Popular driving idioms

These driving idioms are frequently used in informal English. Learning them will help your English sound more natural too. Let's first review what an idiom is:  Idioms are fixed phrases—that means you can't change or substitute other words—and the meaning is metaphorical rather than literal. 


An infographic with 10 driving idioms featured on this web page, with definitions and sentence examples

More examples of these driving idioms

Here are a few more examples to help make the meaning of these driving idioms even clearer:

in the driver's seat:  in control or in charge of a situation

  • You always want to be in the driver's seat in this marriage and what you don't understand is that we should be more like copilots in a partnership.
  • Who's overseeing this project? Everyone can't be in the driver's seat at the same time.


drive oneself into the ground:  to work so hard that you become sick or exhausted.

  • If you keep working so much overtime you're going to drive yourself into the ground.
  • I'm really worried about my father. The last time he drove himself into the ground he had a heart attack.
  • You're sick so often because you continue to drive yourself into the ground with all this volunteer work. You really need to get more sleep.


shift gears:  to quickly or suddenly change what you're doing or thinking (often when handling a challenge a problem)

  • This afternoon we'll switch gears and break into small groups to discuss how to implement these proposals.
  • The beginning of the book is a bit boring but the story shift gears in the third chapter and gets really interesting when the main character loses her job and travels to Africa.


drive (one) crazy:  to greatly annoy or irritate someone.

  • These commercials are driving me crazy. I wish I could watch the game without interruptions every two minutes.
  • What are our neighbors doing upstairs? The noise is driving me crazy.


asleep at the wheel:  not doing or paying attention to problems or something that's important.

  • We're out of photocopier toner and paper and I need to print a report. Whoever's ordering office supplies is asleep at the wheel again.
  • I fired my secretary because she fell asleep at the wheel and forgot to purchase my ticket to Friday's conference so I had to buy one at the last minute for $3,500.


drive to distraction:  to confuse or distract someone so they can't focus; to greatly annoy or frustrate someone.

  • This construction is driving me to distraction. I'm going to work at the cafe for a while. 
  • There's a beautiful girl in our chemistry class and she's driving everyone to distraction.
  • I hate it when people wear perfume to the theater—it honestly drives me to distraction.


drive at something:  what someone is really trying to say or suggest

  • Did you notice what her mother was driving at when she asked where your father graduated from school?
  • I have no idea what the district manager was driving at this morning at the sales meeting. Do you?
  • What we're driving at is that we prefer a more classic and traditional style.


middle of the road:  not controversial, moderate, liked by most people

  • My youngest daughter never does anything middle of the road so I'm not surprised you were shocked when you met her.
  • I really need to get back to New York City where there's some excitement; living in the suburbs is so middle of the road.


third wheel:  someone who tags along with a couple

  • Is there any way we can go out alone tonight? I'm tired of your little brother always being the third wheel.
  •  I really hate being the third wheel but it's better than staying alone at home every weekend.


my way or the highway:  used to say someone else has to agree with you (or leave) because there's no other choice

  • I'm sorry that you don't like doing chores but until you turn 18 and move out of the house it's my way or the highway.
  • I told my wife that I'm willing to compromise on a lot of things but for our next vacation it's going to be my way or the highway.


Your turn: Use one of these driving idioms

Time to practice these expressions by writing a sentence of your own. I'll provide feedback on your sentence too!


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