6 tips for route instructions between navigator and driver in long distance driving

How effective is your communication between driver and passenger? When giving route instructions is the message clear and understood? Or is there misunderstanding with a sudden increase of stress in the car cabin? Do you let each other know that you have listened?

When talking face- to- face such as at home, in the street, in a shop, at a party or at a meeting and even when disagreeing, we also use non -verbal cues such as facial expression, eye contact  gestures and touch for effective communication.


However inside a car, with both the navigator and driver looking ahead through the windscreen or maybe head down searching maps, reading route notes or fiddling with the sat-nav, the non-verbal cues are missing. Only the spoken word is used which needs to be loud and clear enough to be heard over any traffic or engine noise.

It is important for the driver to indicate he/she has heard and understood the instruction.How many words do you know to indicate agreement?smilie-678967_1280

There’s  OK! Right! Understood!  Correct! Righto! Uh-huh! Mmm! and many more.

Sometimes there may just be a grunt and in the worst scenario, silence.


1.Only use key words in a route instruction  

Anybody new to navigating or driving within a new team, may find it strange to use only the key words in driving instructions. It may sound abrupt or rude. It is not ‘back seat driving’ with  its negative connotations but rather a technique for effective communication between driver and navigator. The aim is to be both safe on the road and  to keep stress down so that you enjoy the holiday experience and work together as a harmonious team.

2. Instructions need to be short and concise.  

Give only one at a time. Do take into account the memory span of the driver. It is difficult to recall, ‘Turn left at next traffic lights, then take the third exit at following roundabout before going straight ahead for twenty kilometres.”

3. Driver repeats the instruction.

When the navigator issues a road instruction, the driver need to repeat it to indicate understanding. It’s like verbal ping pong.


Here’s an example:

First instruction

Navigator: ‘Turn left at the next traffic lights.’

Driver: ‘Left at  traffic lights.’

Second instruction

Navigator;  ‘At next roundabout, take the third exit.’

Driver; ‘ Third exit. OK.’

Approaching roundabout

Navigator: ‘Car coming/Stop/Proceed.’ ( say whatever is appropriate)

In the roundabout

Navigator:   ‘One…two…three and out.’

Driver in unison:  ‘One, two, three Out.’

Navigator: ‘Now  straight ahead for 20 kilometres’.

Driver:  ‘Ahead for twenty.’

4. It is verbal teamwork.                                                                                                                  

It  takes full concentration.  One can immediately realize a huge problem if the driver remains silent and the navigator does not receive any feedback regarding the hearing or understanding by the driver. This really becomes difficult if the driver is deaf, in a dreamworld or plain angry. On the other hand, if the navigator gives no instruction, the driver does not know which lane to use nor can prepare for future changes in direction. The idea is to be safe on the road with no sudden swerving in front of traffic or suddenly slowing for an exit. It’s about being as prepared as possible.


5. What does  ‘Right!’ mean?

If the driver replies,’Right!’, the navigator is not sure about correct understanding. Is the driver indicating agreement or a spatial direction? This is pertinent in my case where my husband has a right/left confusion in daily life, let alone when driving. Often I have to correct him at the last minute, when he turns the steering wheel. I say ‘turn left’ and he happily starts to turn right. Therefore to prevent confusion and ambiguity, it is best to only use ‘Right’ for spatial directions, never for agreement.

right left

6. Talk, don’t point.

This brings me to the irrelevant action of the navigator vainly pointing hand or finger to the correct direction of turning and saying, “Left! Left! I said LEFT.” The driver cannot see where the finger is pointing. Human beings naturally use hand gestures to assist communication. But gestures are useless in the car cabin between navigator and driver. How you use gestures elsewhere is up to you.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, sat-navs do make mistakes. So practice navigator-driver instructions and using maps and route instructions and be aware of every word you use. The above example is to give you the general idea, for you will choose your own vocabulary.

Until next month, enjoy  long distance driving.


About Jeanne Eve

Jeanne Eve lives in Australia and enjoys long distance driving to new places combined with her love of travel, writing, eating and fun company. In former times, she was a speech pathologist so appreciates the desire for good health and effective communication. She is married and has two daughters and two step-sons.

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