Reducing Driving Risks
Dangerous Driving Behaviors

Dangerous Driving Behaviors and Ways to Avoid Them: Three Safety Rules

Updated Sept. 13, 2019

Certain irresponsible driving behaviors pose a more serious threat to road user safety than others, as they are frequently committed and typically associated with serious consequences. To be a safe and responsible driver you must adopt a “zero tolerance policy” towards engaging in dangerous driving practices yourself. Allowing yourself to drive irresponsibly even once can have terrible consequences.

In addition to avoiding dangerous driving practices yourself, you must learn to identify unsafe behavior in other drivers. When you recognize the risk posed by such drivers, you can act pre-emptively to mitigate that risk by changing your speed, yielding the right-of-way or altering your position on the road.

In the United States, the most common dangerous driving behaviors which result in collisions are:

  • Speeding
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Distracted driving (including cell phone use and driving while fatigued)
  • Reckless or aggressive driving (including tailgating, unsafe lane changes, running stop signs and failure to yield right-of-way)

Speeding

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classifies a collision as “speeding-related” when at least one driver involved in the crash was exceeding a posted speed limit, driving too fast for current conditions or racing another vehicle.

It is important to note here that speeding does not only refer to exceeding a posted speed limit. You are technically speeding and may be cited for traveling at any speed which is deemed “unsafe for current conditions”, even when that speed is substantially lower than the posted limit.

According to the NHTSA, speeding-related crashes accounted for more than 25 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2016.

Speeding simultaneously increases the chances of a collision occurring and increases the probable severity of that collision. In a nutshell, if you are exceeding a safe speed limit you are far more likely to be involved in a crash and far more likely to die or be seriously injured as a result.

Speeding is easily the most dangerous of all unsafe driving behaviors because the faster you are traveling:

  • The less time you have to react
  • The less control you have over your vehicle
  • The harder it is for you to observe the roadway around your vehicle
  • The longer it takes you to slow down and stop
  • The less effective seat belts, air bags and other safety features will be

All drivers should know that risk increases exponentially the faster they are traveling. With every 10mph increase in speed, you are TWICE AS LIKELY to suffer a crash that results in disfigurement, serious injury or death.

How to deal with a speeding driver

If you encounter a speeding driver, allowing them to pass is the only course of action you should consider. Attempting to block the speeding driver or otherwise reprimand them by sounding your horn or shouting will only anger them and further increase the chances of an accident or collision happening.

Driving under the influence

The NHTSA reports that in 2016, there were a total of 10,497 fatalities as a result of alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States. Alarmingly, this works out as an average of one drunk-driving death every 50 minutes. Most of these incidents involved victims aged 25 to 34.

In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a person may not legally drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.8 or above. While this is the legal “cut-off” point, you should not assume you are safe to drive with a BAC of 0.7, 0.5 or if you have consumed any alcohol at all. Alcohol will always impair reflexes, senses and judgment skills to some extent, so if you are going to drink anything – make plans not to drive.

A person under the influence of alcohol will have:

  • Impaired reactions. Alcohol is known to slow reflexes, even in relatively small quantities.
  • Blurred vision. Alcohol slows eye muscles function and disrupt normal movement of the eye. Your ability to see in the dark and your perception of colors may also be affected.
  • Inability to judge distances. You will have a harder time figuring out where your vehicle sits in relation to other vehicles, the center line, road signs and other objects.
  • Poor attention. Alcohol causes drowsiness and makes it harder to focus on complex tasks (or in extreme cases of intoxication, simple tasks!)
  • Impaired judgment. Alcohol impairs a person’s ability to make rational, safe choices given the information on hand.
  • Limited physical coordination. Alcohol impairs eye, hand and foot coordination and as a result, can prevent you from maintaining control of a vehicle.

How to deal with a drunk driver

You are vastly more likely to encounter drunk drivers late at night, particularly on the weekends. If possible, avoid driving during these hours as it will always expose you to heightened risk. If you spot a vehicle swerving in the roadway, speeding or otherwise moving erratically, it is likely that the driver of that vehicle is intoxicated. Drunk drivers are particularly dangerous as their impaired motor skills and limited judgment makes them incredibly unpredictable. To protect yourself from a drunk driver, stay as far away from them as physically possible.

When the driver in question is swerving across the roadway up ahead, increase your following distance and hang back as far as you can without disrupting other traffic. If the suspected drunk driver is approaching from behind, reduce your speed slightly and hold your course. The last thing you want to do is catch a drunk driver by surprise by maneuvering unexpectedly in front of them. If you have time and space, pull over to the side of the roadway and let the other driver pass you. If you have your cell phone handy, you should call the police to report the incident.

Distracted driving

“Distracted driving” is an umbrella term which refers to any activity or situation that prevents a driver from fully-focusing on the task of driving and monitoring the roadway environment. The American Automobile Association (AAA) believe distracted driving may play a part in up to 50 percent of all motor vehicle crashes – even those attributed to other causes such as speeding or drunk driving.

The most common causes of distracted driving are:

  • Rubbernecking. Motorists often take their eyes off the road to observe accident scenes. This is both distasteful and dangerous! Rubbernecking is thought to account for 16 percent of all distracted driving incidents.
  • Texting. The National Safety Council estimates that 1 in every 4 car crashes in the United States is caused by texting while driving. As a result, it is illegal in many states.
  • Sight-seeing. Approximately 10 percent of all distracted driving-related crashes are caused by drivers observing scenery rather than focusing on the roadway environment.
  • Driver fatigue. Fatigued drivers can very easily be distracted by discomfort, or minor events near the roadway. Fatigue-related driver distraction accounts for 12 percent of distracted driving crashes.
  • Passengers. Roughly 9 percent of distracted driving accidents are caused by other adults talking or behaving in a distracting way, or children in the back seat.

Even while driving in relatively low-risk environments, you MUST dedicate your full attention to monitoring the roadway situation and controlling your vehicle. It only takes a moment of distraction to miss a pedestrian stepping out into the street, a vehicle entering an intersection or some other potential risk that could lead to an accident. You only need to look at the figures outlined above to see how frequently this happens!

How to deal with a distracted driver

Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to combat the risk posed by distracted drivers. If you are fully concentrating on the driving task, it is unlikely you will even notice that a nearby driver is distracted. To protect yourself from distracted drivers, exercise more caution in situations where other motorists may be easily distracted. Keep speed to a minimum and monitor the area around your vehicle closely when approaching any accident site – do not rubberneck.

If you can see a collision is about to occur and one or more of the drivers involved have not spotted the impending threat, you may sound your horn once to warn them. Never use your horn to reprimand distracted drivers if they are not in immediate danger, as you will end up distracting every other driver on the roadway unnecessarily.

Reckless driving

“Reckless or aggressive driving” covers any dangerous or irresponsible action a person purposefully takes while driving. This includes tailgating, changing lanes in an unsafe manner, disregarding traffic control devices and failure to yield the right-of-way. The latter two offenses are by far the most frequently committed and often result in collisions.

Ignoring right-of-way rules

Right-of-way rules are established to prevent conflict between drivers and other road users wishing to occupy the same portion of roadway at roughly the same time. If you fail to yield the right-of-way when appropriate, conflict is almost guaranteed. Unless the driver you should have yielded to is paying close attention, a collision will likely result from your dangerous driving behavior.

It is not only motorists who are affected by right-of-way violations. At intersections, pedestrians are often involved in collisions with a vehicle that has failed to yield the right-of-way. In 2016, “failure to yield right-of-way” was established as the primary cause in the deaths of 29 percent of all pedestrians killed in car accidents.

You have a duty to respect all road users and share the road fairly, as dictated by traffic control devices and right-of-way rules. Under no circumstances should you ignore right-of-way rules, no matter how much of a rush you are in to reach your destination. Forcing your way through will only gain you a fraction of a second and could even delay your journey considerably, if a collision occurs.

How to deal with drivers who fail to yield

If another motorist fails to yield the right-of-way when they should, you must yield and let them go. Attempting to claim your right-of-way by force will only increase the chances of a collision occurring. Plus, you only have lawful right-of-way when another motorist or road users yields. If a collision results from your refusal to yield, you would be responsible in the eyes of the law.

Ignoring traffic signs and signals

A driver who fails to abide by traffic signs, signals or other control devices immediately endangers themselves and all other road users in the vicinity. Two of the most dangerous offenses in this category are driving through red lights and failing to stop at STOP signs. Collisions also frequently occur where a driver has failed to abide by a “WRONG WAY” sign, or signs posted around construction sites.

It does not matter whether the offense was deliberate or due to inattention, as the consequences are the same. In 2014, there were 13,627 vehicles involved in accidents where the primary cause of the incident was failure to adhere to a STOP sign. A more recent traffic safety report indicates that on average, two people are killed every day in car crashes that result from running a red light.

Motorists must obey ALL signs, signals and pavement markings. The only exception to this is when a traffic control person (such as a police officer or a flagger) is directing you to take action that conflicts with posted signs or signals. Remember that “not seeing” a sign or signal is not an excuse for dangerous driving. It is your responsibility to pay attention to the road.

Keep in mind that “rolling through” stop signs is just as illegal and nearly as dangerous as driving right through without slowing. You must come to a complete stop prior to every stop sign, as failure to do so could confuse other road users and lead them to react in an unsafe manner.

How to deal with drivers who ignore signs and signals

Unfortunately, you are bound to encounter a driver who disobeys a posted sign or traffic light and some point; it happens often and is usually accidental. The only way to stay safe in these situations is to be prepared. Never rely on other motorists following the rules. Always check for traffic moving in all directions before passing through any intersection, whether the right-of-way should be yours of not. That way, you can respond by yielding rather than taking evasive action to avoid a collision.

Three safety rules

While the risks we are routinely exposed to while driving are complex, the tactics we must employ to mitigate those risks are simple. When it comes to any dangerous driving behavior that may threaten your safety or that of other road users, remember these three golden rules:

  1. You must obey the law, always.
  2. You must pay attention to the road.
  3. If in doubt, YIELD. It is not your job to reprimand other drivers. If another motorist breaks the rules, stay as far away from them as safely possible.

Next up, we delve into a lesser considered aspect of road safety and dangerous driving behaviors: traffic flow. All road users must act to optimize the flow of traffic in any situation, as failure to do so increases risk for every person using the roadway.

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