Driving pulled over by police for wearing headphones while driving

7 Bad Driving Habits That May Also Be Illegal

Let’s face it: Driver’s Ed was a while ago. Over the years, our perfect double-handed grip on the steering wheel may have slipped a little; perhaps other bad habits have crept in as well.

And whether we realize it or not, some of those habits may be illegal.

It’s true that traffic laws can be confusing. They can vary by state, and even by municipality. A violation in one place—say, turning right on red in New York City—can be perfectly legal just over the city border.

The evolution of our traffic laws can also be a source of confusion. As the use of mobile phones has spread, for example, safety experts have recognized their role in distracting drivers—and states are adopting laws to combat the problem. Those laws are still developing. While most states have outlawed texting while driving, some have made it illegal to use a phone at all while driving, although others have barred it only for younger drivers.

Still, when it comes to driving, the patchwork quilt of traffic laws should take a back seat to safety. Here are seven habits to change today.

1. Using Your Mobile Phone While Driving

It may be difficult to ignore the ping of an incoming text message, but it’s essential to keep your eyes on the road. With distracted driving becoming an increasingly important issue, expect more states to crack down on any use of a mobile phone. In fact, Washington State just did so in an innovative way with its new DUIE (Driving Under the Influence of Electronics) regulation. But regardless of where you are, put that phone in airplane mode before you hit the gas. (Check out other surprising causes of distracted driving.)

Review your policy.

2. Driving With Headphones On

Listening to music on your car radio can be distracting enough. But with headphones at your ears, you may be shutting out important noises—like car horns, railroad-crossing alarms or emergency vehicle sirens—as well as breaking the law in some states.

3. Tailgating

Following a car too closely can happen when a driver isn’t paying close enough attention to the surrounding traffic. It can also result in a ticket. The space you should leave depends on your speed and the local conditions (e.g., a traffic jam or rain storm); try to keep what’s generally referred to as a “reasonable and prudent” distance from other cars.

4. Changing Lanes Without Signaling

In heavy traffic, using your blinker to signal a lane change is a necessity; without it, other drivers won’t know your intention. When traffic is light, though, it’s easier to be lazy about turning it on. You may or may not be pulled over for this infraction, but good habits begin with good communication, regardless of conditions or laws.

5. Speeding

You’re running late and traffic is light—you could shave a couple of minutes off your travel time if you speed up, right? Not so fast. High speeds make a crash more likely, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, since it takes longer to stop or slow down. That appointment you’re late for can wait. Abide by the speed limit.

6. Not Having Your Headlights On

Obviously you need headlights for nighttime driving, but you may not always think to pop them on at dusk or in bad weather. Just remember to over-communicate while driving—and in this case, headlights advertise your presence as well as help you navigate. Laws vary on when to use headlights, but if there’s any question, don’t hesitate: It’s as easy as flipping a switch.

7. Not Wearing A Seatbelt

While clicking a seatbelt is pretty standard practice for most drivers—more than 90 percent of us use one, according to NHTSA—at least 27 million Americans still don’t buckle up. And of course, “click it or ticket” is a familiar phrase for a reason. So don’t neglect the seatbelt—it’s important, even if you’re just driving around the corner. (Here are some other misconceptions about seatbelts.)

Good habits start with defensive driving—which could also earn you a discount on auto insurance with GEICO.

Next article: How good are your driving skills? Test yourself with this quiz.

Illustration by Sam Island

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    Leave a comment

  1. George says,

    Also, cutting others off and driving slower than them. The passing lane (yes, that’s a thing) is used to pass, not impede traffic. Driving slow while passing only to accelerate AFTER you passed. Signaling as you’re changing lanes. All these contribute to the overall bad behavior on the road, but very hard to prove, so speeding remains the number one of income for cops.

  2. Phil Hunter says,

    In my opinion the IIHS is an underworked, overpriced bureaucracy whose statistics are often misstated, inaccurate, self serving or absurd. Examples: almost one quarter of highway workers are injured on the job not by drivers of cars but by their own equipment. Yet states fine drivers for failing to reduce speed. NO mention is made of job related injuries caused by workers own self negligence, IIHS just lumps them as driver caused. Another example, a car from the 1960’s may need 170 feet to stop from 40 MPH but a modern car can easily do so in under 90-100 feet. Do me a favor and quit including IIHS “incomplete, misleading or self-serving statistics” in your articles.

  3. Rhodesia says,

    I always wondered if it was safe to text when waiting at a stop light. Can you get ticket for this action in N.Y.C. I have the Bluetooth phone system in my car, but you can’t text on the key pad. I may have to ask a Police Officer .

    • Glenn Wilson says,

      Not that you’ll pay any attention to this, but how about you save the texting for when you’re not driving your car at all, including waiting at a red light. If you’re in texting mode while in your car you will at least sneak a text from time to time while you’re in motion, so just HANG-UP AND DRIVE. Do yourself and the rest of us a big favor.

  4. Denise says,

    The headlights on all the new cars are absolutely blinding! The headlights on new trucks are the worst. Everyone is blinding everybody else!!! Why did the car manufacturers see fit to do this. Not happy.

  5. James Davis III says,

    Since moving to Florida my rates increase a lot each year, been told because of all the accidents. I don’t cause them and haven’t had any. No one pulls the nuts that speed, tail gate, and any other rude driving they do. I was a commercial truck driver and have driven in most states. Florida just lets drivers do as they want, you can see the results in the accidents and deaths.

  6. Dave Cline says,

    I think people who tailgate are the most annoying followed closely by people using phones while they are supposed to be driving . If the penalty fit the infraction , a lot of these morons would change their driving habits.

    • George says,

      Impeding traffic is also a violation. Get out of the way of the faster cars. That’s why there’s a passing lane. Get a clue, move aside. Yes, there is such a thing as a passing lane. That’s why highways have at least two lanes. If they’re tailgating you while on street roads, and there’s a line behind them, you might be the problem. Be aware of your surroundings and stop thinking that you’re right about everything… it would solve a LOT of problems.

  7. Ken Johnson says,

    What is defensive driving? These 5 rules have served me since taking driver’s ed in high school.
    Keep your eyes moving.
    Leave yourself an out
    Aim high in steering
    Make sure they see you
    Get the big picture
    (KLAMG, mnemonicaly)

  8. arline peartree says,

    excellent advice. iN florida there is road rage and also people dont signal when changing lanes….dont know how t o change this….since there are so many seniors here…advice for them is most impt….
    I never knew one could change angle of headlights….thanks so much

  9. Susan Rittenberg says,

    Crossing multiple lanes on a highway without using your turn signal is a good way to get a ticket. One lane is safe. Turning on your turn signal before you step on the brake to turn is also a good idea in the city.

    • Domingo rincon says,

      All this laws are good for me.but we can do about. Trucks holling gravel or sand that fall out of tarps in freeways. Normaly in our area it is a company named granite.in a lap of 2 years this happened. I’ve had to replsce 3 winshields. This is a safety issue too. Please do someting for us. Please talk to the highway patrol and DMV. Its not the driver’s fault, the gravel or sand falls out because the truck driver didn’t secure the material it’s holling. Drivers shouldn’t be paying for the mistakes of the truck driver. Thank you very much for your time and I hope you consider this problem.1

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