How to Be a Kind Driver, and Drive More Kindness In Our World (And, Remember Your Driving Etiquette)

Be A Kinder Driver This Year

We need more of that, especially these days.

It’s been a tough few years. Separations, both physical and philosophical have made so many people feel emboldened to insult, judge and attack whomever and whenever they like. People feel misunderstood, unheard, judged. We see dishonesty, arrogance and fraud rewarded, even though we preach and teach honesty. Whatever happened to kindness? And, can we get it back, for ourselves and for others?

And why is it we’ll do and say things in traffic that we would never do in, say, the line at the grocery store?

My resolution for the new year is to be kinder, to pass it on and hopefully, to inspire others. One great (and visible) place to do that is on the road by being a kinder, more thoughtful driver.

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

Driving etiquette starts with the right attitude and posture behind the wheel. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Nothing Gets Your Heart Pumping Like a Rude Driver

All this struck me the other day when, trying to cross a four-way-stop, the driver to my left took his turn and gridlocked the intersection, blocking my car from crossing the intersection. 

Then, the driver behind him barged ahead, skipping the (legally mandated) rotation, and further blocked the road. It was such a rude move it elicited a rare angry scream from me. I’m sure the driver also saw an evil-eye stare from behind the windshield of my car. 

Related: What Not to Do When You Get an Out of State Traffic Ticket

And Then, Empathy Ensues — Hopefully

Then I felt bad because the other driver was a jerk, but he probably felt bad, too; it doesn’t feel good to be a jerk.

How can we act with empathy instead of anger? How can we invoke kinder, more thoughtful actions on the road? Our actions can inspire kindness in others, so even though we may not immediately see the benefit, we know it’s there. We asked our of community of drivers for their tips on being a kinder driver, and driving kindness in others. 

Stress Free Driving Tips

No need for stress behind the wheel! Photo: Martine Foreman

Tips for Being a Kinder Driver

I’ll go first: Take a breath. When that thing happens that inflames your emotions, head off the knee-jerk reaction with a deep breath. Then, gather your thoughts, think of the off-shoot of rash actions (accidents, unintended consequences) and those you love who your actions will protect. You’ll reduce your blood pressure and head off even more anger and frustration. 

Related: Stressed Out Behind the Wheel? These Tips For Stress Free Driving May Help

Patience Is Priceless:

My dad used to say, be patient. When you’re trying to make a tough turn or merge into traffic, your turn will come, but you may have to wait for it. He was right. 

Time is On Your Side:

Our editor Sara Lacey’s top advice is to “leave home early, plan your route and give yourself plenty of time. It will make you less stressed.” She also advises to “understand the zipper merge, it will make you less angry. And wave to other drivers; it breaks the isolation bubble we often operate in while driving.” I’m so glad she mentioned the zipper merge! 

Put Your Phone Away:

Car reviewer Chastity Velasquez implores people to “Get off your phone!” and she’s not a lone; many of our experts said that as well. 

Observe the Rules of the Road:

Chastity also reminds us to “use the left for passing and for faster drivers. If you’re in a turn lane, but need to go straight just turn and make a u-turn instead of holding up everyone else.” 

Help Other Drivers:

Kiera Reilly reminds us that kindness can prevent a tragic accident. “If you see someone without their lights on at night, flash your high beams to let them know. I’m not sure if people still know what that means, so it’s worth sharing,” she said. “I did this recently, and the other driver realized and turned on their lights.” 

Let Others Go First:

Kiera also reminds us that 4 way stops can be a guessing game. “Wave the other driver on if you arrive at the same time (and everyone is sitting there paralyzed). If you are waved on, be sure to reciprocate with a thank you wave.”

Driving is Not a Race:

Kerri Gristina reminds us “It’s not a race. Let people merge when entering the highway. Be kind and do things that help us all get to our destination.” 

Remember Your Etiquette:

Apparently, aggressive merge-blockers are a common frustration point; Valerie Gray mentioned this, too: “Let people merge.” She also mentioned another frustration: the use of etiquette when making a turn. “Use blinkers. Move over when turning. Wave thank you to other drivers who are kind to you.” Valerie also reminds us of her favorite: “Park in the middle of the space.” Sometimes that is easier said that done! 

Think of Those You Love:

If you can’t simply be kind because you want to, try a bit of inspiration, says Julie Stayton: “Pretend it’s your grandma or grandpa in front of you. It makes me watch out for them more…focusing on others and their driving is a key defensive technique. Oh…and put away your phone!” Sometimes I think we can’t hear that advice enough. 

Stay Focused:

Car reviewer Kim Croissant clearly finds wandering drivers to be a danger. “Stay in your lane,” she advises, and “don’t impede others changing lanes.” This is a big one and often, it’s the merge lane where road rage turns fatal. But you can diffuse this, Kim says. “Smile when you go by. And use your damn blinker.”

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

With my seat position set properly, I can see much more of the road. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Relate: 6 Driving Mistakes You’re Making — and 6 Minutes to Being a Better Driver

A Few More On-road Observations

  • Be Mindful, Especially in Large Vehicles: If you drive a large SUV or truck, look for cars, pedestrians and obstacles around you and give them all a little more space. Studies show that larger vehicles have more blind spots and less visibility; paired with typically large, powerful engines, they can be intimidating and potentially dangerous.
  • Be aware of all drivers and objects around you; opt for a 360 degree camera if you can, for low-speed driving. It’ll allow you to more clearly see pedestrians and approaching vehicles, as well as things like curbs, obstacles and other cars. 
  • Look pedestrians in the eye. Whether you’re waving them across an intersection or simply driving by, let them know you see them. 
  • Use all your technology: many drivers simply want to turn off the beeping, flashing, rumbling driver assist and safety system alerts. But these can actually allow you to relax a bit behind the wheel and alert you to road situations like slowing or merging traffic. Isn’t that nice?
  • Set your seat properly: you’ll be more comfortable and not physically stressed, you’ll have a better view of the road and more control of your car. 
  • And, take it easy. My brother Jim reminds me that we should regard every yellow light, especially flashing lights, as red; be prepared to stop, take a good look around, and proceed with caution when it’s safe.

Getting where you’re going safely and without stress and frustration, ready to go on to the next thing happily and safely is a win. And leaving other happy drivers in your wake? Even more of a win. We need more of that this year. 

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss