Backseat drivers are those passengers who repeatedly make comments about the skills and performance of the person behind the wheel. Statements may be relatively innocuous: “Can you see that the traffic is slowing down up ahead?” Or they can be hostile and mean: “Watch what you’re doing! You’re driving like a #@$% idiot!” Whatever the content, backseat driving is unappreciated and causes tension in the car to accelerate at breakneck speed.
Backseat driving is the result of two emotional forces. The first is a need to control. Backseat drivers try to assert their authority over the vehicle and thereby wrest power away from the driver. They may rationalize their behavior by saying they’re only trying to help. Still, their I-know-more-than-you-do actions elicit immediate defensiveness from the driver.
The second factor is anxiety. Backseat drivers harbor irrational worries about getting into an accident. They’re convinced they notice details that the driver doesn’t see. They shout “Watch out!” without provocation or keep a death grip on the door handle. The more fretful they feel, the more likely they are to offer advice. Far from being helpful, they create stress that actually hinders the driver’s reaction times.
A good rule to follow is that the driver is in charge. When a person is deemed capable of driving, he or she is granted ultimate command of the vehicle.
Sometimes others’ observations are helpful. Passengers may be able to see objects that are in the driver’s blind spot or act as a second set of eyes while pulling out into heavy traffic.
Of course, there are times when the driver isn’t able to be in charge. A student driver requires input from a trainer or qualified adult. If that input is challenged or met with belligerence, the driving session should immediately stop and the parent or trainer should reclaim the wheel.
In other instances, if the driver is demonstrating impaired ability, such as driving while intoxicated or showing road rage, passengers have the responsibility to take action.
They should first make an observation that informs the driver he or she is behaving in an unsafe manner. If the situation continues unchanged, passengers should offer to drive or demand the car be stopped so they can get out.