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. Jose Cruz says,

    Very true and more importantly is to bring all these advices to the practice every time we are behind the wheel. Thanks Geico for the tips!

  2. Kenneth C Magalis says,

    It would be great if you could list each state and note which laws are part of the seven that apply to each state.

    • David says,

      Agreed!! I keep waiting for the report to come out saying somebody’s Chihuahua punctured a lung or caused other internal injury when the airbag deployed during an accident.

  3. Philip H Stetson says,

    Also, using headlights when it’s raining enough to use windshield wipers. In many states, including VA, it’s the law.

  4. Ben Harrison says,

    I have sixty years of driving experience. Drivers today are far more challenged then say just thirty years ago. 1 To much traffic on our roads. 2 drivers are more likely to drink and drive then ever before. 3 Passing on the inside and taking more then two lanes at one time on highways with posted speeds of 65MPH. doing speeds of 20MPH over limit. 4 Lets not forget we must Text and talk no matter what.5Road Rage need I say more Driving is life are death take your pick May this help save a life.


    Yes! I have driven behind drivers that just do’nt think they have to signal to merge into your lane they also do’nt signal or merge to turn the street they stop all traffic behind them almost cuasing accsidents. Thank you , your tips should help us be better driver.

  6. David says,

    Thank you for pointing out the use of headlights close to dusk. Good point. Another to consider, and I see this violated ALL the time, is the unnecessary use of fog lights. I think people believe more is better when it comes to lights on the front of their vehicle, but fog lamps are for a specific purpose: to light up the road directly in front of your vehicle when driving in fog or heavy rain. They actually light up the area which is in a shadow from your regular headlights. However, when conditions are clear, they reflect an excess amount of light off the roadway into other drivers field of view, be it from the rear or into oncoming traffic, especially when the roadway is wet. In some states, it is illegal to have more than four lights showing from the front of a vehicle. This becomes a problem when one has running lights, headlamps, and fog lamps on simultaneously. This is not possible with all makes and models, but I notice a few of the new Jeeps have this capability. The weird running lights are hard enough to deal with without adding to the issue. Remember, if it requires a switch on the dashboard to turn on the fog lamps, only use them in FOG!

  7. Doris Raymond says,

    I have notice that no one uses their Signals anymore. Plus I see women putting their makeup
    while driving which is damages also.

    I should not have been driving after my Husband pass away , because I mind was not in the right place .

    Thank you for your tips!

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