I am often the driver for friends and family whenever we travel, whether short or long distances. This is mostly due to the fact that I have the best track record, reflexes, judgement, etc. on the road and am generally happy to do it. I am not against passengers making/answering phone calls while I am driving, but I do not like it when they have extended conversations while I am driving. It is annoying to me because I have to turn off the radio, halt my conversations with other passengers, and listen to one side of a conversation, which is frustratingly boring - especially if it goes on for more than 30 minutes.

In the US at least, the etiquette for behavior when other people are on the phone nearby is to be quiet and let them converse without interruption. It's also common etiquette to step out of a room if you have to talk on the phone, but that is not possible in the car for obvious reasons. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe there is any kind of well known rule for taking phone calls in the car.

Whenever I am in a situation like this, I feel stuck. I have tried asking them to please wrap up the conversation, but I feel petty for doing so and am usually met with a confused look. I've also tried asking them to keep it short before the answer the phone, but either they get wrapped up in their conversation and ignore me, or they act like I'm kind of unreasonable tyrant and say on the phone, "Sorry, BlackThorn doesn't want me to talk on the phone, so he is making me keep this short."

As the driver, I have nothing else to do in these situations, so I feel like it is reasonable to expect that phone conversations are kept short. Other passengers have the option of playing on their phones, reading a book, looking out the window (at the sights, not the road), but I am held hostage to half of the conversation whenever someone is on the phone. How can I get my passengers to see things my way, and keep their phone calls short?

To clarify, this behavior is both rude and distracting. Listening to half a conversation, as @DaveG pointed out, is distracting because your brain tries to fill in the other half of the conversation. It is also annoying, which leads to more distracted driving as I start to focus on how much I wish the passenger would hang up the phone. I'm happy to converse with them to pass the time, listen to them converse with each other, listen to the radio, or drive in silence.

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    I'm confused by "hostage to half of the conversation". What would you prefer the passenger do instead of talking on the phone? If you would prefer they remain totally silent, then why agree to drive them in the first place?
    – Carcosa
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:05
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    @Carcosa The problem is that when you hear only half of a conversation, your brain is very actively trying to fill in the other half, which distracts you. This article has more details: smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/…
    – DaveG
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:08
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    Is it not an option to keep the radio on while they make the call?
    – Em C
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:10
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    @DaveG That is sensible. The way the question is framed, I read it as a complaint about passengers being rude by conversing on the phone rather than to the driver (which I would recommend focusing on the road and ignoring them!). If it's a distraction then that's a different story.
    – Carcosa
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:13
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    This sounds like this may be a "how can I convince" question. You may want to edit to focus the question more on how you can have the conversation and how to make your side of the argument clear.
    – scohe001
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 20:46

4 Answers 4


What's rude is subjective, so focus on the fact that it is a distraction to you. Everyone can agree that it's very important that the driver focuses on driving! (whereas many people become upset when you accuse them of being rude - as you have already experienced to some degree.)

So frame your request as a safety issue, and bring it up as soon as it is relevant - when the phone rings. Don't turn down the radio for them until they ask, or at least until they agree to keep it quick. That's because it's a move to accommodate their phone call, which signals approval.

If the call goes on too long, remind them and say that the conversation is making it difficult for you to drive. You don't need to explain beyond that - again, it should be self-evident that the driver being able to drive is highest priority. However, simply saying "Please keep it short" doesn't give them a reason why, which is why some might think you're being unreasonable. (They may have no problem driving people who are chatting on the phone, or simply not be thinking of it from your point of view at all.) You don't include examples, but if you think the phrasing may be an issue, try softening it with a "sorry, but can you.." or "would you mind.." so it sounds less like an order.

As far as personal experience, I went on a number of road trips as a kid and my dad would use a variation on this (e.g. "Kids, time to be quiet, Dad really needs to concentrate right now"). No further justification needed - nobody could argue that he wasn't distracted, and even as children we understood that safe driving took precedence over everything else.

Now as a driver myself, I find anything other than a one-to-one conversation with a passenger or music incredibly distracting. I haven't had the same issue with phone calls, but I have had issues with the radio. On occasion I've had to use my position in the driver's seat to switch it off, and just apologized after with a short "Sorry, too distracting". So far everyone has been understanding, but for a repeat offender I would politely refuse to be their driver in the future.


You are in control in this situation. You're doing them a favor by driving, so you have some say in what happens in the car. As such, set the ground rules before they have a chance to pickup the phone.

If this issue is serious enough that you're bringing it to IPS, I'm going to assume this happens fairly often and you have some regular suspects. When you're discussing going somewhere and choosing who will drive, when they inevitably choose you, warn them that you have a phone rule in the car.

I'd be happy to drive you, but I have a recent new phone rule in my car. I'm fine with you making short calls, but I find that anything longer than a few minutes starts to distract me when I'm driving.

And if they start to protest, then simply don't drive! You're holding all the chips here. Make sure the only way they're getting in your car is if they've agreed to your rules.


"How can I get my passengers to see things my way, and keep their phone calls short?"

Since you've already asked them to keep it short, after the call goes on for five minutes, carefully exit the highway and pull over the car. Then just wait quietly for them to finish, maybe even get out and talk a short walk. This action reminds them that they ARE indeed beholden to your rules, at least while you are giving them a ride in your car. Be prepared to offer an explanation e.g. "I pulled over so you could continue your phone call."

Its kind to help your friends out with rides, but you are perfectly justified in drawing the line at NOT being a taxi driver.


I worked once in a small room with a bunch of other people. Needless to say, phone calls were a huge distraction to the others in the room.

I decided that I wouldn't say anything about it. However, I would (unless it was their boss), make it hard for them to continue with a personal call in such a small space.

Without being a huge jerk, I had fun with the calls. I'd respond to their conversations. If it was a significant other, I'd do the "love you.. Love you lots.... love you more... no, love YOU more... Hang up.... no, you hang up..." Once I knew it wasn't their boss, I'd do "Hi... hello.... hi... hello..." or "What are you wearing?" or something else obnoxious. That sent the message that there were more of us in the room and that personal calls should be taken outside the room.

And if someone would hit me with, "Do you mind?" I'd respond with, "Not at all; this is kind of fun for me!"

It usually took a call or two, but after that people either left the room or kept their calls short. Now, in the car, they don't have the option to leave at 60 mph, so this needs to be tempered somewhat.

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