Most of us like to think that we are good drivers. Heck, maybe some of you reading this really are. However, the fact that most people think their driving skills are “above average” means there are a lot of drivers who seriously overestimate their abilities. Our mistakes on the road primarily come down to bad habits and misinformation. Driving can become such a routine part of our lives that it’s easy to overlook things we are doing wrong.
While things like speeding and cutting people off are clear no-nos, there are other less obvious mistakes you may be making. You might not even realize you’re doing it. Driving is a skill you should always want to improve. It keeps you (and everyone else) safe. It also has additional benefits like lower insurance costs for safe driving records. So here are nine of the most common mistakes you may be making behind the wheel. If you’re making any of these errors, do yourself a favor and stop!
Not Adjusting Side Mirrors Properly
Side mirrors are specially designed with convex mirrors to give us a wider viewing angle of our vehicle’s rear. The problem is, too many of us have them set up improperly. If you grew up thinking that you should be able to see the side of your vehicle in your mirrors, think again. According to the Alberta Motor Association (AMA), your side mirrors should be adjusted so you can’t see the sides of your vehicle. After all, you already know where your vehicle is, so there’s no point in displaying it in your mirrors. Widening your field of view of adjacent lanes greatly reduces blind spots. It can even eliminate them altogether, depending on your vehicle.
Wondering how to properly adjust your side mirrors? Start by leaning your head against the left window and adjust the left mirror until you can barely see the left side of your car. Then, lean to the right until you’re in line with the middle of your dash, and adjust the right mirror until you can barely see the right side of your car. Not seeing your vehicle in your mirrors may take some getting used to, but it’s much safer this way.
Not Slowing Down When It Rains
It’s always a good idea to slow down when it rains. Of course, there are some drivers who don’t pay a bit of precipitation any mind. They cruise around in the rain like they would on a sunny day. While you probably don’t need to be overly cautious during light rainfall, you may not realize that road conditions are at their worst when it first starts to rain.
During the first few minutes of rainfall, oil accumulation on the road is brought to the surface. That creates a slick layer that can play havoc with your vehicle’s tire traction. The good news is these oils get washed to the side of the road fairly quickly. However, you should still be cautious anytime there’s inclement weather. The extra reaction time just may save your life.
Not Checking Blind Spots
When it comes to checking blind spots, having improperly adjusted mirrors is only part of the problem. You can have your mirrors set up perfectly but if you never bother to check your blind spots, what’s the point? Unfortunately, most new cars now come equipped with electronic blind spot monitors. Although these monitors are excellent safety features, they also make us lazy.
With this new advanced safety tech, fewer drivers are bothering to check their blind spots the old-fashioned way. Even if you have fancy monitors, you should still be checking yourself before making any lane changes. All it takes is a quick turn of the head. That’s really not too difficult, is it?
Making Turns Into The Wrong Lane
Here’s a mistake we’re probably all guilty of. When turning onto a multi-lane road, you’re supposed to stay in your own lane. For instance, if you’re making a right turn, you would turn into the right lane and then make a proper lane change into the left lane. However, if traffic’s light, many of us will simply turn directly into the left lane to skip a step. If you’re not cutting someone off, what’s the harm?
Well, it’s actually illegal to make turns like this in most places. When you’re turning right, you don’t have the right to turn into the left lane. The opposite directions apply if you’re making a left turn. Tractor-trailers are generally exempt from this rule, since they often need to make wide turns. While you’re unlikely to get dinged for making a turn like this, it’s best to err on the side of caution. It’s a potentially dangerous traffic violation if other cars on the road expect you in one lane, but you’re suddenly in another.
Driving Too Slow In The Left Lane
We’ve all been there. Stuck behind someone in the left lane who’s puttering along at (or below) the speed limit. While these drivers may think they’re doing nothing wrong since they’re not speeding, driving too slow in the left lane is dangerous. In fact, it’s downright illegal if the driver is impeding or blocking the normal and reasonable movement of traffic. The only exception to this is in poor driving conditions, where a slower speed is necessary.
However, even in poor conditions, you should get over to the right lane if you’re not comfortable keeping up with the movement of traffic. As a general rule, if you’re driving in the left lane and someone is tailgating you, the correct action is to move into the right lane. If anyone is passing you on your right, you’re in the wrong lane. Yes, even if the driver behind you is speeding like a maniac. It’s just better for everyone involved if you safely get out of the way.
Signaling A Turn Too Late
Turn signals are such an important, but often overlooked, safety feature. They allow us to instantly communicate important information to other drivers. It can be infuriating when you encounter someone who doesn’t know how to use their signals properly. You know the ones. They hit the brakes out of nowhere and after you’ve just narrowly avoided slamming into their rear end, they hit their turn signal. Gee, thanks for the warning!
When you want to make a turn, you must signal BEFORE hitting your brakes. This way, drivers around you have enough to slow down and react. However, even if you signal your turns with plenty of time to spare, there’s still another mistake you may be guilty of making.
Signaling A Turn Too Early
Much like driving too slowly, signaling a turn too early is another example of overly cautious driving that is ironically dangerous. If you hit the turn signal several blocks away from where you actually plan on turning, you’re doing no one a favor. You’re giving other drivers conflicting information when you pass by multiple turns with your signal on. Where exactly are you going? When you eventually do turn, those same drivers won’t be prepared for it because of your unpredictable behavior.
A good rule of thumb is to simply wait to signal until there are no turns between you and your planned turn. That way, you won’t confuse other drivers and they can confidently anticipate what you’re going to do next.
Not Making Adjustments Correctly (Mirror, Seat, Steering Wheel etc.)
As a driver, you should be comfortable in your seat. However, comfort should never come at the expense of safety. Unfortunately, far too many of us don’t take the time to properly adjust our driver seat when we get behind the wheel. This guide gives an in-depth breakdown of proper seating and mirror positioning, but here are some basic tips you should follow. (See above for side mirror adjustment tips.)
You should be able to reach the pedals while maintaining a comfortable bend in your knees. Adjust your seat height until you have a good view over the steering wheel, as well as over the dashboard and front of your car.
Your chest should be at least 10 inches from your steering wheel. Anything closer to that can be deadly in the event of an airbag deployment. Your shoulders should also remain in contact with the seat at all times. Hunching forward is not only bad for your posture but potentially dangerous if the airbag is deployed.
Adjust your rearview mirror until you can see directly out the middle of your back window without having to move your head. While instructors like to see head movement during driving tests, you should really be able to quickly glance in the mirror without having to turn your head or body.
If your vehicle has multiple drivers, it can be annoying to make these adjustments every time you get back behind the wheel. However, it’s important to spend the time doing it, both for your own safety and comfort. If that’s too hard, just share the car with someone who’s the same height as you! Some cars even come with the luxury feature of automatically remembering these settings based on which key is used. So handy!
Not Using The Parking Brake
If the Fast and Furious movies have taught us anything, it’s that the primary function of the e-brake/parking brake is to drift around sharp corners at high speeds. Wheeeeeeee! However, even if you don’t live your life a quarter-mile at a time like Vin Diesel, you should still be making liberal use of your parking brake. Not for drifting, though (please, please don’t do this). But rather for actual parking.
Contrary to popular belief, the e-brake is not just for manual transmissions. Whether you drive stick or automatic, you should always engage your e-brake when you put the car into “Park”. Without it, your vehicle has to rely on a device known as a parking pawl, which locks up the transmission when the vehicle is in Park. Over time, the parking pawl can wear out. If that happens, your vehicle could roll away.
The only time you should avoid using your parking brake is if you’ve been driving at high speeds or doing a lot of heavy braking. Engaging the e-brake at this point puts unnecessary pressure on your brake rotors and may cause them to warp. Give your brake components some time to cool down before you slap the e-brake on.