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What is a Backseat Driver?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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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.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By CaithnessCC — On May 09, 2011

@yumdelish - Your trip sounds like a nightmare. I think it would have been cut short if I'd been in your position! I try really hard to avoid riding with this kind of person because the stress isn't good for you.

I just finished an advanced driving course which touched on this problem. I had no idea that so many people respond to back seat drivers by driving dangerously or aggressively.

The advice I got was to respond with humor at first. Many people will take the hint without getting offended and making your blood pressure rise even more. I also think it's worth talking about it, preferably after the journey. It could be that they are scared of driving or have had a bad experience in the past.

By yumdelish — On May 07, 2011

Back seat drivers can be more than annoying, they can also be dangerous! Any actions or noises that distract a driver risk causing an accident.

I have bad memories of a road trip with a friend who shrieked, covered her eyes and even screamed a couple of times for good measure. I found this much more annoying than the endless running commentary I've had from other backseat drivers.

While I can tune out the advice, sudden yelps are going to make me lose control. I was a nervous wreck by we got home!

By angelBraids — On May 04, 2011

@anon160744 - I don't think it's such a terrible thing if someone tells you how to get to their house. It makes sense to me that they would know better than me how to get there, which roads are always jammed or where the best shortcuts are.

I do hate people telling me how to drive though. If that happens I politely mention that I have a back seat driver ejector seat!

By anon160744 — On Mar 16, 2011

you know what bugs me? people who give you tips on the best ways to get to their house when you are giving them a lift. i would never be that bold and as it's the driver's car, i would never tell them how to drive it, etc.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WikiMotors contributor, Tricia...
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