As I buckled into the driver’s seat of my father’s Jeep for my first driving lesson, I assumed the instruction he would offer at the outset would be about safety or correctly shifting gears so as not to burn out the transmission. Instead, I spent the first 15 minutes learning about the history and culture of Jeeps – and the famous Jeep Wave. The Jeep Wave is an unwritten rule that when two Jeeps drive past one another, each driver must acknowledge the other with a hand gesture. The wave itself can vary significantly: from the single finger raised from the top of the steering wheel (a simple, subtle salute) to a full hand waive out the window (the most enthusiastic signal). There is also a hierarchy among Jeep owners that dictates which driver should initiate the Wave. Traditionally, the driver of the newer model Jeep renders the first salute which is then reciprocated by the driver of the more senior vehicle. Additionally, modified Jeeps – with lifts, Halo LED headlights, or custom bumpers, for example – are considered more significant in the Jeep pecking order than the stock models and are the recipients of the initial wave.
While the origins of the Wave remain in dispute, there are three commonly accepted theories for this custom. The first notion is that the Jeep Wave started during World War II as away for American soldiers who drove the U.S. Army ¼–ton Willys MB (the predecessor of the Jeep Wrangler) to acknowledge each other while on patrol. The second theory holds that after World War II, many veterans purchased surplus Jeeps from the government, and the wave was a way of recognizing each other’s military service. The third theory is that during the increased passion for off-road driving in the 1970’s, the wave served as a salute to the adventurous and curious.
When or why the Jeep Wave began is less important than its impact today. Regardless of a driver’s background, identity, or status, the Wave connects Jeep owners with a simple hand gesture and establishes a sense of community that does not exist for any other vehicle on the road today. The Jeep Wave has become an enjoyable part of my driving life and I aspire to own my own Jeep so I can continue this great tradition.