Many of us sit in the driver’s seat of a car every single day, whether for quick trips around town or lengthy commutes. We drive for business, pleasure and every imaginable reason in between. For better or worse, driving is part of America’s car culture, and it’s such a basic modern skill that many Americans can hardly imagine living without it (New York City dwellers excepted).
The dangers of driving are recognized and highlighted during driver’s education, when teenagers and young adults learn the skills and responsibilities they need to safely drive a car. But experienced drivers often make mistakes without even realizing it. Drivers can become distracted or be too confident in their abilities to handle multiple things at once. Experience is an advantage – except when it leads drivers to take unnecessary risks.
Here are the five most common – and most dangerous – mistakes drivers make. Use this list to check yourself on your common driving behaviors and find out if you have any driving habits that could be placing you in danger.
Distraction while driving is one of the most common and most dangerous mistakes. Our mobile gadgets provide a world of distraction at the tap of a finger, and too many people make the mistake of using mobile devices while behind the wheel. Texting has emerged as a primary culprit in many accidents because so many people neglect to wait until they stop the car before checking and responding to messages. The danger is especially high for young and inexperienced drivers, but texting is an unsafe activity for every driver, no matter how experienced.
Other types of distraction afflict drivers as well. Talking on phones or to passengers, playing with a stereo or MP3 player, looking for road signs or taking your eyes off the road for any reason can be dangerous. It’s common for distracted drivers to believe they are paying more attention to the road than they really are. Don’t take the chance; keep your eyes on the road and the traffic around you.
Driving while fatigued bears important similarities to driving while distracted. Many people don’t realize how tired they are, and even if they’re aware they are tired, they may not realize to what degree they are fatigued or how badly it is affecting their concentration. With people getting busier all the time and sacrificing sleep to keep up with crazy work demands overly full schedules, driving while tired is not likely to disappear as a problem any time soon. Using caffeine, energy drinks or other stimulants to cover the gaps is not an adequate solution, either. The only way to feel – and be – truly rested is to get enough sleep. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid driving, especially driving alone or for long distances when the hum of the road has a greater chance of lulling you to sleep.
Driving over the speed limit might just be the most common illegal activity in the United States. While speed limits and laws vary from state to state, every state has laws and regulations for controlling speed, and for good reason. Driving too fast is a factor in many accidents, even where it is not the primary factor. Driving too fast for the road, traffic or weather conditions can mean cutting short the time you need to react in case something unexpected happens.
Many different types of behaviors can fall under the category of reckless driving. For a lot of people, the phrase conjures up images of drag racing, high-speed police chases or other unusual situations. But there are everyday types of reckless driving that may not be as dramatic but are just as dangerous. Actions like running red lights, following other cars too closely or changing lanes rapidly and without adequate distance can all cause accidents. Failing to obey traffic laws and driving without sufficient distance “buffers” around your vehicle makes it all the more likely that you will get into an accident.
Does this one surprise you? Being able to drive safely depends on having a car that can be driven safely, which makes regular maintenance important. Some aspects of proper maintenance have a direct effect on how a car handles, such as keeping tires inflated to the right pressure and changing tires when the old ones get too worn out. Other maintenance is important for the other drivers on the road, such as making sure your turn signals and brake lights work. Still other types of maintenance help you keep your car running reliably, such as regular oil changes and tune-ups. Stay safe while driving by avoiding unexpected breakdowns with correct maintenance.