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A backseat driver is a person who gives unwanted or unneeded advice. The term backseat driver can literally mean someone who advises a driver unnecessarily on where or how to drive. People who drive cabs or limousines would generally have a backseat driver in the truest sense of the literal meaning since their passengers tend to ride in the back seat.
Since those who are paid to drive for a living can reasonably be expected to possess a certain amount of expertise, both in finding locations and in general driving skill, a backseat driver can be an extreme irritant. Being told how to drive or how to get somewhere eliminates respect for the driver’s professionalism.
More often, a backseat driver sits in the front seat, right next to the driver. This could be a spouse or friend that might comment on the speed at which one drives a car or the lack of adherence to the rules of the road. A spousal backseat driver could instead make little moans or shrieks about a driving experience. Again, advice of the backseat driver is unwanted and often unwarranted.
In a more figurative sense, the backseat driver is a person who interferes in other peoples’ personal lives by giving unnecessary advice, or making unflattering comments about the way in which one “drives” his or her existence. Sometimes relatives or close friends can be notorious backseat drivers in this sense. They appear to have all the answers and can clearly delineate all of a person’s problems.
A statement that begins with “You know the problem with you is…” generally signifies one is about to receive the annoying advice of a backseat driver. These statements of criticism, though perhaps meant kindly, are the antithesis of kind because they are critical. They also imply that the backseat driver has little faith in another person’s ability to solve problems. When possible, these comments should be ignored.
A related expression to backseat driver is “taking a backseat” to someone else. This generally means that one allows focus and attention to be on the “driving” person. For example, an artistic mother might take a backseat so that attention is given to the artistic endeavors of her children. If one takes a backseat, this is not always negative. It can be quite kind to allow someone else the limelight for a while.
However, the backseat driver will seldom truly take the backseat. He or she knows other people’s weaknesses and how to fix them, and must be the center of attention. A perfect example of the backseat driver in both literal and figurative sense occurs in the film Driving Miss Daisy.
Miss Daisy harasses and harangues her chauffeur, Mr. Coburn. When he pulls the car over to go so he can use the bathroom, he finally refuses to take a backseat to Miss Daisy by insisting that she at least is forbidden to tell him when he needs to use the bathroom. This effectively shuts Miss Daisy up for a few moments; though her condition as backseat driver is relatively incurable.