By Emily Atkins, Provinz Editor-in-Chief
A passenger in the right seat is a distraction. They detract from the purity of the driving experience, forcing you to think about something other than the complex interplay between hands, eyes, head, feet and seat.
As the driver, you are aware that someone else’s life is in your hands; you have to behave in a way that is not necessarily what you want to be doing. You have to accommodate that other person’s needs and wants. You have to put their comfort somewhere on your list of priorities.
Having a passenger means taking on-ramps inside the lines, instead of following the apex and tracking out. Having a passenger requires taking the corners at a rate of speed that does not generate exhilarating G-forces.
Some may argue that eliminating these behaviours makes us safer drivers, but I don’t know anybody who’s been through the rigors of the UCR’s Driver’s Ed program who would do those things in an unsafe manner. After all, it’s good practice and it makes us smoother, safer drivers in the long run. I would argue, on the contrary, that the presence of a passenger is more likely to increase danger by distracting the driver from what’s really important.
Calm passengers talk to you, play with the radio, take calls, navigate. All these activities require a portion of your brain power, whether you are really paying attention or not.
And then there are the uncomfortable passengers. These are the ones who backseat drive, warn you about (what they see as) potential hazards, brace themselves for the collision they believe is coming with every corner, and frantically stab at the invisible brake pedal with their right foot. These people are downright dangerous and should not be allowed as passengers without blindfolds. Or perhaps they should ride in the trunk, gangsterstyle.
Add a third person to the mix, and then you have complete mayhem. How’s the poor driver supposed to concentrate when there’s a fascinating conversation taking place between the right seat and back seat? You’ve become nothing but a chauffeur now—it’s all “Yes sir, yes ma’am. Where would you like to be dropped off today, Sir?”
An exception to this is when you have the privilege of driving with an instructor in the right seat. Then the distraction has a purpose, and when an instructor is a good one, the distraction is minimal—they only communicate when necessary. Plus, they understand what you are doing, and share in the joy of driving. I’m thrilled when these people jump in my car because I know I will learn something valuable.
Another exception would be a rally navigator. Now that’s a person you to whom you’d better pay attention. Failing to listen can land you in big trouble— just ask some of the rally drivers who’ve wrecked their cars because they failed to follow instructions.
Everybody has differing powers of concentration. I suspect my lack of patience with passengers owes itself at least partly to a weakness in this area. It comes down to what you are used to, and since I have the privilege of driving in splendid solitude most of the time, when someone does get in that right seat, it’s noticeable. Sure, I could probably adapt, but it would take time. I’m probably selfish. I like to drive to please myself, and if someone’s in the car with me, frankly, they are cramping my style. I drive to feel the freedom, to take corners in a way that generates some Gs, to express my need for speed.
Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the passenger who is imposing this on me. I don’t hold it against any of them. I put the restriction on myself, because I know what it’s like to be uncomfortable in the right seat. I am one of those bad passengers.
So, if you ever need a ride, I’m happy to help. But know that once I’ve dropped you off, I’ll be heading out on the open road for a little more solo time, just for the pure, uncluttered joy of it