When it comes to driving mistakes, most people are in the "it's not me, it's you" camp. Everything from minor scrapes to major collisions can easily be blamed on the other driver. But what if it is actually your fault? We spoke to the experts and discovered that oftentimes, you (yes, you!) are the one to blame. The good news? You're not alone. Read on to find out the most common driving mistakes people make, and what you can do to improve your road skills.
1. You're not paying as much attention to the road as you think you are.
Distracted driving is a huge cause of accidents, and cell phone use is one of the biggest culprits. Think you're in the clear because you're wearing a headset? Experts agree that even if you're talking hands-free while behind the wheel, you're still endangering yourself and others. "You're driving a two- or three-thousand-pound piece of metal, and anything you do that distracts you from driving is a danger," says Rick Adam, vice president of claims at High Point Auto Insurance in Leesburg, Va. "Texting while driving is now approaching the danger level of drunk driving."
2. You're focusing on the wrong part of the road.
Trying to navigate unfamiliar territory while driving is tricky, but instead of zeroing in on road signs and exit numbers in the distance, you should focus on the road immediately ahead of you, says Steven Ross, owner of Empire Defensive Driving School in Long Island, N.Y. "Swerving out of your lane is a common problem, and failure to focus on the road ahead of you — even if you think you're paying attention — can cause you to shift out of lane." Instead, Ross recommends that if you don't have a passenger to tell you which turns to make, you should pull over to the side of the road to look at a map, or use a GPS device to guide you.
3. You're waiting too long to check your tire pressure.
If the low tire pressure indicator lights up on your car's dashboard, you've already waited too long, says Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. "You should be checking your tires regularly; when the light comes on it's usually a worst-case scenario." Molla recommends pulling over to the side of the road if this happens. If the tire looks almost completely flat, don't try to drive on it. If it's only low, pull off at the nearest exit, find an air pump and replenish. Not only can low tire pressure use up more gas, but if all four tires don't have the correct air pressure, it's harder to maneuver the car in emergency situations — especially when you have to make a quick turn.
4. You're not bothering to improve your parallel parking skills.
As long as you manage to make your way into a parking spot, it doesn't matter how you got there, right? Wrong, insists Ross, whose students often hit the curb while attempting the maneuver. "There are two major problems with that: Hitting the curb will deteriorate your tires and it will damage the alignment." If it gets to the point where your tires look whitewashed from so many encounters with the curb, chances are high that they will pop.
So what's the best way to parallel park? Ross recommends pulling up beside the car parked in front of your space until the two rear bumpers are parallel, leaving two feet of space between the cars. Put your car in reverse and back up slowly, turning the wheel toward the curb as far as it will go. Once the back of your front door is even with the rear bumper of the car beside you, begin to turn the wheel away from the curb and continue to reverse into the spot.
5. You're spending too much on gas.
"The most common mistake drivers make is that they fill up their cars with premium fuel when they don't need to," says Molla. "While some vehicles do require that high level of octane gas, 99 percent of the cars out there are going to run just fine on regular gas." Check your owner's manual to see what your car's manufacturer recommends, and if it doesn't call for premium fuel, don't bother.
6. You aren't heeding wet roadways quickly enough.
Adam says his company processes an enormous number of accident claims due to people not adjusting their driving to rainy conditions. "People fail to do this because they're unaware of the fact that the first 10 minutes of rain are when roadways are most dangerous," he adds. "Those initial minutes of precipitation cause the oil that has built up on the roads to make conditions extremely slick." So when it starts to drizzle, slow down immediately.
7. You're applying too much pressure to the gas and brake pedals.
According to Molla, you're going to get the best fuel economy "if you drive like you have an egg under your foot." The more smoothly you accelerate and brake, the further your gas will go. Similarly, ignore the old rule that says starting up your car will waste more fuel than idling. "It's not true. If you're going to be sitting for more than a minute or two, turn off your car. Restarting it won't waste any more fuel than if you left it on."
8. You change your mind about turning too often.
Everyone has switched on their turn signal only to later figure out that they're at the wrong exit. Their biggest mistake? Not making the turn anyway. "The person behind you may not be driving with the best etiquette, and may move to pass you before you turn," says Adam. "If you pull back onto the road, you could have a collision." Adam often deals with accidents claims that involve people turning their indicators on too soon or too late: Signal at the last minute and the driver behind you may not slow down in time; signal too early and the driver may think you're not really going to turn and therefore stops paying attention.
9. Your car isn't properly adjusted to your body.
Automobiles aren't one size fits all — that's why seats and other parts are adjustable — and chances are you don't have the right fit, yet. "I know a lot of smaller women who want to be very close to the steering wheel, but you really want to leave about 8 to 10 inches between you and the wheel so the airbag can inflate properly," says Stephanie Janczak, a safety coach at Ford Motors. She also recommends that your seat belt cross over the middle of your shoulders and chest, and that the top of your headrest be level with the top of your head — not only is it more comfortable in this position, it will help prevent whiplash-type injuries. (And the same goes for children: If they aren't tall enough for the seat belt to cross the middle of their chest, they should sit in a booster seat.)
10. You aren't prepared for vehicle maintenance.
"Most consumers think of their car as just another appliance, like a toaster, until the day it won't start," says Molla. He recommends putting away $25 each month to cover oil changes and unexpected maintenance. "It will slowly build up to the point where, if you need a $600 alternator, you'll probably have enough money in the bank to cover the repair. The worst that can happen is you'll have some extra money on the side."