The Etiquette of Drivetalk


If you’re a single-person commuter like me, one of the first things you think of when you get behind the wheel of your car is “Who could I call right now?”. It’s not that I don’t like listening to the radio, or that I don’t have any music to listen to (I have more than 5,500 songs on my iPhone), it’s just that it’s more fun and productive to actually talk to another person.

Miles and miles of tedious highways fly by quickly when you’re enjoying a good conversation with a friend, but there’s a very real downside that emerges when you finally arrive at your destination because that’s when the reality of your relationship is laid bare to everyone involved: you were only using that other person to entertain you while you were en route to your next destination.

Before some of you begin speculating that we’ve started using other people to entertain us on the telephone in the same way that we use social media, I can assure you that I’ve been doing drivetalk far longer than Facebook has been around.

A few days ago 3 different people called me while I was in a meeting but I wasn’t able to return their calls until several hours later. The first friend replied that he’d called me while he was on his way to scout a location, and that he didn’t really have anything to talk about now (since he was no longer in his car). The second friend said that I’d awakened him from a nap and that his earlier call to me had just been “for drive talk”.

Finally! Somebody put a word to this act.

“Drivetalk” – all one word. Go ahead and tell your computer to learn that spelling.

One of my longtime friends is on disability and is frequently at home so I try not to abuse his good will with daily drivetime calls and I’m careful to be sure that I have topics to discuss when I call, because the last thing you want to do with drivetalk is to run out of topics.

Drivetalk is already enough of an imposition on your friends as it is.

Another friend who only began learning to drive in her late 40s has recently begun experimenting with drivetalk, and so far she’s not very good at it because it invariably devolves into a turn-by-turn account of her movements through parking lots. However I’m going to happily take her drivetalk calls because she has been charitable with my drivetalk calls through the years – even when I curse at other drivers!

The friend with the disability says that the profanity which erupts from my lips during drivetalk is entirely unlike me and after a bit of discussion we agreed that my ability to curse loudly at other drivers may in fact be my own self-therapy. I think he’s right, since I’ve long found driving to be my best meditation.

After thinking about this out loud for the last few days I’ve started forming some rough rules of behavior for drivetalk – a guide to “Drivetalk Etiquette”, if you will.

HOW TO HANG UP: I’m told that a lot of people announce “Well, I’m home!” as a signal that they’re done talking, but I think that there should be a more polite way of letting the other person know that you’ve reached your destination and that you’re ready to cast them aside like a cheap hooker. I’m not sure what this phrase is, but it should be probably sound French or possibly Hawaiian.

DON’T TALK ABOUT TRAFFIC: Talking about traffic while you’re drivetalking is the equivalent of discussing the weather in any other conversation: it indicates that you have nothing else to discuss. So, resist the urge to discuss traffic unless a tractor trailer is tumbling down the road toward you. The person on the other end of the phone CANNOT see what’s happening outside the window – they only hear a mixture of grunts and curses and confusing attempts to explain the Very Dumb Maneuvers they just witnessed.

DON’T DISCUSS IMPORTANT THINGS: Drivetalking conversation are super-easy to forget because they only happen in a part of the brain we reserve for remembering to take our to-go box home with us after a big meal. So if you decide to have a conversation with someone about something important you should realize that you’re unlikely to remember the details for more than 12 seconds at best. Ask the other person to email you a transcript of your conversation for you to review when you land at your destination.

That’s all I can think of right now, but you get the picture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *