Do you dread going places with your spouse or other loved ones because you know they will comment on your driving every mile of the way? You're right to fear backseat driving which--besides being extremely annoying--actually increases your risk of an accident. But you don't have to just put up with it or end up in a shouting match. There are some strategies for coping with a backseat driver.
This topic hits close to home for me because I'm married to a man who cheerfully describes himself as "a terrible passenger." And so, throughout our 22 years together, I've solved the problem by allowing him to do virtually all the driving. The only exceptions have been when I've driven him home from surgical procedures or picked him up at the airport with severe jet lag after a lengthy flight.
We've tried switching off on occasion, particularly since driving in the dense traffic of the Seattle area tends to put him in a really bad mood. One time, we set off for the city with me behind the wheel, and him offering frequent advice along the way. About five miles from home, he warned me, "You're coming to a stop sign," as I was rolling slowly up to it. I got out, walked around to the passenger side, and handed him the keys.
That's not the best way to deal with a backseat driver. Here are some better ones:
1. Make your backseat driver aware of the dangers.
In a survey of 1,000 drivers by the car insurance company esure, 14 percent reported having had an accident or near miss because they were distracted by a backseat driver. Count me in that number: I once cut off another motorist and very nearly caused an accident on the New York State Thruway because I was too busy arguing with my husband about which lane I should be in to check my blind spot before changing lanes. If a backseat driver's goal is to get where they're going safely, they're likelier to achieve that by keeping quiet unless they see something genuinely life-threatening that the driver does not.
2. Tell them how you feel.
Not surprisingly, multiple surveys show that spouses are the worst offenders when it comes to backseat driving, followed by parents. But I was surprised to learn that many motorists find this so disturbing that they would rather have a hitchhiker than their husband or wife in the passenger seat. (Don't count me in this group--I'd still rather have my husband.) If they understand just how off-putting backseat driving, it might inspire your own backseat driver to try and curb the behavior. My husband has been trying to do that, sometimes by closing his eyes and putting his head back on the headrest.
3. Give them a task.
For many couples, the passenger's job is to navigate and tell the driver where to turn. That's usually a good idea. Giving a backseat driver a specific task to focus on might mean they comment on your driving less. And if their backseat driving consists of telling you which way to go, making that their official job should make life easier for both of you.
4. Plan your trip.
Make plans for which route you will take and where and how often you'll stop along the way. Settling these basic issues beforehand will give you and your backseat driver less to disagree about once you're on the road.
5. Find something to listen to.
Audiobooks or podcasts can be a great choice because they force both of you to be quiet or you'll miss important information. Music, especially music that both of you enjoy, is a good second choice.
6. Consider changing your driving style.
Although my husband says he trusts my driving (which I appreciate) I've realized that being a more tentative and less confident driver than he is--and the fact that I've often welcomed his advice in driving situations--has encouraged him to be even more of a backseat driver than he might be otherwise. So I've worked on driving more confidently and not constantly asking for advice, just as he's been working on not constantly giving it.
If you have habits behind the wheel that you know make your spouse react, such as speeding or tailgating, try unlearning those habits. It will likely make you a safer driver. And if you have a backseat driver on board, it's bound to make you a happier one as well.