Where is the steering wheel anyway?
For centuries we’ve had vehicles that have had room for passengers to sit behind the driver. Horse-drawn carriages had a backseat or a wagon had a bed to sit in. When the automobile came onto the scene, it came with seats in the back so we can carry more passengers. But that’s the thing; they are passengers, not drivers in the backseat. Do you know a backseat driver? Or better yet, are you a backseat driver when someone else is driving?
The concentration that a driver needs when behind the wheel is bad enough without someone else telling them what to do. Sometimes the backseat driver is sitting in the front passenger seat. Regardless, they need to let the driver in the front make the choices. The driver’s job is to drive. The passenger’s job is to, well, enjoy the passage!
I’ve seen arguments materialize because the passenger didn’t like what the driver was doing. I can understand that if the driver was doing something dangerous, but arguments have happened because the driver was driving in a lane the passenger didn’t want to be in, or because they were holding the wheel differently, or because the route they were choosing to drive was different than that of the passenger. If the passenger wants to be that much in control, perhaps they should do the driving.
I remember when I first became a driving instructor with Young Drivers of Canada around 20 years ago. I was so pumped up about my new career that when my wife was driving, I started criticizing her ability. After plenty of unwanted advice, my wife pulled over to the curb, put the car into park and got out. She had enough of my backseat driving and decided to walk. I learned my lesson there. I haven’t done it since, unless I’m asked to of course. That usually means that I’m teaching my students of course! Unfortunately, many people haven’t learned their lessons. They continue to criticize the drivers actions, or lack of actions.
Some people have had a hard time releasing the task of driving to someone else; they feel they still have to make comments. Sorry; guess again. What makes someone feel they need to be a backseat driver? For me, it was because I was pumped up with becoming a licensed driving instructor. A licensed driving instructor remember! Most others are just drivers needing control. If the driver really needs your advice, perhaps they need to take a refresher course from a reputable driving school. You’re never too old to learn something new.
The other angle to look at this is perhaps the driver drives this poorly because either they’re used to the backseat driver telling them what to do all the time, or the passenger is a huge distraction to the driver. Let’s tackle the first part of this dilemma. The driver may rely on someone always looking out for them. Even as a driving instructor, I begin reducing my instructions early in the lessons so the driver learns to make choices themselves. Who will make choices for them when they are by themselves? The driver needs to build their confidence and show themselves they can handle the job as a driver.
Now for the second dilemma; being a distraction. As the head instructor with Discovery Network’s Canada’s Worst Driver for their first 3 seasons, I’ve witnessed many people who are as much of the problem as they are the solution. The passenger feels they are helping, but in reality they are hurting the driver’s concentration and confidence as a driver. It’s almost demeaning in some degree.
Backseat drivers usually hurt rather than help. I know most mean well, but they need to leave it up the driver to make the choices. The driver needs to know they are the one in control, not their passengers. Too many decisions can reduce the drivers chance to control the vehicle in a risky situation. It can delay the driver from making the proper choice.
To reduce the chance of becoming a backseat driver, let me offer some advice to you. First; bring a newspaper, a magazine or a book to read when the driver is driving. This keeps your attention away from their driving and can reduce your need to backseat drive. Second; drive during quieter times so the traffic volume is reduced and ensure the driver has planned their route in advance and that you both agree on that route. This will reduce the temptation to offer unsolicited advice.
Remember, there’s only one driver; the one behind the wheel. If you can finally let them drive, you can relax for a change!