DEAR MISS MANNERS: Regarding etiquette in a car, what are the extent and limits of the driver's authority?
Does the driver decide where to go, as well as how to get there? Should he or she discuss each likely stop or detour? Should he or she yield to the passenger's wishes regarding stops or detours?
The attitude of the driver to the passenger seems to be like a bride's toward her attendants, though milder and potentially more consequential.
I've been on both sides of the console and have been shocked by my own unwillingness to consult the passenger about details of the trip that would certainly be discussed if we were on the train. There seems to be something special that arises when someone is "in the driver's seat" -- exacerbated, possibly, by the prevalence of solo commuters, whose car is their domain.
GENTLE READER: The phrase "in the driver's seat" is not commonly understood to mandate consultation -- or even basic compassion. This is unfortunate.
That the driver has the power, either figuratively or literally, to swerve into oncoming traffic does not, to Miss Manners' thinking, make doing so a good idea. The polite driver consults his guest's reasonable comfort, whether that means clearing errands that will lengthen the trip or submitting to bathroom stops without argument or comment.
This is true even if the driver is bestowing a favor. The rider may "only be along for the ride," but a driver's authority stops short of the point at which a ride home feels like a kidnapping.