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Confessions of a Front Seat Driver

By Mark Simpson

Some people are more proactive passengers than others. Hyacinth Bucket in the classic sit-com Keeping Up Appearances takes what we might call a ‘hands on’ approach to being driven.

‘Mind the sheep, dear!’

‘They’re in the FIELD!’

‘Richard, I don’t appreciate your tone.’

‘Minding the sheep.’

We all laugh at the snobbish battle axe’s incessant and insistent backseat driving. Not least because it is meant to be horribly symbolic of her marriage to Richard. He may sit in the driver’s seat, but it’s definitely his passenger who does the driving. In a nice big hat.

Every driver hates a backseat driver. Until you’re a passenger yourself. According to a 2011 survey, 92% of motorists admit to being backseat drivers themselves.

This however didn’t stop 51% of them getting angry behind the wheel as a result of advice from passengers, or the same number claiming it was the biggest distraction for drivers. While 14% even claimed they were involved in an accident or near miss as a result of being told to blow their horn in a more refined way, dear, or some such.

The official advice from car safety experts is not to distract or frustrate the driver with backseat driving. They say it could be dangerous – both to your safety and to your relationships: partners are ranked by motorists as the worst back seat drivers. I suppose no one likes being criticised by their partner, particularly if being married to them has made you wonder if weeks in traction in the General Hospital might be a nice break.

But what precisely is a back seat driver though? Well, according to Wikipedia, it is ‘a passenger who is not controlling the vehicle but who excessively comments on the driver’s actions and decisions in an attempt to control the vehicle.’

Which confirms what I have always known: I’m not a backseat driver.

You see, I never excessively comment. There are so many things I could say, but I stoically bite my lip instead. Granted, there are still plenty of things that I do say, but they are always kept to the absolute minimum – and always thoughtfully designed to impart only the most pertinent pearls of my precious driving wisdom to the person fortunate enough to find themselves at the wheel in my presence.

Besides, I don’t sit in the back. I prefer to sit up front, where I can see much more clearly what mistakes the driver is making, such as driving too close to the vehicle in front – and then too far away – and what hazards he or she has failed to anticipate, such as the deceptively harmless pensioner stood at the bus stop, leaning on a walking stick, who could suddenly and with no warning whatsoever sprint into the road. (And by the way, it needs to be mentioned that sheep in fields can jump hedges.)

Sitting up front also means you can more easily communicate with the driver, sometimes using non-verbal signals, such as sharp intakes of breath, grabbing arm-rests or anxiously checking and re-checking the seat belt. Even though I’m not actually Catholic, I usually carry Rosary beads with me as I find counting them loudly and crossing myself can be quite salutary.

And of course, if all else fails, there’s always stamping on an imaginary brake pedal with a look of wide-eyed abject terror on your sheet-white face.

I also do my best to help the driver by leaning forwards at junctions and shouting ‘YOU’RE ALL RIGHT THIS SIDE!’. Or ‘YOU CAN GET A BUS THROUGH THERE MATE!’ When I’m not fiddling with the stereo and the air-con controls. I invariably find that people haven’t set these at their optimum levels – and are tuned in to the wrong radio stations. I don’t expect any thanks for these little considerations. Which is just as well as none ever comes.

OK, so perhaps I’m just ever so slightly controlling. But honestly, have you seen the way other people drive? It’s not my fault that I’m a better driver than them and it would be just plain dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. Not to mention selfish – how are they going to get better if I don’t tell them they should use the gears to brake more?

You wouldn’t believe how downright ungrateful and rude people can be sometimes. Unfortunately, not all drivers are as open to advice as Hyacinth’s husband. I’ve been yelled at just for suggesting that their screen wash isn’t as effective as the brand I use. And that their wiper blades need replacing.

But when that happens I just tell them that they shouldn’t talk to passengers and concentrate on the road instead. And adjust my hat.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Front Seat Driver”

  1. When my brother and I were learning to drive, the carpet in front of the front passenger seat of the family car needed to be replaced, such was the force with which my parents applied the imaginary brake pedal.

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