If you prefer having some control over the car's radio, environmental controls and available legroom, then "calling shotgun" may be your most critical move of the day. Calling shotgun refers to an informal contest amongst passengers as to who will get to ride in the front passenger seat. By calling shotgun, the winner gets to enjoy all the benefits of sitting up front, while the rest are doomed to a backseat world of car sickness, limited views and hit-or-miss heating and cooling.
Calling shotgun is often a matter of reacting just a little faster than the rest of the passengers. Once the driver announces his or her intentions of taking a trip, it falls on everyone else to cry out "Shotgun!" or some other reasonable variant. When passengers start calling shotgun, it often falls on the driver to be the final judge on the matter. In many households, parents or other adults are usually allowed to ride up front, while children routinely ride in the back seat for safety. This practice does not necessarily render the practice of calling shotgun completely obsolete, however.
According to a number of sources, the idea of calling shotgun most likely arose from the days of stagecoaches. The driver of a stagecoach generally had to concentrate on controlling the horses and following the trail. Security was usually handled by a second man seated next to the driver, who often wielded a shotgun for protection. This shotgun position did offer a few privileges, so passengers on stagecoaches without a designated shotgun rider would often ask the driver for permission to ride in the "shotgun" seat.
The modern practice of calling shotgun has little to do with security, but everything to do with comfort. Calling shotgun successfully usually means having some influence over the audio system and climate control, although the driver may have the ultimate power of veto. The shotgun rider may also have to assume the role of navigator, as well as become a second pair of eyes when looking for landmarks or interstate exits. Calling shotgun is sometimes a permanent arrangement on shorter trips, but the shotgun crown may have to be relinquished several times during longer drives.