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Hitting the road for the holidays? How to behave — and stay sane — in the car

Eastbound traffic lanes, right, on Interstate 90 are dampened by wind-driven waves from the south as the floating bridge calms Lake Washington to the north, left, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Seattle.
Eastbound traffic lanes, right, on Interstate 90 are dampened by wind-driven waves from the south as the floating bridge calms Lake Washington to the north, left, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Seattle. AP

The winter holidays are just around the corner, a joyful season of hearth and home — the most wonderful time of the year! Unless “hearth and home” requires a road trip. And the trip involves miserable traffic, and the traffic is on one of those highways where the exits are inexplicably labeled “8,” “8A,” “8A(ii)(d),” obliterating even the faintest illusion of progress, and suddenly everyone in the car is identifying strongly with the Grinch.

The stress of holiday travel can make even the most courteous, zenlike, yoga-practicing driver come slightly unhinged. This was already true in 1949, when cultural etiquette doyenne Emily Post first penned Motor Manners, a charmingly no-nonsense guide to proper behavior for the “ladies and gentlemen of the highway.” Back then, there were about 40 million cars on the nation’s roads.

Now there are 240 million, so a refresher to Emily’s guidelines seemed like a good idea. Her great-great-grandson, Daniel Post Senning, author and spokesman at the Emily Post Institute, worked with the Ford Motor Co. to release some modern holiday-driving etiquette tips for the roughly 91 million people that AAA estimates will hit the road this month.

▪ Don’t be a tech boor

Despite the vast array of sophisticated technology available to drivers and passengers — the voice-controlled phones, the endless selection of satellite stations, the built-in DVD players — Senning channels his great-great-grandmother and encourages people to, you know, actually talk to each other.

“Some of the rudest behavior you encounter in the car is someone who gets into the car, then disappears into their cellphone — the passenger who isn’t really present with you,” he says. (On the flip side, we’ve all been on those road trips with the talkative weirdos you wish would disappear into their phones.)

▪  Be a good host or guest

As Post put it: “Well-bred people, whether drivers or passengers, are just as considerate of each other as are hosts and guests in a drawing room.”

OK, nobody calls it a “drawing room” anymore. But you and your passengers should still consider the car an extension of your home, Senning says.

If you’re a driver, “take your passengers on a little tour of your car, especially the technology,” he says. “If there’s a port where they can charge their phones, let them know.”

If you’re a passenger, “offer to help before you’re asked — to fill a gas tank, manage a navigation system, bring snacks.”

▪ Don’t wing it — be road-ready

Nowadays, we’re spoiled by a multitude of navigation tools — Google Maps and Waze, to name a few — and they’re wonderful. But not infallible.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is depending on those systems, and when they fail, you’re suddenly in deep trouble,” Senning says. This “can prompt rude behavior.” (Yelling, cursing, compulsive stress-snacking, the usual.)

Keep it old-school: Bring an actual map — you know, the unwieldy paper kind that refuses to fold back into its original shape. Or at least check one out in advance.

Senning is sure that his great-great-grandmother would approve of the new list. “There’s so much that’s stayed the same in terms of common sense, safety and courtesy,” he says. Not to mention human nature.

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