You're not a backseat driver, are you? Good. Let's talk.

I've just spent four harrowing weeks behind the wheel next to a backseat driver who was almost always my front seat passenger. I've bitten my tongue so much, it resembles tenderised beef. I won't name the offender for fear of reprisal and losing my shot at part of a family collection of ancient motorbikes. I'll call him Chad.

I cut Chad slack the first week because he normally drives on the right. He's getting used to New Zealand roads, I kidded myself. Even before the second week, we hit full-on gasping, arm flinging, stomping an imaginary brake and whinging about excessive speed.

Consider the context: not once have I had a traffic accident (though I hit a rubbish bin when I was a teenager and realise not having someone else crash into you is often a matter of luck). In 32 years of driving, I can recall two speeding tickets in America and two in Aotearoa. I don't drive under the influence of anything but two squabbling teenagers. I don't text and drive.


I have no need for speed, but also don't see the point of driving 10 or 20 kilometres under the posted limit when conditions are dry and visibility is good. The goal is to be neither dawdler nor maniac.

A recent study by Ford Motor Company found the majority (52 per cent) of backseat drivers speak up due to lack of confidence in the driver's ability to pilot the car. Nearly half were afraid something would happen the moment they spoke up and 31 per cent said they'd feel more comfortable in control of the car.

Bingo. It's about control. If you want to drive the car, here are the keys. I don't need a co-pilot, though a navigator is always welcome.

My most niggling backseat drivers happen to be male. Female friends and relatives rarely offer operating advice, only conversation and coffee. Is there something about the Y chromosome that turns a normal human from friend or family member to the Dr Jekyll of driving instructors?

A survey of two-thousand motorists last year conducted via found seven in 10 drivers believe there's nothing more annoying than a passenger who frequently displays exaggerated emotion or offers unwanted "help" or advice.

These wanna-be teachers cause accidents, rather than prevent them, according to the study.

A spokesman for the UK-based Accident Advice Helpline (which commissioned the research) said: "There is a higher risk of an accident or near-miss if the driver is having to fend off unhelpful feedback while trying to concentrate on the road."

Nagging partners were the biggest backseat drivers, followed my mum, then dad. Just under half those polled have been in an argument with someone in the car due to interfering comments. Five per cent have accidentally jumped a red light while fending off an annoying passenger's comments.


A quarter of people have missed a turn after being distracted, while seven per cent have endured more serious consequences such as a collision with a car, cyclist or pedestrian.

Another study by insurer esure found 14 per cent of motorists reported having an accident or near-miss because of backseat driving.

To my fellow "students" of backseat instructors - we are vindicated. Tell your control-freak passengers to bite their tongues so you don't have to mince yours. Keep a blindfold in the glove box. Or a gag. Offer tranquilisers. Or car keys.

Top Ten Signs of a Backseat Driver according to Accident Advice Helpline

1. Criticising the driver's decisions behind the wheel
2. Complaining about the driver going too fast
3. Gasping loudly at any slight braking movement
4. Flinching when they feel the driver is too close to another vehicle/obstacle/wall etc
5. Complaining about the driver going too slow
6. Pointing out when to turn off or on to a road at a junction
7. Pressing an imaginary brake pedal
8. Advising on which lane the driver should be in
9. Telling the driver when the traffic lights have changed to green
10. Insisting on giving directions.

How to cope with a backseat driver

1.Make your 'instructor' aware of the dangers of giving suggestions. Refer him or her to the stats above about crashes and near-misses
2. Tell him/her how you feel
3. Listen to audio books, podcasts or music together
4. Plan your trip, including stops along the way
5. Consider changing your driving style (i.e., if your backseater makes you drive with hesitation, work to drive more confidently)
6. Don't speed or tailgate
7. Try the gag and blindfold method.

Rarely will people admit to backseat driver behaviour. And there are times just about any driver will want help - navigating an unfamiliar area, crossing a busy intersection, deciding when and where to pull over when rain falls in sheets.

The rest of the time, keep 'helpful" tips to yourself. We want to arrive safely as much as you do. If you can't zip your lip, hail a cab or call an Uber. Just don't flail and gasp as we enter this week's version of the Bayfair roundabout, leaving me to ponder the location of the nearest defibrillator.

I have just one year to be smug about not being a backseat driver: my daughter turns 16 at the end of next January. Then we'll see who can refrain from stomping an imaginary brake.