7 Bad Driving Habits That May Also Be Illegal

Driving pulled over by police for wearing headphones while drivingLet’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.)

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. Statistics prove the point: In 2015, says the IIHS, 27 percent of all crash fatalities—more than 9,000 deaths—were related to speed. 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. Yet seatbelts saved almost 14,000 lives in 2015 alone. 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: How good are your driving skills? Test yourself with this quiz.

Illustration by Sam Island

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  1. Michael P Crowley says

    In live close & work in D.C. The traffic has grown w/carely drivers. Geico has it right on the money follow the law, they are made to save life!

  2. Ron Naujelis says

    II would like to add one more. I’ve drivers eating yougert, with a spoon and other foods, also reading most on busy highways such as I 4, and. 27.

  3. hampton roads va says

    I’m seeing more drivers doing the opposite of tailgating. It’s quite selfish to leave an entire car length or more between you and the car in front of you when you are stopped at a traffic signal. Among other consequences, you impede the drivers who wish to move into the turn lanes. The signal turns green for the turn lane, but the drivers are stuck behind YOU because YOU won’t move up!
    Thanks, Judy Romero for posting about this topic last week.

    • twig d says

      i am the driver you are talking about. i was rear ended at a red light pushed into the car in front of me totaling my car and sending me to the hospital. i still have back problems 10 years later. you think i am selfish but i would rather be safe and not care about what you think.

    • Fantu Kewe kelecha says

      It is a good lesson , makes the drivers to learn more , and prevents from having an accident too.Thanks .

  4. H. R. Harding says

    Signaling when changing lanes as well as Headlights (not standing lights) in bad weather are not observed by many drivers. I find those two very dangerous ( just this week’s trip I had two very close calls when passing drivers pulled out without signaling.
    Maybe GEICO could ask for a Safety Campaign with State Police Departments using those electronic sign messages?
    Thanks.

  5. Vi says

    I saw a driver with large headphones on. I could not believe my eyes or the reason anyone would be doing this. Is a volume button not enough?????

    • Ischy says

      Personally think that it’s not smart at all but some people don’t have a working radio or consider it “hands free” when talking on the phone

  6. Judy Romero says

    A “reasonable and prudent” space behind the car in front of you is good, but not too far behind, especially if you are going under speed limit. This encourages drivers who want to go faster than you to cut in front of you unsafely. Stopping too far back from the car in front of you at a signal is also not prudent, as drivers behind you who are making a left cannot get past you to enter the left turn lane.

  7. Renee slotoroff says

    All the above goes on every single day in the state of Florida which I read has the worst drivers in the country. They truly need to educate & make major changes I am appalled @ what I witness every day on the road. Wake up governor Scott. Plus there is no inspection of cars or trucks ever would take to long to list

  8. Johnny R says

    Thank you Terry Sanders……you are right. Many motorist think that the law, about having lights on while raining, in unnecessary. Lots of drivers must think that they dont need lights because they can see where they are going but, more than that, it makes them more visible, while driving while raining. I ride a motorcycle, rain sleet or snow. I only get one chance to do it right. When my motorcycle gets hit, I am also. It is not like getting in an accidentin an automobile when you may get a bent bumper or grill or busted light.
    Thank you again….