I have a lot of experience with highway driving that most of my friends don't have. Rules (from the USA) like only drive in the left lane when you are passing - ie. slow traffic keep right and never merge into another driver's blind spot are intuitive to me at this point. They make sense and make driving less stressful for all drivers around.

However, several of my friends, while conscious of the rules (guidelines?, laws?), are often forgetful or inconsiderate of other drivers. There have been many instances where I have felt uncomfortable as a passenger with my friends' habits of, for example, tailgating too close to the bumper of the car in front of them or not using their blinker to switch lanes. Time and time again, my friends' recklessness in these situations leads to "road rage" in other drivers who then become so offended that they MUST be reckless and angry back at my friend. It's an endless loop of rage and stress that is completely unnecessary.

I know being a backseat driver in itself is a curse of impatience, but if I feel like I'm in danger whenever I drive with my friends, I think it makes sense for me to speak up. The only problem is I am not very good at confronting these bad driving habits and need help.

There have been times that I have tried to be upfront and straightforward with my friends, saying things like "Bro, you should really move back to the other lane- there are three cars behind you that want to go 10mph faster" or "You should use your blinker, dude. That car in your blind spot may have been trying to merge too." But this typically just leads to them getting angry at me, their trusty passenger whose supposed to be on their side... I have also tried slipping passive advice like "Man, lately I've been feeling great and patient on the road because I've been giving everyone a TON of space" but they just smile and say "nice".

I'm open to all suggestions on how to become a better backseat driver. I'd mostly like to get different approaches on how I can confront their driving habits, but I could also use advice on how to improve my patience as a passenger. Thanks!

  • @BKlassen Good point. I DO typically offer to drive, and the majority of the time I am the one driving. Under some circumstances, however, it would be irrational and stubborn to not let my friends drive. Or impossible. Plus, they like driving. Which makes it even harder to tell them that I don't want to ride with them. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 16:58

3 Answers 3


There is no such thing as a good back-seat driver

I don't have a cite-able source for this, but one point I remember from my driving school lessons was that nearly everyone suffers from road rage. This is quite a strange phenomenon. I am usually quite placid, but I often find myself angry and swearing at other drivers (from the privacy of my own car!)

The recommendation from driving school was to be aware of this and deal with perceived problems later, when heads are clearer. In this case, that is the same advice I would give you. If you genuinely feel unsafe riding in the car with your friend driving, tell them, but tell them later.

Your ability to do this with the people you have in mind depends on how strong a relationship you have with them. I would expect a closer friend to respond more positively to you raising a problem, but someone you have newly met might take offense. If these friends are people you are uncomfortable raising problems with, you might skip straight to offering other alternatives. For instance, if you have access to a car, you can offer to drive. If you are planning to go out for a night of partying with your friends, offer to pay for the taxi/rideshare. As with every such situation, do not make the conversation about your problems with you friends' driving, but instead make it about how you feel. Tell them you are uncomfortable riding in a car with them driving, not that their bad driving habits are causing a problem. For more help with this, you could refer to any of the many good conflict-resolution-tagged questions we have on this site.

I would add that people are often very sensitive about their perceived abilities. Everybody likes to think that they are a good driver, even though there are thousands of crashes per day in the US. Therefore, tread carefully. My approach to this situation is to do most of the driving myself, and comment on what I'm doing to try to guide my passengers to be more observant of the situation -- "This guy looks lost/drunk/is weaving all over the road. Better back off and give him plenty of space!"

As for improving your patience as a passenger, my solution is to again turn to the data. While there are thousands of traffic accidents per day, presumably a great many are minor. Also, compared to those thousands, millions of cars are driving around all the time not getting into accidents. In the comments, NuclearWang linked a cool article which studied the risk increase of several risky driving behaviors. It is up to you whether these increases in risk are significant cause for alarm for you. I believe that driving is inherently a somewhat dangerous activity. Unless there is significantly increased danger, like drunk or distracted driving, I do not worry about it more than I am usually worried while in a car.

  • Agree with the whole answer except for the last paragraph. Using a turn signal when changing lanes, not tailgating, and using the left lane only for passing aren't "rules of thumb", they are laws. 90% of accidents have driver behavior as a contributing cause, I don't see how you can make the claim that poor driving habits don't affect the likelihood of an accident. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 18:44
  • @NuclearWang I didn't say that poor driving habits don't increase the chance of an accident, I said they don't hugely increase the chance of an accident. I support this by saying that, given the number of cars on the road at any given time, the probability of being in an accident is low. Yet we all know from daily experience that that there are a lot of aggressive drivers. If these drivers were at a massively higher risk of accident, Darwin would have taken care of them already. The number of accidents by the NHTSA includes good and bad drivers
    – Sompom
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 19:01
  • Poor driving habits increase the likelihood of a crash by over tenfold, see Figure 2: pnas.org/content/113/10/2636 . Some behaviors increase the risk of a crash by nearly 1000 times. Most people don't engage in these behaviors (low prevalence), but you're ignoring data and common sense if you believe that your personal driving habits don't have a very large impact on your likelihood of crashing. Crashes are still relatively rare (not all bad drivers have died in a ball of flame), but there's a clear and strong link between behavior and risk. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 20:02
  • 1
    @NuclearWang That is a cool article, thanks for sharing! Interesting that being distracted by a rear child seat actually decreases risk. I think we are saying the same thing, and I agree that driving dangerously is dangerous. It is up to the reader whether the increase in risk is worth raising a stink with a friend, but I am willing to trade 15x of a small baseline risk for social graces. Conversely, there are people with whom I do not like to ride because they engage heavily and consistently in these risky behaviors
    – Sompom
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 20:48
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    "a closer friend to respond more positively to you raising a problem" - personally at least its the exact opposite. When a family member starts raising problems with my driving I am more likely to see it as nit-picking, or a personal attack. When it comes from a total stranger the scapegoat of "there is nothing wrong with my driving, they are just saying that because of ..some ulterior motive.." doesn't really work and I feel more forced to admit that there might actually be something I was doing wrong.
    – Jesse
    Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 1:25

I'm not sure anyone ever appreciates being told how to drive, so I'm not sure this can be done in an effective way. This is especially true of drivers--no one thinks he or she is a bad driver.

Chances are your driver knows the rules but doesn't perceive their value, or he perceives the rewards of breaking the rules to be higher than the consequences. So it's not a matter of education.

You might try appealing to the friendship and citing the issue as a personal one, thus giving your driver the chance to be magnanimous rather than defensive. Try, "hey, I know this is my issue, but I sometimes get anxiety when drivers drive too fast/ too close/ do something that could cause road rage in another driver...it's something I'm working on, but I wonder if you might be willing to drive passively this time?"

As a driver, I'd much rather be able to do a favor to a passenger by slowing down than have my driving skills questioned--no mater the legitimacy of the question.


As other answers have said, no one likes a backseat driver, so don't be one. If someone is consistently an aggressive driver...

Wait until the drive is over to give criticism

Take mental notes of specific significant events during your ride, and mention them to your driver. You can change your tone depending on how you think your driver will take the criticism.

You drive like maniac, you've got to take it down a notch

You drive really aggressively, have you ever taken a defensive driving class?

You really scared me when you merged, I thought you were going to clip that car. Please be more careful when I'm in the car next time.

Did you realize you missed a yield back there? I think that's why the one car honked at you.

In my experience, people who are aggressive drivers simply over-estimate their ability to avoid crashes. They're confident they can safely fit in that gap. They're confident that their current speed is the correct speed. They're confident they'd be able to stop in time.

However: Even if you're the most skilled driver in the world, other drivers are not. Defensive Driving is all about driving like everyone else on the road is a maniac (something we can all relate to). That means assuming that no one sees you, everyone wants to cut you off, and they will disobey all traffic signs and signals.

If you need to give immediate feedback during a drive, I gave some ideas below, but each specific driver and situation will be different. The goal, generally, is to frame it as other drivers being awful, and that even if you're the best driver in the world, you can't beat the idiots.

Cruising in the passing lane:

Man, I hate when I get stuck behind someone in the fast-lane.

You should probably let this guy pass, I think he's getting pissed.

There's a car coming up on us real fast, I'm not sure he can see you, maybe you should get over.

That guy is so close that he will hit us if we have to stop, you should let him pass.

No Blinker

That guy was about to pass you, I don't think he noticed your blinker.

You should put your blinker on so they give you room to merge.

Following Too Close

This one is a little tough, and I'd be willing to bet its the number one source of road rage, so there's a bunch of angles depending on the situtation

That car in front is driving a little strange, you should back off in case he does something.

You need to give that guy room, if there was something in the road you'd definitely hit him.

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