Contemporary Legend – La Verne, California

Urban Legend-Back Seat

“One night, a woman went out with her friends to a bar to get a few drinks after work. When she decided to leave, she started driving on a deserted highway by herself back to her house. After about a minute on the road, she noticed a car coming up in her rearview mirror really quickly. At first, it appeared that the unknown car was going to pass as she noticed his turn signal. Then, the driver swerved back into her lane, shining his high beams at her from a very close distance. She starting freaking out and kept looking in her rearview mirror at the car. The headlights dimmed but then quickly went back to the high beams. She struggled to keep her eyes on the road when she came up to her exit. All the way to her house, the strange car periodically flashed his high beams as he continued to follow her. When she got to her house, she sprinted inside thinking her only chance was to call the police and hide. She sees the man following her get out of his car with a gun. The man yells at her to get inside and call the police. As soon as the police arrive, the man tells the police and the frightened woman that there is a man in the backseat of her car with a knife and that he flashed his high beams at him every time he sat up to kill her so that he would crouch back down. Sure enough, there was a man with a knife in the backseat of the woman’s car.”

Steven said he learned this urban legend when he was in middle school in La Verne, California. He said that he and a couple of his buddies were camping out in his friend’s backyard when they started telling each other ghost stories and urban legends like this one. He did not know where his friend learned it from that told him but if he had to guess, he would say that his friend learned it in a way similar to their camping experience. At the time, it scared him and made him think twice about ever driving on a deserted and dark highway. He said that every time he got into a car, he would always check the backseat just to make sure there was not a man with a knife back there. Now that he drives, he still looks in the back seat before he gets in at night because of this legend.

When I asked him in what context the legend usually is performed, he said that it varies. For example, he said that it can be performed in a way very similar to how he heard it. Hearing it outside in the dark is much more effective than hearing it in a classroom full of fifty students in the daytime. Therefore, he said, more people would tell it in eerie places so that it will scare the audience. Additionally, Steven said that it could be told any night when someone is heading home. A friend could walk up and say ‘hey, are you leaving? Well, have you ever heard the story about the crazy driver flashing his high beams at a frightened girl? Make sure you check the backseat!’ That last line scares individuals and forces them to check the backseat, just to be sure there is not a man with a knife back there.

Steven said that this urban legend made a lasting effect on him. No longer does he get into a car without checking the backseat beforehand. He said it has this effect on many people because it has to deal with being killed. One of the reasons he likes this urban legend is because it represents responsibility and courage. It shows responsibility when the girl fails to check the backseat of her car before she left the bar. It is her responsibility to look before getting in just to make sure there is no one there. Also, it shows courage when both the girl kept driving all the way to her house instead of just giving up and when the man continues to follow her to force the killer to crouch back down. Steven likes how it shows both of these aspects and has since told this legend to many others.

I think this urban legend is great because it scares people and forces them to check their backseats prior to entering their cars. This helps reduce the amount of situations where this legend actually happens. I also like it because it is a great story to tell while camping with friends and family. What better way to enjoy a camping experience than to frighten everybody? Additionally, I agree with Steven that this story represents both responsibility and courage in the ways he described. It helps show the kindness of others when the driver protects the girl from the killer.

I think we can see similar urban legends all around the country. One specific example is in Urban Legend, a movie directed by Jamie Blanks in 1998. In the opening scene of the movie, a woman pulls up to a gas station to pump gas. While she is trying to pay, a man sneaks into the back of her car with a knife. The gas station attendant sees this man and tries to distract the woman from going back to the car. He fails and she is brutally murdered because she failed to check the backseat of her car.

Annotation: Urban Legend. Dir. Jamie Blanks. Perf. Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart. DVD. Canal + Droits Audiovisuels, 1998.