the curves faster, just to screw with her.

Ask nicely for them to drive more cautiously and try to keep the gasping to a minimum. If they don't, don't ride with them.
posted by teleri025 at 2:33 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

As my peer group ages some of them are becoming terrible drivers. I have two friends that I will not get in a car with if they are driving. I told them the truth: the way they drive scares me. I don't care that they have never been in an accident. I care about what is happening when I am in the car in the present moment. Tell them the truth, and if they blow you off, find another ride.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:54 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

After a particularly harrowing pillion ride on my motorcycle with a boyfriend as the rider, I decided on the following:

The passenger has the right to determine whether the driver is driving safely enough for the passengers' comfort. If the passenger does not feel safe, the driver needs to adapt their driving style.

My thinking behind this is that the passenger has no control over the actual vehicle and thus no control over their own safety. Therefore they need to be given a right of veto over actions by the driver that make them feel unsafe.

You could say something to them like "As the driver of the vehicle, you are responsible for my safety. I will let you know if I feel unsafe and I expect you to honour that and drive in such a way so I do feel safe."
posted by Kerasia at 5:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just to follow up on and reinforce Dynex's point: believing that the driver you're with, merely by the fact that they haven't crashed yet, is therefore safer than all of the equally dangerous drivers who've died due to their erratic behaviour is a form of survivorship bias. Read that introduction there and you might not feel quite as safe about getting in a car with a bad driver again.

In a nutshell, it's not the fact that they're a somehow-quite-competent dangerous driver that led to them being alive enough to offer you a ride: it might just be that all of the equally dangerous drivers are already dead. In that case, there is (logically) no one in that cohort left to offer you a ride except the dangerous drivers who haven't killed themselves... yet.
posted by matlock expressway at 8:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Hey, I'm gonna be That Guy. I am normally such a granny driver that, even though I can tell you are a good driver, I am genuinely really nervous since you do drive a lot faster than me. Would you mind making a granny driver feel better?"

Don't put up with unsafe driving. Encourage better driving.
posted by samthemander at 8:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older How do I find out if an audiobook has been...   |   How do I quit my job when I'm effectively... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.