My best friend and I go skiing, hiking, and do all sorts of road trips together. I like to share the driving so we have an equal opportunity to enjoy the view. The problem is: when it's her turn in the passenger seat, instead of watching the world go by she's watching my driving. No matter how many times I tell her to look out the window, instead she's looking at the speedometer or pushing her feet into the floor boards to phantom brake whenever we come remotely close to a stop light. Her backseat bossing is driving me crazy. How do I deal with this aggravation?
- Driving by Committee
If your friend is sitting in the front passenger seat, it's not technically backseat driving. But, we can't all be chauffeured around like Miss Daisy. It sounds as though your friend is putting the nag in navigator.
Assuming you have a valid driver's licence, you probably know what you're doing behind the wheel. Unless you're in a dangerous situation, backseat driving is the domain of control freaks. It can have a negative impact on the driver, and the overall atmosphere of the trip. Too much criticism can also cause a driver to tense up, and we all know you can't perform when you're tense. Just try typing a paragraph on your computer with someone looking over your shoulder and incorrectly telling you your hands are in the wrong position on the keyboard.
If there is any real danger, however, the passenger ought to speak up. It sure beats jumping out of a moving vehicle. Justifiable occasions to say something include a moose charging out of the bush, children running towards the road, the nose of a black and white Crown Victoria poking out from the shadow of a highway overpass, or the flashing red and blue "disco lights" in the rear view mirror.
Everyone has at least one backseat driver in the family, and some are worse than others. When my friend drove around England with his grandmother, every so often her head would rise above the backseat. She would peek at the speedometer, and then quietly disappear back down. Another friend's mother is an outrageous "driving assistant." I can't decide whether her partner is the most patient man in the world, or if he has selective hearing. When he's driving, she watches the speedometer like a hawk. Every time the car accelerates, she points it out. She also warns him about the upcoming stop signs and lights miles in advance. Never mind the fact that he has an unblemished driving record.
As far as backseat driving goes, the future may give us an electronic pet. MIT and Audi have teamed up to create the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent. AIDA looks like a Spielberg creation - cute, and somewhat insipid. It's part personal robot, and part intelligent-navigation system. Mounted on the dashboard, this device is capable of reminding you that you're low on gas, and providing route information and assistance finding the nearest gas station. AIDA emits facial expressions based on your manoeuvres. And who knows? When artificially intelligent robots get human rights, you might even be permitted to drive in the HOV lane.
It's stressful enough maintaining control of any machine at high speed, let alone processing someone else's input. Perhaps your friend could take some lessons from rally-car navigators and airplane co-pilots. Have you ever watched a rally car race or video, and listened to the dead-calm voice of the navigator as the car is careening towards rocks, spectators, or hairpin turns? When it comes to travel, statistically, flying is the safest way to go. One reason is that the opportunity for backseat-flying has been removed by creating an extremely regulated cockpit environment. Everything follows a well-defined procedure, regardless of who is operating the aircraft.
Tell your friend to kick back and relax. Give her some options. She can simply shut up and adjust the radio to a station you like, wear an eye mask, or enjoy the backseat of a Greyhound bus. If nothing else works, have you given any thought to the selective application of duct tape?