A lesson in motoring manners from Emily Post … and Ford

user-gravatar Headshot
Updated Nov 24, 2015

I read a lot of news articles from various sites everyday. It’s part of a methodical, ironclad regimen: the same sites at pretty much the same time everyday…almost militant in nature.

One of those sites is Yahoo! Autos. As I was doing my daily headline browsing, I was prompted, as Yahoo! so routinely does, to click on another article their related article selection genie had flagged as something I might be interested in: Dear Abby.

My first thought was, “They still do those?”

My next thought was, “People actually write a stranger and ask for advice?” Come on. Abby’s as much of an expert in giving life advice and pointers on manners as I am.

[ click to enlarge + ][ click to enlarge + ]Last Thanksgiving, AAA predicted 46.3 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles from home – the greatest distance in nearly a decade. You pack that many people filled to the brim with holiday stresses and giblet gravy on the road and they’re bound to get along as well as your Crazy Uncle Mike and Aunt Francine fighting over the last slice of pumpkin pie.

To help ease the stress of holiday travel, Ford Motor Company and The Emily Post Institute (that’s still a thing, too, apparently) offer some tips to make your onroad experience less of a nightmare. The tips will take some work on your part. The degree of difficulty depends on the wackiness of your relatives.

As far as improving your manners, Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of America’s foremost etiquette expert Emily Post, says drivers should think of their cars as an extention of their homes. You wouldn’t invite people over to your house without making proper arrangments for your guest to be comfortable and entertained.

Chivalry’s not dead. It just looks different nowadays. Holding the door for someone will never go out of style, but with automated keyless entry and remote start, modern protocol can prove puzzling. Today, driver chivalry means unlocking the door before Aunt Ethel even tries to open it, or getting the heat (and even the heated seats) going before Grandma buckles up for a chilly trip to Christmas dinner.

Let the grand tour begin. Your passengers may not be all that familiar with your ride. Put them at ease; give them a tour to help them feel more at home. Just like you would show a guest at your home where the restroom and kitchen are located, let passengers know about the controls they have for entertainment systems, seats and windows. Identify power sources for phones and electronics, like the smart-charging USB ports in the rear of the vehicle that provide easy access. Make sure all of your passengers have what they need before your trip begins.

Content beats boredom. When stuck in dreaded Thanksgiving traffic, a little preparation goes a long way toward preventing boredom. Before hopping behind the wheel, curate your upcoming road trip with podcasts, audiobooks, TED Talks – even online classes. Traveling with pals to your annual Friendsgiving gathering? Build a Spotify playlist from your senior year, suggest a series, or learn something about your destination together. With in-car entertainment and communication systems like Ford SYNC 3, it’s easier than ever to bring a world of content along for the ride.

If the driver is host, the passenger is honored guest. You wouldn’t show up to your Chanukah host’s home empty-handed, so don’t forget the same courtesy for your driver. To thank him or her for bearing the stress of high-pressure holiday driving, lighten the load by taking on some responsibilities of your own. Offer to help pay for gas, fetch snacks and drinks, and pack the car with suitcases and holiday gifts. Communication is key to keeping road rage at bay. Or at least holding it back in your vehicle.

To Grandmother’s house we go. Traveling with family? Avoid the stress of incessant “Are we there yet?” conversations by building an itinerary and communicating your plans. Talk about stops for food and restroom breaks so everyone knows what to expect. Kids can follow along, track progress, anticipate their favorite spots – even figure out arrival times on their own. With easy-to-use navigation, like Ford’s SYNC 3, you can determine the quickest route, locate family-friendly pit stops along the way, and plug in your itinerary in advance to keep the trip on track.

Don’t play the passive passenger. If you’re lucky enough to be sitting in the front passenger seat on a long journey, assist your driver through helpful communication. Be sure to stay alert and keep an eye out for road signs. (Do try to refrain from refreshing your Instagram feed every five seconds.) Above all, avoid all comments on how your chauffeur is driving – no one likes a back seat driver, especially when road conditions turn stressful.

Chat with Mimi more than Siri. Voice activation puts a whole world of information at your command from the driver’s seat, whether locating the next rest stop or calling Grandpa hands-free to let him know you’re just up the road. With today’s voice recognition clearer than ever, people aren’t just naming their cars – they’re talking to them! Just be sure you talk to your real passengers at least as much as you communicate with your car’s infotainment system.

Control distractions. Ford studies show Americans are conflicted on in-car entertainment, while three in five drivers think passengers should weigh in, just as many say the one behind the wheel should have the final say when it comes to entertainment. We all want to hear our favorite karaoke number on a long road trip, but a distracted driver is a safety hazard. As a polite passenger, defer to your chauffeur and offer to play DJ or navigate the control screen to make her job easier. If the kids in the back have their own entertainment setup, make sure they keep “Christmas Vacation” at a noise level that doesn’t surpass the cue to “Turn right in 300 feet.”

When Emily Post first wrote about automotive etiquette in 1949, the car itself was a technological innovation. Today, the most advanced technologies on the road are found inside the automobiles. In-car innovations should enhance, not hinder, enjoyment of holiday travel.

Connectivity caution. When traveling through remote areas on the way to your holiday celebration, you might – gasp – lose cell reception. Know your car’s navigation system capabilities, do a brief review of the major roads you’ll be traveling ahead of time, and keep actual maps in the car, ensuring you have a backup plan if connectivity goes out. Download a GB or two of your favorite music to help get through those pesky “no streaming available” zones, keeping passengers calm, cool and collected, no matter what the journey brings.

Diffuse tension in a tight space. We’re all familiar with the drama that can ensue when hitting the road for the holidays. From arguments over the middle seat to debates over the radio station, tight quarters can lead to curt conversation. To diffuse tension, call on in-car features to lighten the mood. From massaging seats, to a literal change of tune on the radio, your car’s systems can help ensure the continued comfort of your passenger-guests.

Support existing safety systems. Battling the tryptophan haze after a big Thanksgiving dinner? Remember, the temptation to fall asleep on the way home affects both driver and passenger. If you’ve been spared the role of designated driver this holiday season and are riding comfortably in the passenger seat, don’t begin to snooze as soon as the heated seats kick in – stay alert and talk with your driver. Smart driver-assist features like Ford’s lane-keeping aid are incredibly helpful tools, but extra eyes on the road never hurt.

Be kind, respect the lines. We all know not to fight over precious parking spaces, but it goes further than that. In a crowded parking lot on Christmas Eve, no one likes the Grinch who straddles two spots. Selfish behavior is never in style, but careless parking is especially frowned upon during the season of giving. Show respect to other drivers by staying between the lines – and if you’re not a master manipulator in reverse, no one has to know! Let advanced, semi-automated technologies like active park assist with perpendicular park and park-out assist help you squeeze in and out of that tight spot.