Couples have their routines and their roles. There is a division of labour. One half may do all the cooking, while the other may handle the bills. The role often fits a skill. One person is a skilled cook while the other is good with details and numbers.
But when both members of a couple are in the same car, who gets to drive?
That one is tricky.
You’d think it would be the best driver. That appears to have very little to do with the decision.
It comes down to who is the worse backseat driver. In a relationship between a man and a woman, this is almost invariably the man.
I happened upon this fact accidentally when I asked my wife if it bothered her that, when we are making short trips, I almost always drive. Long drives we split fifty-fifty. My default occupation of the driver’s seat seemed a holdover of 1950s sexism. It was a trace of traditional gender roles, she agreed, but her choice to let me do the bulk of then driving had more to do with the fact I am an “unbearable” passenger.
Among my myriad bad habits:
- Pressing my right foot onto an imaginary brake;
- Wincing audibly while she reverses the car;
- Leaning one way or the other, as if my shifting my body weight would avert a crash;
- Screwing my face up for no particular reason.
She also asserted that men were particularly critical of their partner’s driving habits and most women simply don’t want to deal with it.
Backseat driving, as a concept, was born in the early days of the automobile. As far back as there are references to automobiles, there are references to nagging passengers. In 1915, the New York Sun declared, “the backseat driver takes it upon herself to do all the duties of a chauffeur except, of course, run the car.” In 1919, the Detroit Times ran a cartoon entitled There Ought to Be a Law Against Back-Seat Drivers. In 1928, an Iowa woman sued for divorce, arguing before a judge that her “husband continually found fault with her driving.” The judge ruled against her, but many sympathized; as a reporter who covered the case wrote, backseat driving “is a great evil, to be sure.”
It also comes down to how one perceives driving. I love it. I hate being a passenger. That’s not true for everyone.
What about same-sex couples? Who does the driving and who does the criticizing? Without pre-existing sexist stereotypes, how is it determined? It seems to be a case-by-case basis. My friend Linda Ellis and her partner Johanna Macdonald both consider driving a chore. Says Linda, “It’s like doing the dishes. Neither one us of wants to do it.” They compromise by having whoever is lucky enough to be the passenger make up for it by being responsible for doing small errands and pumping gas.
Who are the worst backseat drivers?
Let’s be honest. It’s men … followed by just about everyone else.
Backseat driving is a little like complaining about work or picking your nose. It’s something we believe others are guilty of but a habit we are blind to recognizing in ourselves. In fact, the more you dislike it, the likelier you are to be an expert practitioner. Do you close your eyes when in the passenger seat? Do you mentally criticize the driver for going too fast or too slow? Do you check your watch when your partner stops at a yellow light? You might be a backseat driver and not even know it.
When it comes to driving, everyone’s a critic.