Common driving mistakes that can cost lives

Carelessness and bad driving habits cause many accidents. Remember that driving is risky and you must not get distracted

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Road Safety

Let it be clear that we do not want to scare you, but to remind you how dangerous it is to forget the risks of driving.

As you learn to drive, you stay alert and keep all your senses engaged in driving. Yet, over the years, driving can become automatic, and those driving lapses (which are often also road safety offences) that you commit without even realising it can be very costly.

The magazine of the Spanish Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT) magazine recently compiled the most common oversights and mistakes. Today, we take a look at some of them to remind you of the risks they entail and the correct way to proceed:

  • Failure to observe the minimum safety distance – Risk of collision: It is essential to keep your distance in order to have time to react and brake smoothly. If you are unsure of the minimum following distance, look for a static reference (such as a tree or pole) and when the car in front of you passes by it, count:one Mississippi, two Mississippi. If you have reached the reference point before you have finished counting, you are too close.You must increase the following distance.
  • Bad driving posture – Increases reaction time:  Being glued to the steering wheel makes it difficult to steer well and there is also a significant risk of injury if the airbag is triggered.Staying too far away from the steering wheel or with your elbow on the car window increases reaction time. The right thing to do is to put your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel (picturing it as a clock face: put your left hand on number ten and your right hand on number two), keeping your head in the centre of the headrest and your arms and legs slightly bent.
  • Incorrect seat belt positioning – Danger of serious injury: An incorrectly positioned seat belt can cause serious injuries even in minor accidents or sudden braking, especially in children, who are more fragile. In Spain, children over 135 cm in height can legally travel using an adult seat belt as long as it fits snugly. To achieve a proper adjustment, make sure that the upper strap goes over the sternum and rests on the centre of the collarbone. The lower strap should be close to the body, over the pelvic bones. Incorrect positioning, with the belt above the stomach or close to the neck, can be very dangerous indeed because the pressure of the belt on these soft areas in the event of an accident or sudden braking could cause serious internal injuries. Spanish Traffic Law allows children over 135 cm tall to travel using seat belts, but at FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE we go one step further and advise that they should only do so when the seat belt is correctly adjusted as indicated and, if not, they should continue to use their booster seat or cushion.
  • Driving in the middle lane – Leads to incorrect manoeuvres by other drivers: Driving in the middle lane, except when justified (e.g. in heavy traffic), is a bad habit that can lead other drivers to perform dangerous manoeuvres such as overtaking on the right or having to make a double lane change. On multi-lane roads, try to drive in the right-hand lane and use the other lanes only for overtaking .
  • Getting distracted by looking at an accident – Leads to holding up and risk of collision: It is natural to slow down to look at an accident, but you should not divert your attention while driving. The best thing to do is to keep moving with caution, keep your eyes on the road in front of you and keep an eye on vehicles coming from behind in your rear-view mirror.
  • Failure to respect pedestrian crossings – Risk of hit-and-run: There are not only cars on the roads. Pedestrians can rely on zebra crossings thinking that the car will stop. You should always respect the priority of pedestrians in zebra crossings and slow down to let them know that you have seen them.
  • Stretching the gas tank too far – Risk of breakdown and having to stop the vehicle in a dangerous place: Impurities that accumulate at the bottom of the tank can be absorbed by the injection system and cause the car to malfunction at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Never stretch the gas tank too far, it is better to always keep your tank at least at the 1/4 full mark and fill it up before starting a journey.
  • Ignoring the speed limit – Risk of accident and fine:  Speed limits do not only depend on the kind of road, they also vary depending on the vehicle. If you are driving a non-standard vehicle, such as a van or a vehicle with a trailer, find out about the legal limitations before taking the wheel. 
  • Driving on kerbs – Risk of flat tyre and deformation:  Sometimes the wheels hit the kerb or climb on it when parking.You shuold always avoid it. In addition to the unpleasant surprise of a flat tyre the next day, it can cause deformations that can dangerously alter the steering or, in extreme cases, lead to the tyre breaking while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Slamming on the brakes – Risk of collision, wheel lock and sliding off the road: Even at low speeds, sudden braking can cause loss of control, collisions and serious injuries to children if they are not properly restrained.The best thing to do is to always stay vigilant, as well as to keep a safe distance to anticipate any danger and to be able to warn other drivers with hazard lights.
  • Low tyre pressure – Longer braking distance, aquaplaning, blowouts: Riding with low tyre pressure, or with worn or damaged tyres, increases the risk of a blowout as well as the braking distance. Check your tyre pressure regularly: every week if possible and always before leaving for a trip.
  • Excessive downhill braking – Overheating, loss of performance:  Holding down the brake pedal on long descents overheats the brakes and makes them less effective. Use low gears to prevent the vehicle from speeding up downhill and take your foot off the brake pedal to cool the discs and pads. Apply the old rule of descending the road in the same gear as you climbed it. 

These mistakes, carelessness and bad driving habits are the cause of many common road accidents. Remember that there are risks involved in driving and although experience is an asset, there is nothing better than to always be as alert as the very first day.