38

Background

Don't be surprised at the use of the plural here. I'm talking about two different people displaying the same behaviour and sharing other characteristics. However, each time only one of them is present - so we are alone in that car.

My front passengers are closely related to me, and much older. They got their driver's licenses before I was even born, so they are much more experienced. I got it a few years ago, and I know the rules better than them. But they are careful drivers and are never involved in accidents.

I also drive carefully, trying to minimize risks - neither driving riskily (too fast), nor inducing risky behaviour in others (driving too slow), but in accordance with the situation and the rules. Imagine me as someone who just got his driver's license and still follows all rules (and knows them by heart), but with more experience and routine. For sure, I do still lack experience and so I dislike distractions.

My front passengers do not fully trust me yet or try to show off their greater knowledge and routine. I am more than glad if people give me helpful advice, but this is not what this question is about.

Situation

When I'm the driver, they sometimes start to meddle with my driving, e. g. start pointless discussions about what rule I just violated or which turn I should take - reminder: That's when I am right! They already even tried to fumble with the appliances around the driver's seat.

A more specific instance: I'm taking my close elder relative, "Mallory", somewhere. After driving for some time, a conversation like this ensues

Mallory: You didn't need to blink.

Me: I did.

Mallory: No, not on this kind of road.

Me: (wondering about that totally strange suggestion)

Mallory: I got my driver's license before you were even born. On such roads ... bizarre explanation follows

Me: Could we discuss this later?

Mallory: Didn't hear what I was saying. You understand?

Me: Mallory, please stop it. You are distracting me.

Mallory, after some attempts, allowed that discussion to die down. At our destination, she was proven wrong.

This is just one example of such pointless discussions people try to draw me into. I'm a bit afraid of them, as driving a car demands a lot of concentration on my part. Yet, they seem to take my (relative) inexperience only as a means to score a point in some discussion.

Such pointless discussions are annoying and distracting, even if they are shorter. Even if Mallory had been correct, there was no point in discussing it at that very moment.

Now, this is a real distraction for me. I want to concentrate on driving the car and safely bring us to our destination. Pointless discussions don't drive us forward.

Question

What are effective ways to deal with a front passenger, who distracts and annoys you?

I hope for experiences preferably polite ways to shut them down. So maybe think of family members, partners, good friends etc. on the front passenger's seat. I don't want to throw them out of the car!

  • 1
    Questions on this site work best when they are about a specific example. I expect you would want to respond differently if this was your parent/guardian than you would if you were driving with a friend. Could you make this question about one specific instance, and give us more information about the person who you are driving with. – user288 Sep 16 '17 at 18:44
  • 1
    @Hamlet I added an example. What additional information about the front passenger is necessary? The first sentence not in italics specifies, that this is about older relatives, not friends etc. – Anne Daunted Sep 17 '17 at 6:32
  • Heh. Good question. I drove my father just once in my life - soon after I got my driver's license but I was reasonably safe (though inexperienced). But he made me so nervous with his front-seat backseat driving I nearly crashed into someone. I never drove with him as passenger again. – davidbak Dec 30 '17 at 6:54
  • Do you mind them talking to you at all, or do you just mind their nitpicking your diving? – Kat Jan 12 '18 at 0:18
  • @Kat I do mind distracting and pointless discussions. – Anne Daunted Jan 12 '18 at 6:34
69

I faced this with someone my own age who, no matter how much we discussed this, could not be a polite passenger. We're talking bracing yourself against the dashboard as we go around a corner, mashing an imaginary brake pedal, yelling out "look out!" at inappropriate times, along with a general stream of disagreement about the best way to get from A to B.

My solution: you can't be a passenger. I won't drive with you. If you and I need to go somewhere in a car, you're driving. Every few years, I allow a chance to demonstrate improved passenger politeness and if it's not there, the rule stays. It's been 35+ years so far. The passenger skills have in fact improved very slightly, but more importantly to me, my driving is never criticized.

Even if you are a better driver then your passenger, as long as they are not a danger on the roads, let them drive. If they suggest you drive, simply say "I don't think either of us enjoy that; you certainly let me know you disapprove of my driving." If you start driving and they start meddling, ask "would you rather drive?" and be prepared for them to say "yes" and for you to pull over and switch.

Driving is tiring. Being driven is a privilege. Don't give it to rude people. (Or looked at another way: if you really are terrible, why do they even want you to drive them?)

  • 9
    That's the same way I handled it with my mother many years ago. I let her drive, but then I would criticize her the same way she criticized me. She got really upset at that, so that stopped her from criticizing my driving any longer. Also, if someone fiddles with my side of the dashboard, that means they will never sit shotgun again. That is just inexcusable. – Stephan Branczyk Sep 17 '17 at 10:40
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    I don't criticize my bad passenger. First, I don't think people ever need to "learn what it feels like" - I had already explained many times what it felt like. Second, it would feel dishonest to me to pretend not to like something I was fine with. And third, it would just be pulling up discord and pain for no reason. One reason to say "if you're so perfect, you drive" is to stop the squabbling, bickering, and criticism. Why would you then add the criticism back in? – Kate Gregory Sep 17 '17 at 12:06
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    If I had a passenger to whom I couldn't say "you drive!" then I would have to say something like "look, I would have you drive if you were allowed to, but we know you're not. So let's make the best of it, please." That said, I have had many passengers who could no longer drive and none of them ever did this kind of complaining and meddling. – Kate Gregory Sep 17 '17 at 12:09
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    I witnessed that situation once (I was not the driver), where another passenger who can't drive themselves, gave "useful" advise (i. e. totally ignore the speed limit...). The driver, thankfully, didn't hear it. I don't meet that passenger anymore. But it subtly influenced me, when writing the question, too. – Anne Daunted Sep 17 '17 at 14:06
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    That doesn't work if you live together, or if it's a long journey so that using two cars would be wasteful, but sure. – Kate Gregory Dec 21 '17 at 15:38
9

I suggest a combination of mindless agreement and a hard firm line against fiddling with the controls. I would not tolerate the latter, I would yell, or at least pull over, stop the car and tell them, "If you do not want to make me crash, keep your hands out of my driving space. Can we agree on that?"

Reply: "I was just trying to..."

Me: "I don't care. Use your words. No hands in my driving space. Ever."

Besides that, driving with my father, I found just mindless responses worked, and eventually he calmed down.

Dad: "Slow down!" Me: "That's a good idea."

Dad: "Its a double line, don't cross it." Me: "Got it."

Dad: "She might not signal you know." Me: "Okay."

Dad: "Get over now, there's always a line for the ramp." Me: "Yep, let's do it."

Dad: "Get in the left lane, get around this guy." Me: "There's a frikkin' truck there, Dad."

7

I've been in your situation, but I've also been in the passenger's situation. Had I not corrected my ex-boyfriend's driving a few times, we would have gotten in really serious accidents, so for as much I hated doing it, I really had to e.g shout "Watch out" a few times. He hadn't taken a defensive driving course at all to at least have some idea of different scenarios.

Defensive driving courses DO NOT help everyone avoid accidents

I know it's very annoying and distracting to you to have a passenger comment on your driving especially when you feel you are a careful driver.

I don't know how you have responded to the comments about your driving so far, but one suggestion is to block it out and stop responding or trying to defend your driving if you have been. Put some music on.

OR

If their motive to correct you or give you advice is for you to become a better driver, then how about use that to your benefit? Just start a conversation about how potentially dangerous distracting a driver could be and how strongly you feel people need to not do that to drivers in general.

You could even be direct with the person who is doing this while they are doing this and say:

I respect you wanting to help me be a better driver but I've noticed that this happens every time you ride with me and I find it distracting and potentially dangerous. I would really like for you to not do that while I drive, please. (We can talk about my driving or You could give me any advice you want when I am not behind the wheel)

As a last resort, if that person doesn't respect what you tell them just say you don't think them riding with you is a good idea anymore for the reasons mentioned above.

  • Thanks for the edit. In the US people usually need to retake the course frequently for insurance purposes but what I really meant to say is that my ex didn't have a good understanding of defensive driving in general. – Tycho's Nose Sep 17 '17 at 14:31
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    I wonder why @Community (?) left this less than friendly edit notice. – Anne Daunted Sep 17 '17 at 17:06
  • @AnneDaunted Community edits when an anonymous user edits the post, as far as I know. So someone without an account suggested an edit, and it was approved by the review queue. – Stephen S Sep 17 '17 at 18:17
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    Well, they were wrong, and hopefully next time they use their own account :) – Nelson Sep 20 '17 at 6:49
  • @Tycho'sNose What are you talking about? I'm not aware of driving courses being required in the US, certainly not in any state I've lived in. – Andy Apr 14 '18 at 19:20
5

One way is to escalate the seriousness of your issue, in a safe way. When they start these comments, stop at the first feasible spot (need not be a safe parking spot, could easily be the blind 2-3 meters at the front of a bus stop, a emergency bay, ..., because you are in an emergency in a sense). Turn to them and explain to them that you can not drive when someone makes ridiculous, distracting and negative comments about your driving.

Offer them some options at that very moment you are at the road side. You can consider this:

  1. Say you won't drive them anymore.
  2. Offer them to drive (if you feel it safe; this is discussed in other answers).
  3. Ask them not to comment on your driving anymore (basically giving them one more chance to start to behave).
  4. Ask them if there's anything specific they don't like about your driving patterns (because there might be something specific like that they actually don't like you driving too close to the edge of the road or whatever, and this stresses them out and then they're stressing you).

Trying to solve it instantly has the advantage that people are actually involved and need to solve it before carrying on. On the other hand, be sure you are able to manage the situation without getting angry, because if not, it can't work.

3

Diplomatic approach: use Gordon's method. The root of this is shifting the blame on yourself so the other doesn't have to work to accept it.

"You're stressing me out! I don't like to drive while stressed out. It's dangerous. We'll talk about this later, right now I'm driving."

There are many variants, but you get the idea.

I mean, you sound like a reasonable and friendly person. From what you say, the only thing you could be blamed about is being too careful. Nothing wrong with that. Don't argue while driving. It's dangerous. Don't let others get on your nerves while driving either.

If the one in the passenger seat (which, by the way, in my language we call the "dead man's seat") feels uncomfortable with your driving style, they could express it in lots of ways that don't stress you out...

For example, one day I lent my car to my ex, which resulted in the following dialogue:

Me - "You know this car is a lot better than your piece of crap, right?"

Her - "Yeah, sure! I love it!"

Me - "It also has much better soundproofing, and a V6..."

Her - "Whaddya mean?"

Me - "Look at the speedo."

After this she made some kind of funny noise as she realized she'd been going 180kph in a 90kph speed limit zone.

Buuuuut, I hope this is not your case. If you make mistakes, take their advice. But if they drive like madmen... don't.

Less diplomatic approach: "Would you rather walk?"

This one has its uses. I've used it. It works.

"Would you rather walk?"

  • The spousal unit likes to interfere in my driving. Strange, because he's totalled three cars in his career and I haven't even a dink to my name. I first point out that I drive better without criticism, then if it continues I suggest he continues on foot. I need to repeat this about once a year. – RedSonja Sep 18 '17 at 7:33
  • "I drive better without criticism" <= I like this one! But how could he total 3 cars? After the first one, he'd learn, no? – peufeu Sep 18 '17 at 9:09
  • There are many different ways of crashing cars. He's not done it for decades so maybe has has learned something. – RedSonja Sep 18 '17 at 9:10
3

This is one of those things that my ex and I would go rounds about, I've definitely been on both sides of it...

I would hassle her about forgetting to shift, she would get to third or fourth gear and then get distracted by conversation or something and then just forget the last couple of gears till the poor little Beetle was crying.

She would give me often terrible directions. She absolutely knew how to get where we were going, just had a hard time communicating that to me.

Turn there.
-Where?
At the next intersection.
-Which way? That way.

I had the worst time trying to convince her that pointing wasn't a great way to give a driver directions.

We mostly solved the directions problem by using Google Maps, on a smart phone it gives fairly decent step by step directions for my area. I say mostly, because she still occasionally argued with the phone. But she stopped arguing with me at least.

The shifting problem was a bit more tricky. Mostly I just learned to let it go till the car was really struggling and then I would offer a gently whispered "shift." Eventually I just bought a newer car and let her destroy the Beetle on her own terms.

Technically these may not be interpersonal solutions, more using technology to sidestep long ingrained bad habits that aren't very likely to change after many, long painful attempts. Though, sometimes a sidestep is something of an interpersonal skill. Just learning when to say:

I know you know the way, but this app has live traffic information.

Or better yet:

Maybe I'll just meet you there.

  • 1
    Hah - my wife's the same with forgetting to change gears. Not sure how she can't hear the engine and realise she needs to change. Her hearing's way better than mine for everything else! – AndyT Sep 18 '17 at 10:42
2

Sigh... I know both positions... Certain people I hold very dear even called me the front-passenger from hell some time ago. I was simply afraid and panicking on the inside. I learned to handle it.

Now to your question:

What are effective ways to deal with a front passenger, who distracts and annoys you?

Let me suggest a twofold approach:

First

task them to coach you:

Mallory, you have much more experience in driving, please watch my driving and give me feedback so I can learn from you. Please no false courtesy, be honest and direct with me! Whenever you think I did something wrong, or even if I do it right and you feel insecure, you tell me, so I can adjust. Can I really count on you, can I rely on you?

Explanation

By tasking your passenger, you command them to do something they would do anyway, which should reduce these actions (this is the logic of contradiction and paradox).

As you tasked them - and on the way validated their experience - they don’t need to prove their experience by correcting you, because you already validated them.

Note the exact wording:

Whenever you think I did something wrong, or even if I do it right and you feel insecure

Now it is about Mallory’s thoughts, not reality, which should take the steam off discussions.

Moreover, you open up the possibility of insecurity as a source of criticism, then it is about Mallory needing something instead of Anne doing something wrong.

This is all about being in command, like the captain on a ship. As driver, you are the captain of the car.

Second

avoid justification at any cost. Just don’t do it.

Mallory: You had to blink.

Anne: I don’t think so.

And leave it at that.

Did I mention not to justify? No? Well, do not justify your actions.

If necessary, repeat “I don’t think so.” or “Incorrect.”

If Mallory wants a discussion, say

I see you take your task serious, thank you. But you are wrong on this. Let’s discuss when at home, not while driving, right?

Background

You stay in command. As captain, you do not justify, because justification invites arguing and discussion.

Even if you were insecure and asked for support, you asked as captain.

Mallory, I don’t know how to switch on X in this car. How is it done?

Ooops, I think I screwed up on this. What’s your advice now?

Scenarios

a. If your front passenger shows signs of fear or panic (clutching at handles, pushing down their foot into the non-existing brake, holding their breath etc.) you tell them:

Mallory, are you afraid? I asked you to tell me whenever you have some points to make about my driving, and you accepted. Please, support me and let me know! Can I rely on you doing that?

b. If he/she touches the controls, you say “hands down!” in a sharp tone of voice. If they do not apologize immediately but want to discuss or justify themselves, tell them to wait, take the very next opportunity to safely pull over and stop the car. Switch off the engine, turn around to face them also with your upper body and tell them in no uncertain terms to make a decision now: either apologize and make sure they never ever do that again, or get off the car now (or in the backseat, for that matter).

Leave no room for discussion, but apply the “broken record technique” and repeat stereotypically:

I am the driver, you are the passenger. Touching the controls is putting us in danger. I can’t let you do that.

I think this should do it.

Might be necessary to repeat the tasking part from time to time. My father-in-law, a very astute man with a strong sense for perfection, used to comment on my driving more than I thought helpful.

I finally found out what worked best:

I know you are saying this because you really care that we get there safely, am I correct? I appreciate this, and want to make sure we are safe, too. Please continue to advise, but don’t hold it back, please share it as soon as it comes to mind!

This helped him AND me to appreciate his positive intentions, he softened, and I understood his remarks as well-intentioned and could let go the effects they had on me.

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