They call it road rage for a reason. Poor driving habits can be dangerous, not to mention downright annoying. But rushing around, slamming on the brakes and causing accidents or traffic jams also means more wear and tear on your car — and that's no good for you or the environment. The following list highlights six ways motorists often drive each other crazy, plus a few ideas for changing those bad habits.
Using cell phones. Sure, we all do it. But what's worse than driving behind a too-slow motorist or someone who's too busy yapping to merge correctly? Research shows that talking on your cell phone and texting are not only annoying — they're dangerous. Nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were hurt in accidents involving a "distracted driver" in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So when you're behind the wheel, consider hanging up the phone — or at least investing in a Bluetooth.
Cutting people off. No one likes driving behind a motorist who cuts across four lanes of traffic to make a last-minute turn. Not only is that a recipe for a fender bender, but the driver isn't doing his car any favors, either, since such reckless driving is a sure way to wear down brake pads and the transmission. It's almost always wiser to turn around down the road than to swerve, but you can also avoid the problem by planning trips carefully beforehand. Don't blindly trust your GPS either, since a sudden recalculation could send you careening across an intersection.
Tailgating. Is there anything as irritating? Outside of flashing your brights in someone's rear-view mirror, probably not. And riding too close to another car's bumper is dangerous to boot, since you increase your chances of a pileup if the car you're tailgating stops suddenly. And finally, by constantly tapping your accelerator and brakes, your car is guzzling way more gasoline than necessary. The EPA estimates that such "aggressive driving" can reduce a car's gas mileage by 33 percent on highways and 5 percent on city streets, which means keeping your cool in traffic can help you save money on gas.
Going straight in turn-only lanes. When you accidentally end up in an exit or turn-only lane and still try to go straight — or vice versa — you can quickly make a lane full of enemies. The cars behind you pile up while you stubbornly stay put, and if you're stopped at a traffic light, chances are pretty good they'll miss their chance to turn. Horns may beep, and tempers certainly will flare. Plus, all that idling forces the cars behind you to pump out more exhaust, which means more air pollution. This situation is sometimes hard to avoid if you're lost, but for the sake of other drivers, just go around the block instead of blocking everyone behind you.
Not knowing how to merge. Ever sit behind a driver who lets car after car pass before finally navigating onto the highway? Or maybe you've driven behind someone who slips between traffic lanes, oblivious or indifferent to oncoming cars. Whether they've neglected to use a directional signal, or they just can't pick a lane, drivers who don't merge smoothly into traffic can be blamed for some of the most common and frustrating traffic sins, including fender benders, bottle-necking and traffic jams. And since anything that causes more traffic also causes more pollution, there's an environmental and public-health incentive to be a better merger. For tips on how to improve your merging technique, check out this helpful video.
Hitting the brakes on the highway. We're not talking about braking when there's a seven-car pileup ahead and you need to avoid an accident. But a persistently heavy foot on the brakes isn't good for your car, your gas mileage or your fellow drivers. And if you're driving a hybrid, the stop-and-go method is just plain counterproductive. You should keep at least one car's length between you and the car in front of you when driving on highways, so if that driver slows down you have time to do the same — without stomping the brakes. This is especially important when roads are slick from rain, snow or ice.
Also on MNN:
Texting while driving: ZUMA Press
Driver cutting off other cars: Manish Swarup/AP
Tailgater in rear-view mirror: ZUMA Press
Car driving between two lanes: rpongsaj/Flickr
Merging traffic sign: rutlo/Flickr
Brake lights on a rainy street: ZUMA Press