Back-seat driver

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A backseat driver is a passenger in a vehicle who is not controlling the vehicle but who excessively comments on the driver's actions and decisions in an attempt to control the vehicle.[1] A backseat driver may be uncomfortable with the skills of the driver, feel out of control since they are not driving the vehicle, or want to tutor the driver while they are at the wheel. Many comment on the speed of the vehicle, or give alternative directions.[2]

Some backseat drivers exhibit this type of behavior simply because they feel the driver is taking risks they would not normally take, while others may have other reasons to be nervous, such as when the driver has a poor driving record.[3] However, the practice is somewhat dangerous and instead more likely to cause crashes, according to the Daily Mail, citing a 'Driver Distraction' study by Esure.[4]

The term is also used allusively for any person who intervenes with advice and instructions in affairs they are not responsible for, or subjects they may not understand well.[1] This is in a manner similar to "armchair professional" terms like armchair general. For example, Barb Palser in the American Journalism Review article comments that "The ascendant blogosphere has rattled the news media with its tough critiques and nonstop scrutiny of their reporting."[5] Similarly, it has been used to describe interference from people in business, such as excessive micromanagement.[6]

Examples in context[edit]

The term has been used for technology, such as devices installed in a car which observe the driving through electronic means, and inform the driver or a third party.[7]

The Maine Department of Transportation[8] has a web poster "Are you a Good Back Seat Driver?" asking "True or False: Being a Backseat Driver means it is okay to be noisy or distracting to the driver as long as you are giving them safety tips." The Inland Register[9] produced by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane makes use of it in a sermon: "Even our phrase 'back-seat driver' reflects this new-found freedom. Which of us who has graduated to the status of driver enjoys a passenger, especially one out of reach in the back seat, who seems to know how to drive better than we do?"

The Art of being a Backseat Driver[10] in the San Bernardino County Sun summarizes various comments of the sort otherwise found in multiple blogs. Some are specialized, such as the Back Seat Driving blog,[11] formerly the "LA Car Blog".

Appearances in culture[edit]

A famous example of a back seat driver is Hyacinth Bucket on the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.[4] The term is also used in Backseat Drivers from Beyond the Stars, an episode of Invader Zim. A poem "The Backseat Driver" by Parick G Hughes appears in the Northern Ireland BBC.[12]

The act of giving instructions to a driver has been used as a humorous idea for a game. In All things Considered[13] on NPR for July 19, 2006, there is an account of a "Back Seat Driver competition in Forest City, Iowa. [...] The event—in which a driver races backward while blindfolded and instructed by the voice of a companion over an intercom—is in its eighth year." It has even been noticed by People's Daily.[14]

A couple of episodes in Power Rangers Zeo shows example of backseat drivers with Rita Repulsa and Goldar in the motorhome base they share with Lord Zedd, Finster, and Rito. On their way back to the palace, Rita's constant demanding lands the base a flat tire, which she and Zedd blame each other. After getting the tire fixed and back driving, Goldar shows up with the map that Zedd needs and unintentionally proceeds to be another backseat driver by overly trying to help them with the map that lands the motorhome base wit yet another flat tire. Surely, Rita and Zedd blames him for the mess. Another example of a backseat driver is Rito whose constant asking of "Are We There Yet?", irritated both Zedd and Rita to the point they threaten to kick him out of the motorhome and make him walk the rest of the way to the palace.

The earlier episodes of The Simpsons shows examples of backseat drivers in the form of Bart and Lisa annoying Homer to no end with their asking of "Are We There Yet?", causing him to snap at them.

Related idioms[edit]

Armchair quarterback refers to a sports fan who seems to know better than the players themselves and is always eager to shout advice whether he/she be live at the game or more commonly sitting at home in their chair. (hence "armchair") Similarly, the phrase armchair general is used to refer to somebody who is not in the military but seems to know better than the generals who plan military operations. This term can be used in many of the same situations as backseat driver.

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