From not buckling up to not getting enough shut-eye, here's a rundown of the 10 most common mistakes motorists make.[via msn] In an ideal world, drivers would execute every road maneuver with precision and ease. Sadly, we do not live in a never-never land, and not everyone walks away from metal-to-metal mayhem. Truth is that drivers are not created equal. Some are too brash, others too conservative. Some are even downright clueless. The common thread is that they can all turn a pleasant day on the motorway into a surreal nightmare in the blink of an eye.
And don't just blame it on "them." Everyone is guilty of making common driving mistakes that can endanger us all. Think about it: We'll bet you can recall with vivid exasperation a whole litany of stupid moves you've made throughout the years — some benign, some not so much.
To help you stay safe behind the wheel, here's a list of 10 driving behaviors to avoid.
The No. 1 fatal mistake made by drivers is perhaps the most simple: not staying in their own lane — i.e., running off the road or drifting into the adjacent lane. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2007, 15,574 people died in crashes where the driver simply couldn't stay in the lane.
Driving While Drowsy
"Driving a vehicle when you are fatigued is as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs," National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said after a fatal highway accident in 2003 in which a college student who had been awake for the previous 18 hours was driving a carload of fellow students at 5 a.m. According to the NHTSA, in 2007 fatigued driving caused the deaths of 1,404 people, and more traffic fatalities occurred during the hours when most people are accustomed to being asleep (3 a.m. to 6 a.m.) than at any other time of day.
Drinking and Driving
Every 40 minutes someone dies in a drunk-driving accident. (In all 50 states, a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more is considered illegal, but a little-known fact is that you can be charged with driving while impaired even if you're under the legal limit.) Young drivers are particularly prone to drinking and driving: The 21- to 34-year-old set is responsible for well over half of alcohol-infused fatal crashes. Not surprisingly, the decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated is made most often at night and on the weekends. According to the NHTSA, 60 percent of drivers who died after dark in 2007 were legally drunk. Alcohol is also a factor in half of pedestrian traffic deaths — both drivers and pedestrians are the culprits.
You get panicky when the wheels of your SUV hit the rumble patch on the shoulder of the highway, so you throw the steering wheel in the opposite direction to get the vehicle back on the road. This is a classic example of overcorrecting or oversteering, and it's a particularly perilous maneuver when you're behind the wheel of an SUV driving on the highway at high speeds. Consider it a rollover waiting to happen. More than 4 percent of automobile fatalities a year occur because of drivers overcorrecting.
Racing, driving faster than the posted speed limit or simply going too fast for road conditions — i.e., speeding — comprises the second highest cause of death in fatal crashes, according to the NHTSA. Once you hit 55 mph, you're in the danger zone: 30 percent of fatalities occur at 55 or above. The worst-case scenarios invariably involve speeding without wearing a seat belt or a motorcycle helmet. Fatality rates for speeding motorcyclists are shockingly high: In 2007, speeding was a factor in 36 percent of motorcycle fatalities. Of those, 41 percent of drivers and more than half of passengers were not wearing helmets (only 20 states and the District of Columbia require helmets).
Failure to Yield Right of Way
For drivers age 70 and above, failing to yield while merging into traffic is the top cause of crashes. In a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers 80 and older simply fail to see the other vehicle they should be yielding to. Drivers 70 to 79 see the vehicle but misjudge whether they have time to proceed ahead of it. Failure to yield right of way was the fifth leading cause of fatal crashes in 2007.
Erratic or Reckless Driving
At its mildest, we're talking about weaving and tailgating; at its most severe, this kind of driving involves steering down the wrong side of the road, exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph or doing more than 80 mph, and worse. Reckless driving can bring fines, jail time — and death. More than 1,850 fatalities in 2007 were the result of erratic or reckless drivers.
Running Red Lights
A whopping 75 percent of automobile crashes occur in cities, according to the nonprofit Insurance Research Council. The most common cause of these accidents? Hitting the gas when the light turns red. Of the myriad types of collisions that can result, head-on and side-impact collisions are the most dangerous. NHTSA statistics show that of the 41,059 automobile fatalities in 2007, 54 percent occurred in cars that sustained frontal damage. When you cut it too close while running a light, your front end or another car's front end is impacted. Either way, it's a recipe for a deadly accident.
Not Wearing a Seat Belt
Despite the fact that seat belt use is far more prevalent than even a decade ago — not to mention being legally required — 33 percent of people who die in vehicle fatalities failed to buckle up. Without a seat belt, car drivers and passengers put themselves at risk of being ejected from a vehicle, and 76 percent of the time the ejection ends in death.
Eating, talking on a cell phone, typing text messages and fumbling with the car stereo all fall under the umbrella of inattentive driving, which was responsible for 4,704 deaths in 2007. Of these bad habits, cell phone use behind the wheel is becoming standard practice, with an estimated 1 million Americans driving and talking on the phone at any given time. With that comes a four-fold increase in the risk of crashing. One example, which caused the NTSB to launch an inquiry, involved an SUV that veered off the left side of the road, jumped the median, flipped and landed on top of a vehicle driving the opposite direction. The driver was trying to negotiate high crosswinds while talking on a handheld phone. Surprisingly, using a hands-free device likely wouldn't have made a difference. "You'd think using a hands-free phone would be less distracting," said Anne McCartt, author of a study published in the British Medical Journal. "But we found that either phone type increased the risk."
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