Why There are Back-seat Drivers

This is a story that started out with the Monarch Butterflies in my garden. I learned a bit about them and their remarkable journeys. It seemed quite natural then to discuss human journeys, directionally disadvantaged navigators, and why there are back-seat drivers.

An Arizona Monarch Butterfly

Some humans are remarkable navigators. Others – not so much. I call these people ‘directionally challenged’. Unlike a butterfly that can find the way from Canada to Mexico with only the sun and the stars to guide them, certain people are lost by the time they drive past the edge of their neighbourhood.

My spouse, The Car Guy, is moderately directionally challenged. The invention of GPS navigation has been a godsend for him. He has a friend, 3P, who is both directionally challenged AND has failed GPS 101. 3P can get lost when he ventures past the end of his street.

We discovered this on a recent road trip where 3P was the driver, and The Car Guy was the navigator. The ‘wives’ sat in the back seat of the vehicle. Neither wife realized that the spouse of the other would have difficulty finding the local mall, let alone executing a road trip that involved more than one left turn.

The driver’s vehicle had a GPS system. The Car Guy had a map and another GPS system. Both men, however, were unaware that the other had a navigational deficit. Both assumed the other knew the route and would, in fact, navigate when needed. Within half an hour, they had not only erred with the first few critical turns in the road, they were, in fact, heading back towards home.

That is why some people, usually wives, become ‘back-seat drivers’. They aren’t nags -they are navigators!

Do you have a ‘directionally challenged’ driver in your family?

29 thoughts on “Why There are Back-seat Drivers

    1. Yes, Charlie, it has been a fortunate few years. Not only did the Monarchs stop in my yard for a few hours, I just happened to be outside at the right time. These are the only two times that has occurred in my lifetime!


  1. I am seriously directionally challenged! Whenever I have to go somewhere, I study the map (and/or Mapquest directions) repeatedly and then write out the steps (in my own shorthand, so I can check it quickly without taking my eyes off the road for too long). I probably should get a GPS, but I’m not sure I’d trust it. I’m also the kind of person who turns a physical map around so its ‘pointing’ in the direction I’m headed (that makes my husband NUTS!) If I think I’m lost (or about to get lost) I feel physically ill. I don’t know why some people have no problem way-finding and others (like me) can get lost IN the mall (sometimes I come out of a store and can’t remember which direction I was going – seriously!) Unfortunately, I get quite tense if someone is in the car with me and starts firing off directions – that only makes it worse.


    1. I get turned around inside the mall too, but usually I have no trouble when I’m outside. I think I must use the sun as a reference point, though I’m not conscious that I am doing that.


      1. What I really hate is when people try to give directions by saying ‘go east’ or ‘turn west’. I have NO IDEA what is N, S, E, or W (maybe I should get myself a compass watch!)


  2. I can get lost in a paper bag, so I have no shame about asking for directions or using the GPS app. As a matter of fact, it has opened up my world and I no longer fear going the wrong way down one-way streets, cars honking, pedestrians cursing, me crying. All because I got lost an panicked.

    But my guy?…Well, he’d tell you he never gets lost. There are times, however, I’ve opted for the back seat because I grew so tired of being machined gunned with: Which exit? or “Do I turn here? as he flew past them at fifty miles an hour.


    1. Yes Barb, we saw a bit of what you described on this last trip, and it is indeed hard to course correct after the driver has blown past the turn.

      The Car Guy uses the GPS all the time, and I like it because I no longer have to have my nose buried in the map all the time so that I can provide directions. We have discovered, however, that the old adage ‘garbage in-garbage out’ applies. When you put in the wrong address, you end up in the wrong place…


  3. The GPS saved me : ) I have oft wondered what it would be like to have a tiny little video cam on the Monarch migration !


    1. That would be quite the camera!

      Apparently they can tag butterflies with small, light sticky dots that has a unique ID number. When the butterfly is caught at a later date, the volunteers can find out when the sticky dot was put on and how far the butterfly has flown.


  4. Funnnny post and oh so true. My husband is directionally challenged and thank goodness for the GPS system! Even then we get lost in parking lots if I am not paying rapt attention!


    1. Maybe that was why malls are built – the retailers must think that lost people spend more than those who who only have to navigate a single stand alone store!


  5. haha! My hubby takes the word of his GPS over mine every time, and will NOT stop and ask for directions under pain of death. Ever notice how often stereotypes get to be so because they’re true?


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