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. Johnny Ryals says

    How about not having your lights on in the daytime, when it is raining. How about turning right on red and not stopping first. Please add to your iist.

  2. W. E. Brown says

    I presume if a driver is on a public roadway, he or she has a valid driver’s license issued by their respective DMV. I, on the other hand, presume that if they are between the ages of 18 years old and 25 y.o. they are a present danger to me, to themselves, their passengers, and to all other, then current, automobile/truck drivers within a 1/4 mile radius of their location. Of course, their (teenage drivers) location is changing constantly, so the population which is in the 1/2 mile diameter circle needs to avoid such teenage drivers as best they can, if they can.

    The record shows that teenage drivers, at the time of their collision, are more often than not impaired by illegal substances or mind altering substances which they have ingested. We can be super careful drivers, but that amounts for naught so long as 18 year olds are permitted to be on this nation’s highway and roadway.

    The age of majority in these United States would save many lives if it were to increased to 21 years and likewise be the minnimun age for driving in these fifty states.

  3. Dan says

    Hope people read and listen, have driven many miles over he tears and courtesy seems to be getting worse.
    Plolice in all States should stop hiding in the bushes for speeders and enforce unsafe lane changes and TAILGATING. COPS IN HIDING NEVER CATCH THE SPEEDER CUTTING IN AND OUT OF LANES AND TAILGATING.
    Perhaps the Dick Tracy’s in unmarked Police Cars should use marked police cars. It would be a deterrent and make it easier for people who do get stopped to identify who real cops are and stop the fakers

  4. Elizabeth Patha says

    That is true .I see thess action while am driving .there are carzy driver out there .you have to watch whoes is the front you on side to know what are they next move

  5. Nanci Rainey says

    Drivers should be aware also of driving in the proper lane also. Generally, stay in the right, use the left to pass or the right lane for those slower “Sunday” drivers. They should NOT be in the left lane of super highway (I.e. Interstate 95) driving 40 mph. when the speed limit is 65. That too causes accidents.

  6. Terry Sanders says

    Headlights or daytime running lights on all the time. Visibility is helped immensely; i.e. other people will see you better.

  7. Jesus Torres says

    It makes me so upset when I’m driving with my wife,my 3 year old and my baby girl on the way . I see cars flyng behind me and I actually move out of the way being scared that they are going to hit my vehicle with my family in there. Another bad driving habit is talking on the cell phone and speeding at the same time, this really angers me,but concerns me more. This driving habits need to stop because we are not only putting out life’s at risk but everyone else also. I’m not perfect but I sure try not to be driving like a maniac .Thanks homie Geico for saving me money and giving us tips that will keep us safe in the Road. Ps I’m happy I’m having my baby girl on the way.

  8. u siculu says

    ticket tailgaters..ticket them often and then some more,,,,,how about disarming phones inside the vehicle…they’re murder or suicide at best .accidents just don’t happen happen somebody screws up and usually because someone is not alert, or overconfident ,or not driving defensively…not to mention ..just a little drunk or ( oh,pot never hurt anyone) stoned. Geico might consider a discount for Genetic Modification of drivers, especially the humans.

  9. Grace Yim Clausen says

    Thank you for you update info. I am 79 years old and have been driving since I was 17 and have never been stopped , except 2 occasions for speeding. In spite of this I still do not get my driving insurance reduced.