Five Common Driving Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

November 17, 2009

Driving is a funny thing. You can have mad skills, be doing everything right, and one teensy-tiny error in judgment can turn your car and your world upside down. The statistics don't lie, and the stats say we fall off the smart wagon way too often. You can fill a large city with the number of annual car accidents well over six million. And yet some people think flying is dangerous. Go figure.

After careful analysis by a top expert okay, me if you must know here are five things that come up often - and can quickly take you down if you get them wrong:

1. The Fallen Object. This is a double edged whammy. First, you drop something, and immediately you take your eyes off the road to see where it went. Then, you duck down below your dashboard trying to retrieve it. The only way this doesn't get you in instant trouble is if you are on an abandoned airfield strip. Ask the owner of a Bugatti Veyron who just took his megabuck exotic for a swim off the shore of Galveston.

The best solution if you need that dropped or misplaced item right away and I'm betting you don't is to pull over first and then get it. It will be easier to see, easier to reach, and you can even get out of the car and come in from the other side if necessary. And you wont twist your back into a pretzel.

Cars are not planes it is usually easy to pull one over safely and quickly. Do it.

2. The Squirt. This refers to the act of crossing busy traffic when there really isn't a good margin of error because a) you are too impatient and b) you have confused your car with a transporter beam. 

Now, admittedly there are situations where a small break in traffic is the only break you will get for a long time. This is completely understandable. What isn't is the suicidal desire to leap out in front of three SUVs and a Mack Truck when there was a perfectly good gap right behind them.  But I was running late you say? Get this one wrong and you will be referred to as the late.

3. The Blind Squirt.  This is a variation on the Squirt. In this case, you jump out without being able to see who is coming, or without even checking. 

Usually, it happens when either a) the view of oncoming traffic is blocked by a bush or large vehicle, or b) you never really took a full stop and your momentum carried you into the intersection. Perhaps it looked clear as you approached. Take that stop anyway. You will be able to thank me later.

4. Red Light, Green Light 1-2-3. There are two sides to this coin.

You are waiting on the green, and you are the first car. Resist the urge to jump out when it changes. The only reason you can read this now is because years ago I hesitated a second when the light went green - and something flashed in front of me at well over 60. If I had jumped out he or she would have hit my side dead on. 

This brings us to the other side of the equation. We all try to make lights. It seems to be hard wired into our right foot; you know the one that floors the gas instead of braking when we see the light change.  In the film Star Man, the alien played by Jeff Bridges say:

"Green means go, yellow means go faster, and red means go very fast after observing earth driving habits."

You may even argue that if you don't go through on that yellow you may get rear ended by the maniac behind you. True. But you still have a better shot at surviving than if you are broadsided. And at least it will not be your fault.

Now, I am not recommending you slam on your brakes when you clearly have plenty of time to cross, just that if it is iffy, stop. Trust me; there will be another green light.

5. The Missed Exit. Or turn. This is one that can catch the best drivers.

You are driving down the road, or freeway, and you realize you are about to miss your turn. Maybe it came up too soon. Maybe traffic was thick and you couldn't get over to the exit lane. Maybe you were busy reading this post on your phone.

So now, instead of taking the next turn, or exit, you slash across three lanes in a maneuver usually reserved for Hollywood stuntman, congratulating yourself for pulling it off and saving yourself an extra two minutes max.

The trouble with this scenario is that a lot of us don't make it. We miss it by that much and take others with us.  The key here is priorities. If avoiding an accident isn't at the top of your driving list, you may want to reorder them.

You will notice a pattern here. A lot of what gets us into trouble is simply impatience and panic leading to bad decisions. It is okay if something drops in your car as long as it is not you. It is okay to miss a turn or a break in traffic or a light. There will be another turn, another green light, and for sure another, and better, break in traffic.

And you will be around to take advantage of them.

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