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The unofficial rules of the road

Don't be that person everyone hates on a road trip.

Learning to drive means following the law, like using turn signals, for example. However, some of the most important road rules aren’t covered in driver’s ed.

1. Calling shotgun has responsibilities.

Great power comes with great responsibility. If you have the front seat, you need to set the air conditioning to the likes of the other passengers. You also need to take care of the driver, which includes passing them water, warning them of speed cameras and passing around any food. Finally, and most importantly, riding shotgun means you’re in charge of navigating.

2. Passengers should chip in for gas.

This mainly comes into play on road trips or longer drives, but it may also be an issue if the driver is the main source of transportation in your group of friends.

The main points to keep in mind are how long you’re traveling for, the costs tacked on by each passenger for other parts of the trip and whether the driving is being shared. Even leaving the AC on will use more gas, so do your part to help save on gas costs. If you’re not helping pay for gas, think about helping in other ways, like bringing snacks, taking turns driving.

3. The front seats are in charge of the tunes.

Who’s in charge of the music was a hotly debated issue among the team. If you’re the driver, you can pull the “my car, my rules” trump card and choose the music yourself, enlisting the help of your shotgun passenger to DJ.

However, the front seat passenger, as the DJ, also has a right to choose some of the music and becomes de facto in charge if the driver relinquishes their rights. Apart from complaining, if you’re in the back seat, there’s nothing you can do.

One idea to keep the peace if everyone has different tastes in music is to offer veto powers. Everyone gets to veto a certain number of songs they can’t stand, like that pop song the radio station’s already played six times in a row.

4. Warn other drivers of danger.

This is an unspoken classic. If there’s an accident, deer crossing or other danger on the road that other drivers on the road might want to avoid, you can flash your lights at oncoming cars to warn them.

Keep in mind that doing this to warn drivers of upcoming police is illegal in some states. But hey, helpful driving apps like Waze and Google Maps can help track speed traps now.

5. Do the courtesy wave.

If someone is nice enough to let you into their lane, you have to do that awkward little wave. It’s non-optional. If you wave like a normal person, you look weird. If you don’t wave at all, that’s just rude.

6. Decide on picking up hitchhikers as a group.

Hitchhiking is more common in other countries, especially in Europe, but you may come across some hitchhikers while driving in the US, especially in more rural areas. This is why it helps to have a steadfast rule about whether you’ll offer a ride.

Generally, it’s up to whoever owns the car, but a good driver will put it to a vote. Always remember to use a good sense of judgement, and don’t offer a ride to anyone who looks dangerous.

7. No slug backs means no slug backs.

Slug bug rules: if you see a VW Beetle, you yell out “slug bug, no slug backs” or “punch buggy no punch backs.” As long as you say “no slug backs,” they can’t punch you back. There’s isn’t any recourse for this. You just can’t do it. It’s un-American.

Just remember there’s an unspoken rule not to hit the driver.

Take advantage of this fun tradition while you can, considering Volkswagen’s announcement that the iconic “Bug” will no longer be in production in the next few years.

Punch buggy vs slug bug

The game where the first person to see a Volkswagen Beetle is always a hit on road trips. But what you call that game is highly regional. According to Google Trends data, most people from East Coast states call it punch buggy compared to Midwest residents calling it slug bug. At least you can always have fun arguing over what to call out when you do see a VW bug.

Map of what people call the punch buggy game by state

List of what people call the punch buggy game by state

AZSlug bug
CAPunch dub
COSlug bug
CTPunch buggy
DCPunch buggy
FLPunch buggy
GAPunch buggy
ILPunch buggy
INSlug bug
KSSlug bug
MDPunch buggy
MAPunch buggy
MIPunch buggy
MNSlug bug
MOSlug bug
NESlug bug
NVSlug bug
NJPunch buggy
NMSlug bug
NYPunch buggy
NCPunch buggy
OHPunch dub
OKSlug bug
ORSlug bug
PAPunch buggy
SCPunch buggy
TNPunch buggy
TXPunch buggy
UTSlug bug
VAPunch buggy
WASlug bug
WISlug bug

8. Always stop for McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is one of the fast food haunts many Americans will remember from family road trips. This makes it a nostalgic stop for long trips. Plus, the toilets are usually clean, as your grandma always used to point out. But whether you see Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr largely depends on where you’re driving, just like Starbucks vs Dunkin’ Donuts for your morning coffee run.

Even when you’re driving in the middle of nowhere, you’ll come across fast food sooner or later. Road rules demand that you should make a stop.

9. The navigator gets the phone charger.

This is one of the most complicated road rules, divvying up usage of the car charger requires a complicated algorithm. Variables include whose phone is playing music, who needs access to work emails, charging times of various phone models, current battery percentages and general ability to shout “But it’s my turn!”

Unless your phone is running the GPS. The navigator always wins. Guess you should’ve called shotgun.

10. Snack buying is a group activity.

This is generally split, or you take turns buying the snacks. If you want anything out of the ordinary that makes it more expensive (think opting out of a two-for-one deal because you want a different brand of chips), then you need to pay for your own chips.

Car hack tip: keep a tupperware container in your car to store trash from all those fast food and snack wrappers. Or do you want the car to smell like greasy fries the whole trip?

Bottom line

If you’re heading out on an epic road trip, then load up on snacks, bring plenty of drinks and make sure to obey the rules of the road — both clearly marked and unwritten. And consider getting a car insurance policy that offers roadside assistance in case you break down on the way.

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image: shutterstock

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