You know how important regular oil changes, tire rotations, and changing drive belts are for keeping a car running smoothly and reliably for many years. Perhaps you have a calendar for taking care of routine maintenance tasks, but the way you drive on a daily basis has a significant impact on the longevity of your car and its components. If you’ve been driving for a long time, you likely feel pretty comfortable behind the wheel. But have you ever paused to consider that maybe you’re getting a little too comfortable? Maybe you even developed some unsafe habits along the way without realizing it.
Luckily, habits can change. Here are 10 bad driving habits you may want to kick to the curb. You’ll be a safer driver and a better example for your kids, too.
- Tailgating.Only 10 percent of drivers admit to tailgating, but 20 percent say they’ve been tailgated by another driver, according to a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When you tailgate another vehicle, you reduce your stopping distance, which is the space in which you can slow down and stop without hitting another vehicle, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. And the bigger the vehicle you’re driving, the more room you need to stop.
Instead of tailgating, use the three second rule: Pick a fixed point ahead of you, such as a road sign or mile marker. As soon as the car in front of you passes it, start counting. If you reach that spot before you count to three, you’re following too closely.
Three seconds is the minimum. If driving conditions are bad, you need more time to stop.
- Texting, even at red lights.The dangers of distracted driving are well documented. You know you’re not supposed to text and drive, but you might not know this: If you’re stopped at a red light and you pick up your phone to read or send a text, that counts as texting while driving. And it’s illegal if you live in one of the 46 states(or Washington, D.C.) that bans texting behind the wheel.
“Even though you are stopped, you’re still in physical control of the automobile, which would require you at a moment’s notice to take off,” Washington State Patrol Sgt. Freddy Williams told Seattle 911, a police and crime blog by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Are you going to stop texting immediately when the light turns green?”
- Talking on the phone, even hands-free.“There have been over 30 studies that have set out to find a specific benefit — any benefit — to using a hands-free device,” David Teeter, senior director at the National Safety Council. “We can’t find one. The thought of going hands-free doesn’t change the risk one iota. It’s the cognitive distraction. It’s your mind not engaged on the task of driving.”
- Not coming to a complete stop. Even if you think the coast is clear, come to a complete stop at stop signs before traveling through an intersection. Not only is it the law, but you could cause a crash if you roll through a stop sign at an intersection that’s not a four-way stop, State Farm Insurance says.
- Running yellow or red lights.Yellow means slow down. It doesn’t mean speed up to beat the light. It isn’t illegal to be in an intersection as a light turns yellow, but attempting to enter the intersection on a yellow or red light is very dangerous, Washington State Patrol trooper Curt Boyle told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“When a driver looks at the yellow light they are some distance away. Sometimes the distance is so great that by the time they reach the intersection, the light has already turned red without the driver’s noticing it because now the driver has become focused on traffic and getting through the intersection.”
- Speeding. The NHTSA says speed is one of the biggest factors that contribute to car accidents. In 2012, speeding contributed to 30 percent of fatal crashes, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths, the NHTSA reports. Males ages 15 to 24 should pay particular attention: They are more likely than women in the same age range to speed and more likely to be killed in a speed-related crash, according to the NHTSA.
Speed limits vary by state, but according to State Farm Insurance, if you don’t see a sign, the limit is probably:
- Residential area: 15 to 30 mph
- Undivided road (rural): 40 to 55 mph
- Divided road (rural): 55 to 70 mph
- Highway: 55 to 65 mph
- Not using your turn signal.It’s common courtesy, really. Let the drivers and pedestrians around you know the moves you’re planning to make so they can plan accordingly. Signal at least 100 feet in advance of your turn, State Farm Insurance advises.
- Swivel-necking at car accidents or traffic stops.Have you ever noticed a traffic jam often breaks up as soon as you pass an accident? Thank all the drivers slowing down to gawk for the big holdup. Don’t be one of them. Keep your eyes on the road.
- Resting Your Hand on the Shifter: Unless you’re actively changing gears, there’s no reason to touch the shifter. Resting your hand on the shifter places weight on the transmission’s bushings and synchronizers, causing internal wear. Keeping both hands on the steering wheel, and only taking one off to switch gears, is the best idea.
- Putting your hand on the inside of the steering wheel when you turn.Think back to driver’s ed: Your hands should be at 10 and 2 o’clock on the wheel. When turning, some drivers put a hand on the inside of the steering wheel as they spin it. But if your airbag were to go off with your hand in that position, “the force of the explosion would push your fists into your face at about 100 mph,” says Solomon.