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What is a Back Seat Driver?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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In a ideal world, a driver would enjoy the privilege of not having to drive by committee, or defend his or her decision making process to other passengers in the car. In the real world, however, many a driver has had the misfortune of dealing with a very vocal and hypercritical passenger known as a back seat driver. A back seat driver spends much of the trip in an unofficial and unwarranted co-pilot role, shouting directions to the driver or issuing superfluous warnings about potential or imagined road hazards.

A back seat driver is quite often a skilled or experienced driver who feels unfairly relegated to the thankless role of passenger. To compensate for this perceived slight, a back seat driver will take it upon himself or herself to criticize the skills of the actual driver while he or she is actually driving. This behavior is not only annoying to other occupants, it can be downright hazardous if the driver becomes too distracted or emotional.

One reason a person may become a vocal back seat driver is a lack of trust. He or she may feel the designated driver is too young, inexperienced, unfocused or unskilled for the driving task at hand. A nervous parent may become a back seat driver whenever an adolescent son or daughter is behind the wheel, for example. A husband may feel compelled to issue warnings and criticisms whenever his less experienced spouse drives into town.

Another reason some people become back seat drivers is a perceived loss of control. There are certain drivers who simply cannot hand over control of a vehicle to an unknown or unproven entity. Perhaps a driver has had a bad experience as a passenger in the past, or else he or she has always been the family's designated driver and is not comfortable putting his or her life in the hands of others. This anxiety over another driver's abilities is often manifested in an extreme case of "back seat driver" syndrome.

Sometimes a potentially hazardous back seat driver situation can be defused if the driver forcefully establishes the fact he or she is in complete control of the vehicle. Some drivers or experienced passengers may also assign a useful but harmless duty to a perpetual back seat driver, such as navigator or travel game leader. By giving a back seat driver something tangible to do, the actual driver may be able to concentrate on the road ahead. An unchecked back seat driver can actually do more harm than good if he or she distracts the driver unnecessarily.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon971210 — On Sep 23, 2014

My name is Charlie. I'm 47. I have a nervous bipolar older friend who is 67. I live in Toronto, so the city traffic can be very hectic and scary at times.

The second he gets into the car, he tells me drive slow, stop sign ahead,watch for people, turn here, street lights up ahead, slow down, change lanes and so on. He gets me so uptight I feel nervous and I'm sure one day I will get into an accident because of him. I like him otherwise, but he is driving me nuts.

I've been driving since I was 16. I have a perfect driving record. I drive from Ontario to British Columbia and back with no problems. I drove a truck for years and a forklift. He doesn't have a car and hasn't driven for 30 years, but he says I'm a bad driver. Everyone else tells me they feel safe with me in the car. My friend told me it's not me, that it's him and that I am dealing with a manic depressive person with obsessive disorders.

I want to tell my friend if he continues to act this way while I drive, I can't have him in my car anymore. I will not risk my life and the people's lives on the road because of a nervous, nail-biting old person with a manic obsessive problem. I told him if he did it again, he could take the bus or walk.

By mrwormy — On Jun 15, 2014

My wife can be a back seat driver at time, but I try to tune her out. Her thing is to press an imaginary brake if she thinks I'm getting too close to something, and then tell me to slow down. Sometimes she'll think she sees a bicyclist or pedestrian in my blind spot and tell me to watch out. I've almost gotten into a wreck because she pulled my focus away from an actual hazard ahead of me.

I remember when I was in new driver training class at school, we watched a simulator film with a back seat driver character. We were supposed to keep driving no matter what that person did or said. I remember the passenger started yelling about a motorcycle behind the car and I failed to stop for a red light because I was too busy looking in my mirror. A back seat driver can be a real hazard, besides being very annoying.

By Ruggercat68 — On Jun 14, 2014

My dad was the worst back seat driver I can think of, especially when my brother and I were learning how to drive. He usually wasn't in the back seat, either. He would sit in the front passenger seat and grip the door panel with both hands. If he saw something coming out from the right, he'd yell "CAR, CAR!". He'd announce every upcoming stop sign at least a hundred yards before we reached it.

Somehow I managed to get my drivers' license and become a decent driver, anyway. I think he had been driving for so long that the idea of trusting someone else behind the wheel was terrifying.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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