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Blog category: Driving

21 Bad Driving Habits You Need to Break

8 min read

Most drivers, if asked, would say they considered themselves good at the task. This is especially true for those of us who got our licenses a decade or several ago. While we may have started out driving carefully and following all the rules, some of us have picked up a few bad driving habits along the way that we may not even be aware of.

US driving fatality statistics are on the rise for the first time since 2005 and cause for alarm. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 43,000 people died in vehicle accidents in 2021. The worrisome trend continues in 2022 with a 7 percent increase in driving fatalities in the first quarter over the same period in the previous year.

While not all bad driving habits lead to serious accidents, they can result in traffic violations, and some put undue stress on your car. Drivers have a responsibility to their passengers, themselves, and other road users to audit their behavior and drive as safely as possible.

Below we unpack 21 habits that can get you in trouble behind the wheel.

1. Driving distracted

This one’s top of the list for good reason. According to the CDC, more than 3,100 people were killed and 424,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2019. While other behaviors like eating or applying makeup also qualify as distracted driving, the National Safety Council reports that the most prevalent is handheld cell use, in particular, texting.

As dangerous as drunk driving is, texting while driving is 6 times more dangerous! Texting leads to 1.6 million collisions each year.

2. Speeding

While most of us are guilty of this occasionally, it doesn’t make it acceptable or safe. Driving above the speed limit is the second biggest cause of car accidents. No matter how skilled and experienced a driver you are, the faster you drive, the less control of the vehicle you have.

Even going 5 MPH over the posted limit can result in a serious accident. The NYC Department of Transportation delivered this mind-boggling and sobering statistic: a pedestrian struck by a vehicle going at 30 MPH is twice as likely to die as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle going at 25 MPH.

3. Driving while intoxicated

Driving under the influence of even a small amount of alcohol or drugs is dangerous and potentially deadly. These substances affect driving ability and loss of judgment by reducing brain function and impairing both reasoning and muscle coordination.

Driving drunk or drugged is illegal in every state and yet…30 percent of all traffic fatalities involve impaired drivers. This deadly habit can end in tragedy and comes with severe penalties so it’s just not worth the risk.

4. Cutting cars off

At some time or other, you’ve probably been frustratingly stuck behind the slowest driver when we’re late for work or an appointment.

In this situation, it can be tempting to weave in and out of traffic to make progress but that’s not a good idea. You may end up getting hit by the car you’ve just cut off. Or you could incite the driver to commit road rage — which can be dangerous to your health too.

5. Disregarding traffic signs

It should go without saying, but…it’s worth reiterating: traffic signs are there to be followed in an effort to keep everyone — drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists — safe by avoiding collisions.

Stop signs are meant to be stopped at, fully. Drivers are meant to yield to other road users when they come to a “yield” sign. Ignoring posted traffic signs while you’re behind the wheel can result in, at best, chaos and, at worst, tragedy.

6. Merging incorrectly

There’s a science to merging in that the traffic is supposed to stream organically. You may think you’re being nice by letting other cars go ahead of you, but please don’t. Take your turn when it arrives and proceed slowly. If you hold back, you confuse other drivers and it upsets the natural flow, which can result in a giant hold up or worse.

The other end of the spectrum is just as bad. We’ve all seen the cocky driver in a hurry who zips up the shoulder, dangerously edging out other cars to get onto the freeway faster.

7. Accelerating on yellow

It’s tempting to speed up as you approach the lights if you see green switch to yellow, or worse, yellow becoming red. But do not do it.

It can result in horrendous consequences in the intersection for both you and the greenlighted driver coming from the opposite direction. Even if you don’t cause an accident, you run the risk of an expensive ticket.

8. Ignoring blind spots

By their nature, blind spots are dangerous. But forgetting to check them is even more dangerous. We’ve all experienced the shock when the driver in the next lane suddenly cuts over into our lane because they didn’t see our vehicle.

It’s unnerving and distracting and can cause a serious collision. Before changing lanes, always check your side mirror before signaling. Glance over your shoulder too in case there’s a vehicle hiding in that spot that can’t be detected with your mirrors.

9. Failing to signal

Many drivers seem to assume that their fellow travelers have psychic abilities. They expect others to divine their intentions on the road as they do not use their turn signals.

It’s safer, courteous, and just plain good driving to let cars around you know ahead of time (about 100 yards before) that you plan to stop, turn, change lanes, or pull over.

10. Driving while angry

Getting behind the wheel when you’re upset or angry is never a good idea. Your heightened emotions can distract you from the job at hand, which is operating a heavy vehicle safely. Even if a delay will make you late, it’s wiser to wait until you’ve cooled off.

Then there’s road rage to look out for. You’re cruising along happily when someone cuts you off or makes rude gestures because they think you’re driving too slowly. Don’t react. Take a deep breath and plan to safely maneuver away from the aggressive motorist as soon as you can. It’s just not worth engaging with them.

11. Driving while tired

Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. If you’re on a long journey, pull over and take short rests or naps along the way, or call it quits for the night and get a room. Better that your trip takes longer than to never arrive at your destination at all.

12. Tailgating

This is probably one of the most dangerous, not to mention, most obnoxious, driving traits. Driving too close to the car in front, especially at speed is a recipe for a multi-car collision. Keep a three-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. If bad weather or road conditions dictate, leave an even bigger gap.

13. Going without your seat belt

Fastening your seat belt aka your “lifesaver” should be a no-brainer. This is your first line of defense against injury or death if you have to brake suddenly or get in an accident. When you get in the car, don’t start driving until everyone has clicked theirs on and, of course, make sure young children are properly secured as well.

14. Rubber necking

Slowing down to look at a crash is dangerous and can cause a chain reaction of slowed traffic. It may be human nature to be curious, but rubber necking is unsafe — and let’s be honest — a tad ghoulish.

Keep your eyes on the road ahead and look out for closed lanes, obstacles on the road, emergency vehicles, or police directing traffic.

15. Parking illegally

You may be a gambler and like to take your chances with parking authorities, but illegal parking can put others in a dangerous situation. No matter how scarce spots may be, avoid parking in bus stops, disabled-only spaces, and red zones. Not only dangerous, this practice is inconsiderate and can garner you a hefty fine.

16. Erratic driving

Sudden stops can surprise the driver behind you resulting in you being rear-ended. Slow down and signal in plenty of time that you intend to pull over. Pulling away fast from the curb can also surprise other drivers and bikers and can result in a collision.

Signal and wait for traffic to pass or until someone lets you in. It goes without saying that weaving all over the road is never a good idea either.

17. Loose cargo

If your car acts as a receptacle for your belongings — or worse, your trash, you’re asking for trouble. Rolling objects can get stuck under the pedals making them inoperable, which can be deadly.

Piled up equipment or boxes on the back seat can block your rear-view vision. Loose heavy or sharp items can turn into projectiles if you have to brake suddenly or get involved in a collision.

18. Using headphones or ear buds

Listening to loud music on your car radio can be distracting enough but using headphones or ear buds while you’re driving is even more risky.

In addition to the distraction factor, you won’t be able to hear emergency vehicle sirens, car horns, or railroad crossing alarms. Not to mention driving while using headphones is illegal in some states.

19. Not turning on your headlights

You wouldn’t dream of driving without your headlights in the dark, but you may not always think to turn them on at dusk or in bad weather. If you’re in doubt on whether you need them or not, it’s easier to just flip them on and not worry.

It’s better to know that other drivers and pedestrians can see you, so err on the side of caution. Many newer car models’ headlights turn on when you start the car, but if your vehicle is an older model, just do it manually whenever you’re not sure.

20. Keeping your high beams on

The opposite side of the headlights coin is forgetting to turn off your high beams. If you’re driving on dark country roads, you need to employ your high beams to see the road immediately in front of you.

But if you forget to turn them off when another vehicle approaches, you run the risk of temporarily blinding them which is an unpleasant experience and can cause them to lose control of their vehicle.

21. Driving with worn tires

You may be able to get away with bald tires for a while in dry weather, but when it starts to rain or the roads turn icy, you could be in big trouble. Worn tires won’t give you the grip you need on wet roads and could cause your car to hydroplane.

If you’re not sure if you need new tires, do the penny test or better yet, take your car into the shop. Let the pros rebalance your tires and get you outfitted with new ones if needed. Your life or someone else’s could depend on it.

We’re sure you haven’t adopted all 21 of these traits, but it’s possible you’re guilty of doing a couple from time to time. Now that you’ve gone through the list, make a commitment to correct any bad habits you have and get behind the wheel with confidence, knowing you’re a good and careful driver.

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