In January I wrote about how to keep your car tuned up and looking good as part of your New Year’s Resolution.

This month, since February puts a lot of attention on those we love, I’m taking some liberty to use that as a platform for sharing tips about being a more purposeful passenger, especially for those who like to “ride shotgun.”

The origin of the term “riding shotgun” is in the American West, during the 1800s. The person “riding shotgun” was on duty sitting next to the driver of a wagon with a shotgun, watching for trouble.

Today, the person “riding shotgun” in the front passenger seat of a car is often the driver’s spouse or sweetheart. In lots of families with multiple children, the kids will compete for the privilege of “riding shotgun.” They may flip a coin or play rock/paper/scissors, or they may set a rule that the first person to “call shotgun” (shout out the word when the driver takes their keys out of their pocket) gets that position in the car.

DriveSafeRideSafe wants every person “riding shotgun” in the front seat to not just call it, but earn it.

Passengers have a lot of power. (Have you noticed the name of our organization? It includes the word RIDE as well as the word DRIVE!) Any time there’s more than 1 person in a vehicle, safety becomes a collaboration between all of them.

In many ways, your behavior as a passenger is just as important as the driver’s behavior behind the wheel.


Lots of research has proven for teenagers, “safe riding” is especially important. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report in May 2012 that showed the risk of 16 or 17 year old drivers being killed in a crash increases with each additional teenage passenger in the vehicle. The risk increases 44 percent with one passenger; it doubles with two passengers, and quadruples with three or more passengers.

Statistically, more teen riders are killed in car crashes than drivers – so every teenage passenger, especially the one “riding shotgun,” should know how to be a good co-pilot.

Some tips for passengers, whether they’re teens, adults or even younger kids:


Never make the driver ask you to wear your seat belt; buckling up should be a habit.

Did you know … that if a driver crashes and a passenger without a seatbelt is injured, the driver is liable? If you choose to ride without buckling up, you can not only get hurt terribly, you can also hurt others terribly, both in physical terms and economic. (Mike Pehl talks about the catastrophic financial possibilities in our “Roadworthy” DVD and in our free report “3 Costly Mistakes Teen Drivers Make – that parents can prevent!”


You don’t need a rifle or a shotgun for this; you just need to help the driver keep his or her focus on the road by keeping the atmosphere in the car calm, quiet and argument-free.


Make sure the driver turns off their phone, or offer to hold it for them while they drive. The best option is to have all phones off, and everyone watching the road together. The next-best option is for the person “riding shotgun” to hold the driver’s phone. In that case, limit the activity as much as possible. Any texting or phone conversations in the car are still a distraction to the driver, and they prevent you from being a true co-pilot. Don’t videotape or use your camera in the car for “fun.”


Don’t turn the interior car lights on while the car is moving; they are distracting and affect a driver’s vision at night.


If you’re riding shotgun, you should be in charge of controlling the car temperature, changing radio stations, or GPS navigation displays. The driver can tell you what to do, but their hands should stay on the steering wheel.


Planes have crashed when a co-pilot didn’t do their job properly. When you’re “riding shotgun” in the car, your job is to stay alert and be the second pair of eyes for the driver. That doesn’t mean being obnoxious as a classic “back-seat driver” who’s excessively paranoid or critical. It DOES mean that if you see an emerging danger that the driver has NOT noticed yet, you should absolutely speak up! Mike has investigated lots of crashes where a tragedy could have been prevented, if one of the passengers in the car had realized they had the power to pay attention and warn the driver before it was too late.

So, take our DriveSafeRideSafe Valentine Vow and plan to be a purposeful passenger in February and every time you’re in the passenger seat, especially when you’re “riding shotgun.”

For this month, we’ll rephrase our slogan a little bit, by saying:

Smarter RIDERS, Safer Roads. That’s our goal!



5 Surefire Ways To Prevent Your Teen From Crashing

Driving Expert Mike Pehl Reveals His Proven Safety Techniques

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