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We’re only human, as the saying goes, and people are bound to make mistakes when driving. A staggering 99% of all accidents on roads and highways are caused by human error. Yet most of us continue to make the same mistakes over-and-over again when driving, oblivious to the fact that we’ve erred at all. Whether it is out of habit, lack of awareness, or indifference to the other vehicles around us, people tend to repeatedly make the same mistakes when behind the wheel. No wonder engineers and scientists are hard at work developing self-driving cars that will take human error out of the equation. Here’s a list of the 10 most common driver errors we humans make when operating an automobile.
10. Not Adjusting The Mirrors Properly
Rear view and side mirrors are not decorations. They are important instruments in your car that help you to see what is behind you and on either side of your vehicle. Ensuring that the mirrors on your car are in the right position is critically important. However, a majority of drivers motor around with their mirrors out of position and not adjusted properly. This can lead to accidents, as people cannot adequately see the cars coming up behind them. Poor positioning of side mirrors is particularly bad, as it can lead to a slew of accidents as people switch lanes without seeing another car right beside them. While there will always be a “blind spot” in side mirrors, the problem is amplified when the mirror is adjusted so poorly that drivers are looking at their own door handle rather than the cars driving alongside them. Best practice is to always take a moment when you first get into your car to adjust all the mirrors to the right position. Angle the side mirrors out so you don’t see your own car at all and you’ll eliminate the blind spot almost completely.
9. Driving Slowly In The Passing Lane
We’ve all cursed them — the people who drive slowly in the passing lane on a highway, indifferent to the fact that they are blocking up traffic behind them. This practice is not only annoying as hell, but it is also dangerous, as it can lead to frustrated drivers speeding in the slower lane and trying to pass other cars on the inside lane. All drivers should remember that the lanes to the right are for slower moving vehicles and the lanes on the left are for faster driving cars. The key is to figure out which lane you’re most comfortable driving in based on the speed you’re traveling at. It is the height of inconsideration to drive in the fastest lane when you’re clearly not going the speed limit, or can see a long line of cars behind you with the drivers’ faces contorted in rage. That honking you’re hearing is telling you to move over to the right lane.
8. Not Using Your Turn Signal
So few of us use our turn signals that it is a wonder we even have them in our cars. What we all forget is that turn signals are an important safety feature that informs other motorists around us what our intentions are. When people don’t use a turn signal to indicate that they are changing lanes on a highway, or turning a corner on a city street, it forces the drivers behind and beside us to react to our actions at the last second and with no warning. This is how accidents happen. Proper driver etiquette dictates that people use their turn signals whenever they are turning or changing lanes. Just be sure to turn off the signal once you make your move; it’s pretty annoying to drive behind people who have left their turn signal blinking for an extended period when they are not actually turning.
7. Leaving Your High Beams On
This bad habit can be extremely dangerous. High beams can both blind drivers in oncoming cars and distract drivers ahead of you. While high beams are important to use when driving on roads that have no street lights, people need to be aware of when they are using their high beams and turn them off whenever there are other cars around them. The general rule of thumb is to use low beams whenever you see another car’s headlights or taillights in the distance. Also, keep in mind that high beams can cause reduced visibility when used in certain weather conditions, notably fog and snow. Be sure to pay attention to your dashboard at all times, as it is possible for people to accidentally hit their high beams and turn them on when driving. If your high beams are on, you’ll most likely see a blue light on the dash. That blue light could be a lifesaver.
6. Riding The Brakes
Unless you’re a Formula One race car driver, there’s no reason to ride the brakes in your car. This is the practice where people use both of their feet to drive. They keep the left foot on the brake and the right foot on gas. This can lead to the nasty habit of holding the brake and gas at the same time for a couple of seconds, usually when stopped at a red light or stop sign. Over time, this practice will wear out the brakes quickly. It can also cause fender benders and more serious accidents as drivers behind you will struggle to react to the jerking of your car. Be safe and use your right foot to both brake and accelerate your car. There’s a reason why your driver’s education teacher was such a stickler about this point.
5. Bad Seating Position
This may not seem like a big deal. After all, you have the seat in your car just the way you like it. You’re comfortable when driving, and that’s all that matters, right? Not so fast. Many people sit too far back, and in positions that compromise their control of the vehicle they’re operating. Reaction times can be slowed when people’s legs are too stretched out and their feet are barely touching the gas or brake. Likewise, if people are too comfortable in their car they can be lulled into a daze and not pay attention to what is going on around them. To reinforce these points, take a look at professional race car drivers. At all times, they are sitting upright and don’t have to hyperextend their arms or legs to reach the wheel, or work the gas and brake. They also keep two hands on the steering wheel at all times, which ensures control of the car. Sitting properly in a car so that you are alert and capable of reacting quickly could mean the difference between life and death.
4. Using Your Daylights At Night
Daylights were not always common in cars, but they are standard in every car today and that has led to many of us taking them for granted and assuming (wrongly) that we can leave them running at night. Daylights are dimmer than nightlights on most cars, and taillights are usually not on when the daylights are running. And if your taillights aren’t on, that means your car is not visible to other motorists on the road. Always be sure to turn on your car’s nightlights at dusk. This is not difficult and only requires that people turn the lever one notch to the left. Trust us, the added visibility and safety the nightlights provide is worth it. You’ll be safer and so will the other cars around you.
3. Crossing Lanes While Turning
Crossing multiple lanes while turning a corner is a more common mistake than most people realize. And it is a dangerous and costly mistake too. The correct (and safe) practice is to execute a turn in your own lane, than use your turn signal to indicate that you are changing lanes after completing the turn. Many people love to swing their car wide when taking a turn and change lanes at the same time. This can lead to collisions with cars in other lanes that are turning at the same time. In general, people’s turning etiquette could use a lot of improvement. Drivers will be doing themselves and those around them a favor if they don’t change lanes while turning. Making this one simple adjustment can do a world of good and have a very positive impact.
2. Speed Through A Yellow Light
We all know that a yellow light means “slow down” not “speed up.” Yet when we see a light go from green to yellow, most of us hit the gas rather than the brake. Getting through a yellow light so we don’t have to wait at a red one seems to be a national sport in the U.S. and Canada. This is very dangerous and should be avoided. Nearly every time you see a collision at an intersection, it is because someone was speeding through a yellow light and got t-boned. It’s best to be cautious and patient. When the light turns yellow, slow down and stop. Wait at the red light and when it turns green again, proceed on your way. The 90 seconds or so of your life that you give up is worth it.
1. Stop Suddenly Without Warning
We’ve all done this one: You’re driving along and suddenly see a parking spot you want or that the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign is lit up at Krispy Kreme. You slam on the brakes and come to an abrupt stop without warning. Problem is that the car that was tailgating behind you has now likely run into your rear end and caused a collision. Stopping suddenly and without warning is one of the biggest mistakes drivers make, and it leads to one of the highest incidents of accidents on roads and highways. Drivers should always be conscious of the cars behind them, and should stop slowly and with care — giving everyone nearby a chance to react and adjust. Otherwise, accidents both small and large can occur. And then you’ll end up missing the hot doughnuts at Krispy Kreme anyway, and who wants that?
Content written by Jack Sackman and created in partnership with HowStuffWorks.com