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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How Would You Rate Your Driving Habits?

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy of wikimedia
When it comes to how well a person drives, most insurance agents look at a person’s driving record.  How many tickets do they have and when was the last time they filed a claim?  Have they ever had a DUI? While this is one way to sort out the bad drivers, the bottom line is that nearly every driver in the US could use a refresher course.  Face it, we’ve all faced situations on the road where a driver in the passing lane chose to lollygag along to prevent others from passing.  We’ve also faced drivers who followed too close behind us when there was plenty of room to pass. How many times have we all seen someone texting while barreling along the highway?  To help you determine how highly honed your driving habits happen to be, I thought I’d take the time to give you a little food for thought.

Are you the King of the Road?

I met a tourist from Germany a couple years ago.  After asking me about the Kamikaze driving habits he had experienced on I-95 he asked me why American drivers were so undisciplined on the road?  When I told him how easy it was for practically anyone to get a driver’s license here, he told me to get licensed in Germany you had to pay around 2,000 Euros and take an extensive driver’s education course that included classroom and driving instruction.  After all that, you then had to sit for and pass an exam before you were issued a license.  He then went onto tell me how drivers could be ticketed on the Autobahn for driving too close to other vehicles, or for failing to yield the right of way to a vehicle attempting to pass.  After hearing this, I wondered why I seldom see a cop ticket a driver who was clearly a menace on the road?

One of the other things my German friend couldn’t understand is why every car made in the US has cup holders.  That one surprised me too.  When I asked him to explain, he told me in his country anything that distracts a driver’s attention would never be allowed.  (This includes cup holders.) We, on the other hand, have everything from cup holders and Bluetooth cellphone connections to personal entertainment centers built into our vehicles at the factory.

Is your car a transportation system or a 3-ring circus? – The more gadgets and gizmos you have in your vehicle, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident.  The next time you climb behind the wheel, take a look around you.  How many distractions can you count in the front seat alone?  Do you leave your cellphone on while you drive and if you do, does you have a way to answer without taking your hands off the wheel?  How many other distractions can you find up there?  Do you have a GPS mounted on or near your dash that isn’t voice-enabled?  Anything that forces you to take your eyes off the road for even a second is an accident waiting to happen.  Do you routinely have a beverage handy when you drive?  Do you play your radio when you drive and how loud do you play it?  If you crank your car’s sound system way up, chances are you can’t hear other vehicles, including ambulances, fire trucks and police cars who may or may not stop at a red light if they have their flashers going.

Image courtesy of flickr
Are you married with children? – Driving with kids in the car is one of the biggest distractions of all time.  Even when they’re buckled up, children, if left to their own devices, can distract all but the most disciplined of drivers.  If you have kids, think of what it’s like taking them to school or the mall.  How many times do you take your eyes off the road to reprimand them while you drive?  When was the last time you had to referee an argument that broke out in the backseat?  Did you pull your vehicle over, or did you simply turn your head to tell your kids to knock it off?

Start Your Engines – They say speed kills.  In 2017, more than 3,000 traffic fatalities were reported in Florida. That’s nothing when compared to the 166,516 crashes in the state that resulted in injuries last year.  The reason many of these accidents occur is because people either drive too fast or too close to other vehicles.  Think about it.  When you drive, do you routinely exceed the speed limit?  Be honest.  Most people either drive too fast or too slow. Either of these makes them a hazard on the road.  If you’re one of those speed demons who is constantly passing every car in sight, you know you’re living life on the edge.  If, on the other hand, every driver around is constantly passing your vehicle, you too are asking for trouble.  Contrary to popular opinion, driving the speed limit isn’t always safe.  If traffic is going faster than the speed limit, you need to keep up with it.  On the other hand, if it’s raining, or visibility is impaired by smoke or fog, then driving the speed limit is too fast.  That doesn’t mean you should come to a screeching halt or slow to a crawl, but it does mean you need to slow to match the traffic while giving yourself a bigger gap between you and the car or truck ahead.

Tailgating is one of the most common mistakes drivers make.  Riding up on someone’s bumper is asking for trouble.  If the driver ahead of you hits the brakes, you’re going to ram them.  Depending on the speed traffic is going, this could set off a multiple vehicle accident.  Even if you aren’t the kind of driver who likes to pretend they’re in NASCAR, chances are you drive too close for comfort.  The safe lead distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you should be at least 3-seconds.  This means when you are driving 35 MPH, you need to leave a gap of 150 feet.  When you are driving 65 MPH, the safe distance is 450 feet. 

I know this kind of lead distance seems excessive to most drivers.  Did you know that a car driving 65 MPH covers nearly 100 feet per second?  If the driver ahead jumped on the brakes, it would take you close to a second to hit yours.  How long would it take your car to stop?  At least 355 feet.   Even at only 25 MPH, it takes nearly 90 feet for the average car to stop.  If you drive an SUV, van or other heavy vehicle, the stopping distance is even greater.

How is your lane discipline?

Image courtesy of flickr
Are you the kind of driver who travels in the rightmost lane unless you’re trying to pass?  Or, are you a driver who picks a lane and stays there no matter what?  The next time you drive on the highway, take note of how many cars pass you on either the right or the left.  If you force vehicles to pass on your right, you’re in the wrong lane and need to move to the right lane.  Anything other than the rightmost lane is for passing.  If you decide to pass, while you don’t want to floor the accelerator, you also shouldn’t take forever to overtake the car on your right.  Remember, you could wind up in a driver’s blind spot.  That means if the car next to you needs to change lanes, you could suddenly find yourself in a tricky situation.  Speaking of changing lanes, do you use your turn signal several seconds before you proceed, or do you hit the signal as you turn the wheel?  A turn signal should never be used as an ultimatum.  It’s there to tell other drivers your intentions a few seconds before you move out of your lane and even then only if it’s safe to do so.

While nobody is perfect, taking stock of your driving habits is always a good idea if you want to avoid becoming a traffic statistic.    While I hate to admit it, I doubt that many of us would qualify for a driver’s license in Germany.  

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more ways to save on car insurance, check out her website at


  1. Let's be honest. The only time drivers in Florida are required to do any continuing education for their driving habits is after they get a ticket.

  2. Using blinkers is important, as well. No one can read your mind.


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