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Worst backseat driver is the one you married

A survey shows the most annoying passengers are wives. Husbands are second-most bothersome. Plus: How to keep from driving each other crazy on a road trip.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 4, 2013 12:15PM
This post comes from Michelle Megna at partner site logoWhen planning your summer family road trip, you may want to focus on ways to keep your spouse -- not your children -- from irritating you while you're driving.

Couple driving sports utility vehicle © Digital Vision, Getty ImagesHusbands and wives are the worst backseat drivers, according to a survey of 500 drivers commissioned by

Among men, 40% say their wives are the most annoying backseat drivers. When women are in the driver's seat, 34% cite their husbands as the most irritating passengers.

Mothers and friends also ranked high in the "Worst Backseat Drivers" survey:

  • Among men, wives were followed by friends (17%) and mothers (15%) as most annoying.
  • Among women, husbands were followed by mothers (18%) and friends (15%) as most annoying.

Children of all ages rank fairly low when results for men and women are combined.

  • Adult daughter: 7%.
  • My child, son:  5%.
  • My adult son: 4%.
  • My teen daughter: 3%.
  • My child, daughter: 3%.
  • My teen son: 3%.

Commenting on driving speed is the most bothersome backseat driver behavior, outpacing the No. 2 offense -- giving directions -- by 18 points, according to survey results.

The top offenses of passengers are:

  • Comments on driving speed: 47%.
  • Gives directions: 29%.
  • Talks too much: 19%.
  • Pushes imaginary "brake" with foot: 15%.
  • Fiddles with radio or CD player: 10%.
  • Talks on phone or texts: 7%.
  • Sings: 6%.
  • Eats: 3%.

How to be a pleasant passenger

When it comes to maintaining harmony during a road trip, Jane Greer, relationship expert, marriage and family therapist, author and radio host, says the rules of the road are the same as those for your home, which means you need to be considerate and compromise.

"With music, don't just change the station. Ask first if the person minds if you change the station," says Greer. "Better yet, before you get in the car, find a station or set of CDs you both agree to as a compromise. I love oldies but my husband loves classical and jazz music, so we listen to Sinatra."

Greer also recommends that you reframe what you're thinking before blurting out something that will annoy the driver. "Rather than commenting on how fast or how badly someone is driving, speak to the impact it is having on you," she says. "So instead of saying, 'You're going too fast,' say, 'I'm feeling scared and unsafe, this is making me uncomfortable, please slow down.' There's a better chance that will trigger a sense of responsibility and invoke the commitment to take care of you and the driver will be more responsive."

Sometimes it's not how you're speaking that bothers the driver, it's that you're saying anything at all. If you're a driver who likes to concentrate on the road or zone out to the music, let your passengers know ahead of time. "Tell them, let's keep the conversation light, or if I don't want to talk, don't take it personally, it's not about you, it's just how I feel when I'm driving," says Greer. "As a passenger, you don't have to understand it, but you have to accept it."

Drivers' biggest complaints

Survey respondents were also able to write in pesky passenger behaviors that were not listed, resulting in the following list of gripes: 

  • Makes faces and gestures.
  • Screams about something I'm already aware of.
  • Tells me to go faster.
  • Blocks the rearview mirror.
  • Gets carsick.
  • Gives incorrect directions.
  • Grabs handles.
  • Points to turn after we passed it.
  • Complains about me not braking softly enough.
  • Reacts to things I have already seen and taken into account.
  • Tells me to turn after it is too late to get over.
  • Gives commentary on a video game with gun-firing sounds.

Road trip tips

Sara Dimerman, psychologist and author, offers these tips for happier road trips:

1. Plan your itinerary together in advance on a GPS.
No maps. The GPS has helped many couples avoid arguments about whose reading the map wrong. Now they can blame the GPS when they've gone off course. If a couple has their route well mapped out ahead of time, there is less opportunity for arguments about which roads to take.

2. Discuss length and frequency of stops to make.
Short breaks may include a trip to a bathroom, to stretch your legs or take a picture of a spectacular view. Longer stops that include tourist attractions can be woven into the journey.

3. Divide and conquer.
Rather than stepping on your partner's toes, figure out your respective strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks accordingly. Perhaps one of you will be the designated driver and the other more detail-oriented person would be responsible for researching local attractions that the family can enjoy along the way.

4. Plan passenger entertainment ahead of time.
Involve everyone in selecting DVDs, books on tape or games for mobile devices, but don't ignore the opportunity to connect as a family by chatting and playing old fashioned games such as "Who can spot the…?"

5. Communicate worries beforehand, or consider sitting in the back.
If your stomach muscles tense every time your spouse accelerates, share your worry ahead of time and ask for support and understanding. Ask the driver how he or she wants to be alerted about your discomfort. Many drivers say that they are made nervous or drive more poorly when their spouse "overreacts."

Come up with a non-verbal signal such as gently touching the driver's arm when you feel your muscles tense. Let drivers know that although they're behind the wheel, you would appreciate him or her caring about your sensitivity to speed. You can also try sitting in the backseat and deep-breathing exercises.

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Jun 4, 2013 8:10PM

You know--there is an assumption here that the person driving is a good driver and a safe driver and the other person is a "back seat" driver. I assure you that other people who have ridden with my husband find him to be one of the world's most frightening drivers. He does not understand that cars have people in them driving--he sees cars as objects (something like traffic lights) which move.


Think of a video game in which the cars are moving--not with humans in them--that's how he drives.


There are any number of times when I have told him to slow down--and if he hadn't, we would quite likely have had an accident. There are any number of times that I have called his attention to the behavior of another driver--and if I hadn't, we would quite likely have had an accident.


He does not actually have many accidents, but that is more because other people avoid him than because he is a good driver and because he doesn't even see the thing that he barely missed. So, you might want to factor in the question of whether or not these people who are being "annoying" are just trying to save their own lives (the person in the seat next to the driver is the one who is most likely to die).

Jun 5, 2013 12:32PM
I am probably a very annoying passenger because I like to be in control and the one driving. 
Jun 4, 2013 7:06PM
I believe I'm the worst back seat driver carpooled once and the driver was texting on the highway you cant make a split second decision driving 80 miles per hour.
Jun 4, 2013 4:11PM

Him driving and her giving road head.  Both are happy.  Problem solved.

Jun 4, 2013 7:03PM
I disagree. It is a joy for me to have my wife with me and she is not a bothersome passenger.  She is a great driver.  She has never paid a ticket to my knowledge.  I have paid several, though a couple I should not have paid.  Some tickets are "for revenue only."  A sheriff's candidate told me once he instructed his deputies to never give a ticket for something they do themselves.  I think that is good instruction.  The worst and most nagging are those who are usually younger who THINK they know more about another person's driving ability than that person knows about his or her own driving ability.  Those are the ones texting, playing with a GPS, adjusting the boom boxes, etc. but they think they are qualified to tell another who has been driving 50 years he or she should not drive!  Stupid $hits!
Jun 4, 2013 6:06PM
Just more proof that men and women have no bushiness getting married. I was married, not anymore and not because of divorce. Marriage is nothing but an another man made institution. Nothing more...
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