Lazy driving habits that sneak up on you
Remember those first months of driving when you thought about Every Little Thing, like how soon to turn on your blinker? Now, it's more like jam the car in reverse, toss a toaster waffle over the seat for your kid, mentally rehearse a conversation with your boss and … oh, dang … the fuel light just came on.
Yeah, you've slipped. And you're not alone.
Experienced drivers often rely on muscle memory while their minds are occupied with something other than driving. And although more years behind the wheel correlate with safety, inattentive or sloppy driving remains a top cause of accidents. Test yourself – how many of these lazy driving slipups do you commit somewhere between Drive and Park?
1) Distracted driving
In a three-year study that used onboard video, 68% of drivers involved in serious accidents were distracted seconds before the crash. Whether it was a cell phone, reaching for something or just looking away for too long, distraction factored prominently in the driver's ability (or lack of it) to avoid an accident.
The fix: Set up entertainment and navigation aids before leaving the driveway. Put your phone on silent.
In the same study, going too fast for conditions or traveling well above the posted limit increased accident rates by 13 times.
The fix: Consider using cruise control more often in dry, low- to moderate- traffic density conditions.
3) Rolling stops.
Whether at a stop sign or turning right at a red light, you must come to a full stop before continuing. That second or two delay allows you to react to pedestrians and other drivers who may be entering the intersection.
The fix: Keep your foot on the brake until you feel yourself sit back slightly in your seat, showing you've lost all forward momentum.
4) One-handed driving.
Automatic transmission cars make it possible to drive while resting your hand in your lap and gripping the steering wheel at the bottom. However, that comfy position compromises your ability to react in an accident. The safest position is both hands on the wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock. (That's a change from the old 10 and 2 o'clock advice, putting your hands in a safer position if the airbags deploy in an accident.)
The fix: If it's possible in your car, adjust arm rests and seat heights to make it more natural and comfortable to keep both hands on the wheel.
It's easy to get lulled into following the car in front of you too closely. The old three-second following-distance rule still holds true. But in dark, rainy or icy conditions, you'll want to leave even more space.
The fix: Revisit the "one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three" counting habit you learned in driver's ed to pace your following distance against a stationary landmark.
6) Failing to use high beams.
High beams double the distance a driver can see ahead of them, yet most drivers use them much less often than they should, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study.
The fix: Use high beams unless you're within 300 feet of a driver in front of you, 500 feet (about a block) of an oncoming driver, going around a curve or driving in fog, heavy rain and snow (too much light reflects off the moisture, reducing visibility). When car shopping, choose a model with high-beam assist, which automatically switches them on and off for you.
7) Relying too much on driver-assist features.
Over time, they tend to make drivers less attentive, according to a study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It measured how often drivers let their focus slip, engaging in observable behaviors like fiddling with electronics or taking both hands off the wheel. For many of the drivers, automation appeared to create a false sense of security.
The fix: While it's important to prioritize crash-avoidance features when car shopping, know that autonomous features have not developed to the point where they're anything more than an assist.
8) Driving too slowly in the left lane.
Not only do slower drivers hanging out in the left lane clog traffic, "left lane campers" are a leading trigger for road rage.
The fix: Use the left lane only to pass or exit from a (rare) left-lane off-ramp.
9) Blocking the intersection when the light changes.
In jammed downtown streets, it's tempting to bend the rules a bit and creep into the intersection in hopes the traffic will clear and let you pass before the light changes. But too often, those "benders" turn into blockers.
The fix: Consider altering your route or timing to avoid peak traffic hours if you find yourself blocking or being frustrated by those who do.
10) Meek merging.
Like driving too slowly in the left lane, merging errors tie up traffic and are high on the road-rage scale.
The fix: Learn to Zipper Merge. It's common in other parts of the United States, but many oh-so-polite Northwesterners seem reluctant to try it.
Have a lazy driving habit you'd like to break (or see your fellow drivers improve)? Let us know in Comments!
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