Passengers can play their part in safe holiday driving

23 December 2019

Passengers can play their part in safe holiday driving

The AA has a road safety message for a different group this holiday season – passengers.

The AA Research Foundation recently commissioned a piece of work by Waikato University on whether there were ways that passengers could help drivers and it found that there were numerous things that were beneficial.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will be heading away on road trips as passengers in the Christmas break and they can actually help make sure everyone gets to their destination safely, and more enjoyably,” says AA spokesperson Simon Douglas.

“The AA’s message to passengers is don’t just leave everything up to the driver when you’re travelling. Think of yourself like a co-pilot and ask the driver what you can do to help them stay focussed, alert and not missing anything happening on the road.”

The research found that many drivers found certain behaviour from their passengers helpful or unhelpful.

Helpful passengers:
  • Point out potential hazards the driver may not have seen
  • Check on the state of the driver and that they are not too tired or impaired to drive
  • Help with non-driving tasks like music, air-conditioning, food and drinks or dealing with children
  • Give directions in good time
  • Chat, but not when the driver needs extra focus on the road or about topics that annoy the driver!
Unhelpful passengers:
  • Comment on the driver’s driving style, or another road user’s behaviour
  • Focus on things that the driver can’t change, like if they are running late
  • Give directions late, which can be stressful for drivers
  • Make unexpected loud sounds that surprise the driver

“Our road safety messages have traditionally all been focussed on drivers, about things like not speeding, not using drugs or alcohol before driving and keeping a good following distance,” says Simon.

“Drivers making safe choices behind the wheel is still just as important as ever but passengers can play an important role in reducing risks on the roads as well.”

“A standout finding from our research was that drivers universally don’t like comments on their driving style, and found comments on other road user’s behaviour more distracting than helpful. How passengers gave their advice did make a difference, with drivers preferring a suggesting tone rather than being told what to do, but most of us have experienced a back-seat driver and know it doesn’t tend to make things better.

“One of the best things that passengers and drivers can do is try to have a conversation before heading away about what the driver would find helpful.

“And when you’re a passenger, remember every driver is different, so you want to make sure that your help is wanted before jumping straight in with advice,” says Simon. “There are lots of positive things passengers can do, so try to put yourself in the driver’s seat and consider what you’d find helpful.”


For more information

Research report:


AA contact:

Simon Douglas
National Manager Policy & Research
New Zealand Automobile Association 
M. 021 607 647
E. [email protected]

University of Waikato Transport Research Group contact:

Professor Samuel Charlton
School of Psychology, Transport Research Group
University of Waikato
M. 021 040 5436
E. [email protected]


The New Zealand Automobile Association is an incorporated society with more than 1.7 million Members. It represents the interests of road users who collectively pay more than $2 billion in taxes each year through fuels excise, road user charges and GST.

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