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(Getty Images/Hemera)
(Getty Images/Hemera)

Road Sage

Why being a passenger drives me to distraction Add to ...

The nicest thing I can say about Subaru is that it has the slogan, “On the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers.”

The sentiment, that in life there are born drivers and those predisposed to sit next to them, has merit. This was driven home to me a week ago while visiting San Francisco and the Bay Area. I looked into the logistics of trying to stow my Dodge Grand Caravan in the overhead luggage container but the fees were exorbitant.

I could have rented a car. The Pacific Coast Highway is a sublime stretch of road that never fails to impress and San Francisco’s hills offer a nice challenge, but something told me it was time to give the driving a rest and besides, it was clear that being the driver would significantly lessen the amount of time I could spend eating seafood and washing it down with California vino. So I decided to leave the driving to others and saw NorCal from the passenger side and from the back seat.

And boy did it stink.

Don’t get me wrong – the other drivers were fine, competent and skilled, and the scenery was lovely. My displeasure says more about me as control-freak than it does about those around me. Decades of being the one behind the wheel have turned me into the creature I’ve always despised – a malcontent passenger. I’m the guy pumping his right foot on the imaginary pedal and coiling up when my senses tell me we’re getting too close to the rear bumper of the car in front of us. I’m the idiot who won’t let his wife drive (correction: the idiot who somehow manages to work things so his wife doesn’t drive). It’s a compulsion and not one of which I’m proud.

It turns out I may suffer from amaxophobia – the fear of riding in a car as a passenger. It affects mostly men but the occasional female can also be afflicted.

Do you answer “yes” to any of the following questions?

When in the passenger seat do you:

1.) Experience a heightened state of agitation accompanied by a sense of impending doom?

2.) Feel the irresistible urge to play with the radio?

3.) Adjust your passenger side mirror and make frequent shoulder checks?

4.) Exploit it by eating as much and as messily as you can?

5.) Feeling deprived as you stare covetously at all the luxury cars?

6.) Talk incessantly about how much driving stinks and how willing you are to drive?

7.) Ask the driver to pull over. Get out of the car and just start walking?

If so, you may already be suffering from amaxophobia.

Like many people who feed a compulsion, amaxophobic drivers are master manipulators. One key strategy for ensuring that you are always the one behind the wheel is to convince all those around you how horrible driving can be. That means calling attention to statistics or news stories that report the negative effects of commuting. If you see a story showing that driving is bad for your blood pressure (it is), tweet it immediately and send it out to friends and co-workers as an e-mail blast.

If you’re married, in a committed relationship or merely killing time with someone you thought you liked, be sure to compliment that person on being a great navigator. Even if you don’t need directions, ask for them and after receiving them, say something like, “Wow babe, what a great navigator you are. You have an amazing sense of direction!”

Secrecy is also a big part of amaxophobia. You need to hide the fact that, by always being the one driving (especially if you have children), you are getting out of a myriad of crappy jobs and duties. Ask yourself this question: In a couple, which person is responsible for juggling iPads, doling out food, reading books, leading cheerful songs, all forms of discipline, being responsible for you getting lost and talking to you to keep you awake?

Here’s a hint: It’s not the guy who says, “I can’t do it – I’m driving.”

When driving, all you have to do is keep your eyes on the road and maintain supreme control over the sound system. And when the drive is over everyone thanks you for doing a good job. Nobody ever thanks the passenger. Nobody ever says: “Way to sit.”

I managed to get through my California weekend. Consider it exposure therapy. I now know I can be in the passenger seat and keep my sanity and identity intact. The flight home was a breeze. After all, as confident as I am in my skills I know that flying an Airbus is beyond my grasp.

After going through customs, I got in my car. It was late and the highway was free of traffic, or at least as free of traffic as it ever gets. I put the radio on and cracked the window. It felt good to cruise through the darkness past the condo lights and garish billboards. I was once again in the driver’s seat.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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