It's a familiar scenario. You're on your way to work, maybe running 10 minutes late, and you're trying to make up for lost time. So you put your foot into it a little bit more and also decide to multi-task, perhaps get a head start on email on your BlackBerry. Before you know it, you've got one hand frantically tapping away on the small keypad, the other on the wheel, and your eyes are working overtime to keep track of it all. Your foot, however, is doing just fine laying heavily on the accelerator. Doesn't sound too safe, does it?
Almost all of us make them, so here's a list of some of the most common and dangerous mistakes witnessed on the road:
Car companies and their suppliers jump through lawyers' hoops when developing central information consoles that can include satellite navigation, stereo controls and climate gauges. And with good reason. Tweaking these devices while driving is a leading cause of accidents and near misses, according to Drive for Life, the National Safe Driving Test and Initiative. Most new consoles won't allow you to plug directions into a sat-nav while the car is in gear, but almost all allow you to play with the stereo. Try to do this when stationary, at traffic lights if you must.
Aggressive driving is a factor in about 56 percent of fatal crashes, says the latest study on driving habits from the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. Though subject to debate, the study has classified aggressive driving as "speeding, tailgating, failing to yield, weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right, making improper and unsafe lane changes and running stop signs and red lights." The group says that most drivers admit to making the same mistakes they hate to see other drivers commit.
As a group, teenagers are more likely than most to take their eyes off the road to concentrate on mobile devices, including cell phones, iPods and instant messaging gadgets. They are also the age group most likely to impress their friends both with the latest in gadgetry and by taking risks behind the wheel. The National Safety Council points out that traffic crashes are the leading cause of fatalities in teens, accounting for 44 percent of deaths.
Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. have banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. California is scheduled to ban their use by July 2008. Another side effect of the ever-changing technology? Shorter attention spans, which isn't the ideal trait of conscientious drivers.
Driving While Upset
"Well the morning was complete. There was tears on the steering wheel dripping on the seat," lamented cheeky British pop mites The Arctic Monkeys on their new tune 'Do Me a Favor'. All very well if you, like I did, took an Audi A4 S-line Convertible to see them at this year's Coachella Festival, but what happens if you've had a great, sober festival, but end up in a fight with the wife while driving home (which didn't happen, obviously, as she adored the sporty drop-top)?
Other situations that inevitably distract from good driving habits are fighting over maps and directions or looking for a free parking space. Try to pull over if you feel your concentration is not fully on the road and take a walk to cool off. As a married man who's terrible at reading maps and spotting parking spaces, all I can say is, "But I told you so."
Here's a harsh lesson learned. When my brother and I rolled up at my sister's wedding in her hubby's Jaguar XKR convertible, we expected a bit of respect and not, well, giggles. My brother was driving and we traveled about 20 miles in convoy alongside many of the other guests. We had enjoyed the admiring looks and stares from others on the way, figuring it was the fire-red convertible and the two good-looking lads up front.
Only during the groom's speech later did we find out that we'd driven his car the whole way with the left turn signal bleeping, to much mirth all round and conversation about stupid drivers and their habits. Turn signal errors in my experience are more common in trucks, SUVs and convertibles, when wind and cabin noise can crowd out the click of the signal, leaving the driver oblivious to their error.
Pushing the Wrong Pedal
In November in California last year, Huntington Beach police officer Brian Knorr was honored for his actions after he rescued an 83-year-old Orange County woman whose car was partially submerged in a water channel. Uninjured, the driver told a local newspaper she thought she had pressed the brake pedal of her 1999 Chrysler Concord only to find her car accelerating off the road into the water. She also said Chrysler had not been too responsive in her efforts to find the root of the problem, which she blamed on mechanical failure.
Tragically, this is an all-too-familiar story. In Santa Monica, Calif., in 2003, an 86-year-old man drove his car through a crowded farmer's market, killing 10. Elderly drivers rank as one of the safest groups, often sustaining unblemished driving records over long periods. But self-awareness combined with oversight by family members is key to upholding driver safety. Many more elderly drivers report trouble checking blind spots and looking over their shoulders due to physical restraints.
Speeding and Tailgating
For Lisa Lewis, executive Director at The Partnership for Safe Driving, it's simple: We drive too fast. "Based on what's going on today, the biggest thing we can tell people [is] to slow down," she tells AOL Autos. "Governments all over the country raised the speed limits from 55 mph and people are still continuing to drive even faster than these very high speed limits. It's not just the 20-year-old hot rodder, it's mothers, grandmothers."
Lewis says people are also driving too close together, where you see "the NASCAR effect" of bunching. All it takes, she says, is one unexpected move and "you get a pile-up." In fast-moving traffic, Lewis recommends a safe distance of one car length for every 10 mph.
Fatal crashes fell slightly from 43,443 in 2005 to 43,300 in 2006, or just under five every hour nationally. More than half of the fatally injured were unbuckled. "Bad things happen when people don't buckle up, and no one is immune from the damage and devastation that comes from not wearing a seat belt," Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said on the release of the Department's most recent report last month.
Driving While Tired
Beware and make sure that an energy drink crash doesn't lead to a road smash. Take a break. It's that simple.