Backseat drivers can raise your auto insurance rates

Linda Melone

Trying to drive while dealing with a “backseat driver” -- a passenger who utters criticisms and unsolicited driving advice – is not only annoying, it's downright dangerous.

In fact, a 2008 study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania showed that driving ability dropped when the driver processed a conversation with a passenger while attempting to navigate along a curvy, virtual road.

Talking with passengers in the car, either in the passenger seat or from the rear seat, falls under the category of "distracted driving," according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Distractions, including backseat driving, boost the risk of crashes. In turn, increased crash risk means increased car insurance premiums if you do get into a crash.

A single accident can raise insurance rates by 15 percent, says Tim Dodge, a spokesman for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York, a trade group. "A second accident may bump up rates by up to 35 percent and a third can raise it by 75 percent and on up," he says.

How to handle a backseat driver

Backseat drivers can be quite irritating, but be aware that you can encourage them or can convert them into helpful companions, says Tina Tessina, a California psychotherapist and author of "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction." "Most backseat drivers believe they're being helpful," she says.

Keeping silent during this unwanted "help" will only encourage that person to keep talking, Tessina says. "It won't help if you get angry and snap at the person, either, though," she says.

Keep in mind that some people are simply anxious when being driven by another person, so they try to soothe their own anxiety by attempting to control the driver, Tessina says. "You need to have compassion for their fear and learn how to handle them calmly," she says.

Tips that may help:

1. If you have a GPS device that gives directions with an electronic voice, set it and turn it on. The mechanical voice may convince your backseat driver that you don't need his help.

2. Before you go, print out directions from a site like Google Maps or MapQuest, and assign the backseat driver to be your navigator. This way, you transform the passenger's need to help into something less agitating.

3. If the backseat driver is nervous and is telling you to "slow down" or "watch for those cars,” tell him -- calmly -- that you're a good driver and that you'll keep him safe.

4. If a "nervous Nellie" is riding in the car and a second passenger is in the car, ask the calm one to chat or play a game with the not-so-calm one.

5. Turn the radio to something that would interest the backseat driver, which may take his mind off of you.

If you're the backseat driver

Sometimes you may be the annoying one. Driving with a friend who (you feel) drives too fast or too slow may turn you into that backseat driver.

If you're the passenger and you're tempted to provide unsolicited advice, be patient, says Elizabeth Lombardo, a Chicago psychologist and author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness." Before you say anything, Lombardo recommends the following:

Play by the rules: If the driver tells you to buckle up, and you don't normally use a seat belt, do so anyway, Lombardo says. "The driver has the final say. The driver is responsible if a police officer sees you without a seat belt," she says. "What you do in your own car is your business; what you do in your friend's car is his business. Just accept it."

Keep your advice to yourself: You may know of a faster way to get to your destination, but keep quiet unless you're asked. If you're stressing out because the driver is going too slow, distract yourself by focusing on something else.

Don't be the DJ: If you don't like the music the driver plays, keep in mind you have plenty of time to listen to your favorite tunes on your own time.

Justifiable backseat driving

If you don't have confidence in the person who's driving, ask yourself, "Why not?" Tessina says: "That might be a topic for discussion when you're not in the car."

If you think the driver's been drinking alcohol, is becoming too old to drive or has a history of accidents and is driving too fast, for example, you have the right to protect yourself, Tessina says. However, think this over before getting into the car. "Don't agree to let someone drive if you think he or she is dangerous," she says.

 

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