Preventing Distracted Driving
Driving with Passengers Can Be Distracting

Driving With Passengers: Dealing With Passenger Distractions

Updated Dec. 16, 2020

As a driver, your responsibility is to keep your passengers safe, not to keep them entertained. Any passenger you transport must respect your need to pay attention to the road and must not distract you from the driving task. Remember: your car, your rules.

Passengers can be a great asset if you need help operating the stereo or navigating to your destination. Unfortunately, they can also be an enormous distraction if they become too chatty, too rowdy or behave in an otherwise risk-enhancing manner. Passengers rarely realize the danger they put themselves in by distracting the driver. It is your responsibility to dedicate your mental and physical attention exclusively to controlling your vehicle and monitoring the road while you’re driving. If a passenger’s behavior makes this impossible, do not drive and do not take them with you in the future.

The risks of carrying passengers

Passengers can distract drivers in a number of ways, many of which are completely innocent and unintentional. Always consider the risk to your safety and the safety of your passenger before agreeing to give anybody a ride. They do not have to be overly distracting (for instance, by shouting or behaving irresponsibly) to put everybody in the vehicle in danger. A passenger may distract you by:

  1. 1

    Shouting, talking loudly or turning the music on the stereo up.
    This may startle you and will make it difficult to hear important sounds on the roadway around you, such as the sound of other car engines or the whistle of an approaching train.

  2. 2

    Directing your attention to objects or events by the roadside.
    Passengers often forget that you must focus on the road while they are free to look around.

  3. 3

    Offering driving advice or criticizing your decisions.
    These passengers generally mean well but can considerably increase risk, by presenting a mental distraction while encouraging you to doubt your driving behavior. Of course, if they are advising you not to do something dangerous – you should listen!

  4. 4

    Arguing with you or talking to you about subjects that will leave you upset, angry or frustrated.

  5. 5

    Consuming food next to you while you’re driving.
    If you’re hungry, this can be extremely distracting! Plus, they may offer you a bite of what they’re eating, which could mean taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel.

Teenage drivers and passengers

It is a widely accepted fact that carrying passengers increases the risk of an accident or collision occurring for teenage drivers, more so than for any other age-group. Teen passengers are more likely to behave in a distracting or irresponsible way, perhaps by talking loudly, singing along with the stereo, playing loud music or shouting out of the window. Furthermore, age and inexperience make teen drivers more susceptible to the effects of distraction than older drivers, and therefore substantially more likely to have an accident.

As teen drivers transporting teen passengers is such a risk, many states have introduced primary and secondary laws dictating the age and number of passengers that a teen or novice driver may carry. For example, in Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Arkansas, intermediate drivers are not permitted to carry more than one passenger under 21 years old. Your state driver’s handbook should tell you what the passenger laws are in your area – make sure you know the rules!

When you do take friends for a ride in your car, do not permit them to behave in an unsafe way. And of course, never drive anywhere unless all passengers in the vehicle are wearing a seat belt.

How to deal with passenger distractions

Asking a passenger to stop distracting you can be awkward, especially if the person in question is your friend. Be prepared for this and know that you must ask them to stop, as the physical safety of everybody in the car depends on it. If you cannot get the situation under control, pull over and consider asking the passenger to get out. They will soon start to behave themselves if they think they may be left by the roadside!

If a passenger is distracting you because they are upset and they do not appear able to calm down, find the next safe spot to pull over and talk to them. Do not get back on the road until you are certain you can continue without driving distractions.

Driving with children

Restless or frustrated children can be particularly dangerous passengers, as they often do not understand the danger they create by distracting the driver. A child will easily become bored on long journeys and may begin to misbehave if they are tired or hungry. You must prepare for these issues whenever you plan to transport young passengers.

Resist the temptation to turn around to speak to a child in the back seat whilst you’re driving. If you must discipline them or distract them, find a safe place to pull over first. It is also a good idea to keep books, toys and other items that can keep kids entertained in the back seat of your car if you are going to transport children regularly.

Driving with pets

Ideally, any pets you transport should be appropriately restrained in a kennel, cage or similar restraint. It is not illegal to transport pets without a restraint, but it can be very dangerous. Animals are unpredictable and do not realize they are endangering themselves by distracting the driver. Even pets who are comfortable travelers may become startled by something outside the vehicle and bark, whine or otherwise draw your attention away from the road. If you must drive with a pet, take the proper precautions and ensure they are fully restrained for the entire journey. It can be useful to have a passenger ride alongside your pet, to help keep them calm.

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