How To Avoid Being a Back Seat Driver

Ever pressed that imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side? Do you sometimes feel your chest tighten and blood pressure rise as you sit powerless at the mercy of a driver whose skills fall well beneath yours? How come, whenever you make a suggestion or point out an obvious error, drivers always seem to repay you with annoyance and resentment? Welcome to the frustrating world of a back seat driver.

Believe it or not, no matter how frustrated you feel as a passenger, you're making the driver feel just as much frustration, if not more. Here are some ways to ignore that underlying urge for control of the car and become less of a back seat driver.

  1. Relaxation techniques. It's okay to recognize differences in driving styles - everyone does have a unique way of driving, just as everyone has a unique style of handwriting. As long as the penmanship is legible (or the driving within legal parameters), there is really no cause for alarm. Therefore, the goal should be to let go of your stress and frustration, eschewing that tightened chest for a good dose of relaxation. Take advantage of the opportunity to sit back and be passive in the midst of all the day's activities. Try some deep-breathing, envision peaceful and calm settings in nature and put on some good driving music.
  2. Don't leave your diplomacy at the curb. If you have to say something, say it as nicely as possible. "DON'T DRIVE SO *#%! FAST!!" What driver would want those words ringing in his ears while he's trying to concentrate on the road? You could get the same message across if you were to say, "What's the speed limit here?" or, "Could we back off this car just a bit?" I guarantee you, even if the driver has a rejoinder prepared, he'll be far more receptive to your sentiment if you phrase it in a diplomatic manner.
  3. Choose your moments wisely; no driver is going to take kindly to a passenger who has a new suggestion or complaint every half-minute. Unless you're giving directions, try not to pester her constantly.
  4. Are you a "control freak"? As a back seat driver, that offensive label has been directed at you more than once. Well, is it true? Examine the driver. Does he have a horrible driving record filled with costly, reckless mistakes? If not, then most likely he's not really making a mistake every single minute, as you so strongly feel he is.

    As a back seat driver, it's often difficult to judge whether your complaints are the result of the driver's incompetence or simply your desire for control. Talk to mutual friends who have also ridden with her - do they share your fears and concerns as passengers? It's possible that the driver simply can't do anything to please you unless she gives you the car keys. In that case, you're just like my mom!

  5. You aren't powerless! If you're on edge because you get the feeling that your driver's skills and competence aren't enough to keep you both safe on the road, there are constructive ways of being a back seat driver. Assume responsibility for all of the non-driving duties so that your driver can focus simply on watching the road ahead and managing the gas, brakes and steering. You can be the one who looks for the right exit, changes the radio station, looks at the map or manages the air conditioning. If you're meeting friends somewhere and running late, call the friends on your phone instead of letting the driver make the call. In these and many other small ways, you can help the driver (and yourself) stay safe far better than by nagging and panicking.
  6. To everything there is a season... Lastly, there are times when even the best driver fails to notice an impending accident in time. If you're a passenger in the car at a time like this and you see all of the warning signs lining up while your driver appears utterly unaware of them, don't hesitate to shout out and be absolutely clear about what you see. In this case, being a back seat driver could save lives.

There's nothing wrong with being a vigilant passenger. In fact, keeping an eye on the road can make the road a safer place. "Back seat driver" has primarily negative connotations these days, but you can turn those negatives into positives. Offer constructive advice at proper times, help the driver instead of just criticizing, and express any concerns or suggestions in a way that conveys your respect and appreciation of the driver.


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