my carpool driver is often late and talks on his phone while driving

A reader writes:

I work for a large company with an office out in the suburbs, and I live in the city without a car. So most days I carpool with one of the project managers who lives near me. He’s a nice guy, generally a safe driver, etc., but there are two problems: he often picks me up late or forces me to wait around for him at the end of the day, and he uses his cell phone while driving.

He sets a time for us to meet and then shows up late — sometimes just a few minutes, but this morning I was at our meeting spot at 7:50, as planned, so he could be on time for his weekly managers meeting. And he showed up at 8:05. He didn’t apologize at all. And then, because we were running late, he called in to his meeting during the last few minutes of the drive.

The phone use is actually a bigger problem: a few years ago, a friend of mine came very close to dying and lost both her parents in a car accident on college graduation day, because a kid was driving and talking on his cell phone. She now tours the country telling her story and urging kids not to use their phones for calls (or texts, for crying out loud) while driving.

I’ve told this story to this coworker, but it makes no difference. His teenage daughter will call him just to ask what’s for dinner and when he’ll be home, and instead of waiting 5 minutes until he IS home, he picks up. He’ll read texts while on the highway. It’s incredibly unsafe and given that he knows my friend’s history, it feels like a slap in the face.

Overall, between not having control over when I come and go from work, and not having control over his cell phone use, I feel helpless. A, he’s a nice guy, B, he’s sometimes my project manager, C, he’s doing me a favor by giving me rides for free. But it makes me consider going back to the 1.5 hour public transit commute to avoid the downsides of my carpool buddy. How can I gracefully get him to change his behavior? I don’t want to be rude or cause awkwardness.

I don’t think you can, unfortunately. He’s doing you a favor, and the favor is all one-way; it’s not a shared carpool where you’re doing some of the driving sometimes too. So he retains the right to be a little late and to maintain whatever habits he likes to maintain. You retain the right to decide that it’s not working for you and to bow out of the arrangement, but ultimately his behavior is up to him.

In other words, you can’t really tell him, “I need you to be on time when you pick me up,” because when you’re accepting a favor, you can only really take what’s on offer — and in this case, what’s on offer is a ride with unreliable pick-up times.

The cell phone issue is a bit different, because it’s a safety issue … but you’ve already told your friend’s story to no avail, so I’m not especially hopeful that anything else appropriate for you to say will get through. That said, it’s reasonable to try once more, as long as you tread lightly in recognition of, again, the fact that this is a favor. For instance, you could say, “I know we think differently on this, but is there any way I can convince you not to use your phone while you’re driving? Not just with me, but always? The thought of what could happen worries me so much.”

But that’s about all you can try. It’s not your place to push beyond that; it’s really up to him from there.

Ultimately, you probably need to accept that this is the price of getting rides with him and decide whether it’s a price you want to pay or not.

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