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. Diane says

    This should have included driving with emergency flashers on. Many people don’t realize that that are to be used only when the vehicle is stopped, and not while driving in rain or fog.

  2. Tracy heath says

    Yes we need the laws in Texas to enforce these rules on the road I see a lot people on the street breaking all 7 bad habits every day thanks Geico

  3. David says

    What about slowing down when making left turn,when car coming from opposite side has green light,this might save some accidents.
    Left turn should be only permitted with left turn green signal on all busy /intersection .

  4. Felicia Thomas says

    I appreciate the reminder about safe driving, this was very informative information. Keep up the great work!

  5. Fred Rodriguez says

    Drivers fail to do the most simple things like giving a turn signal to let other drivers know their intentions. I have also seen pedestrians not move out of the way for an emergency vehicle with lights and siren on. Drivers also park their vehicles in the middle of the street instead of pulling over completely to talk to someone.

  6. Kwame says

    Yes, it’s true tailgating is another way to get crush. I remember my second accident thought its was the other driver fault but I was so closer to the other vehicle. And also sleeping enough hour can be challenge to some of the drivers. My first accident. I wasn’t sleep enough before the accident happen. I slept after I stopped on the traffic light and another car behind me blow horns on me and I moved so fast I didn’t reliaze that there was a car ahead of me. Thanks for this article! Now our days I learned a lot about save driving

  7. Emma Prince says

    Tailgating and texting. Years ago someone hit me in the back, because the driver was texting. I had stopped because of the red light and he kept on going.

  8. Roberta L. Whitt says

    I have witnessed many young drivers whom for some reason or other “Speeding!”and it is difficult tagging them while I’m concentrating on my moving vehicle. If I gas up to keep up with them, I will be the one to get the speeding ticket and no policeman will take my word for trying to do a good deed. That makes me, the law breaker. So what should I do?

  9. Jerry Schmide says

    Just good reminders for all level of drivers. Most of us are guilty of not following all of suggested good driving habits 100% of the time.

  10. Alex Jennings says

    With most of us using vehicles for transportation, it’s important that we’re aware of common mistakes and bad habits, so we can be more safe. For example, a good friend of mine was hit on a crosswalk because the driver was distracted by his phone. Luckily, she was able to cover her medical bills by hiring a personal injury attorney, but that doesn’t negate her physical and mental damage. It’s important to obey the law—it’s for your own benefit!

    • Lee says

      I know someone stepping off curb, it was called j walking. Person hit him while on cell phone. He was engaged to be married that year. That all changed because he became paralyzed from neck down, had to move back in with his parents. Girl left him. He couldn’t do anything about it, the guy didn’t even get a ticket. Totally wrong