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Ten Deadly Driver Mistakes

Most commit some transgressions behind the wheel, but these errors may be catastrophic. That "unlimited texts" plan you're considering? You may not be using it as often as you think.

autos Updated: Dec 09, 2009 17:24 IST

Most commit some transgressions behind the wheel, but these errors may be catastrophic.

That "unlimited texts" plan you're considering? You may not be using it as often as you think.

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In October, President Obama signed an executive order forbidding federal employees from texting while driving. The move looks to be part of a growing sweep against the practice: So far, 18 states and the District of Columbia have banned on-the-road texts. Two more states have laws that forbid teens and other new drivers from the practice as well, and a similar forthcoming ban is aimed at bus drivers and truckers who travel between states.

AAA recently announced it will push to pass laws banning text messaging by drivers in all 50 states by 2013. Such laws seem to help: According to a study conducted by the Auto Club of Southern California, a ban implemented in California last January has reduced on-the-road texts by 70per cent. Nearly 80per cent of collisions involve some form of driver distraction, and the risk of a crash increases by 400per cent when using a cellphone, according to the AAA Foundation. Twenty percent of drivers in the U.S. admit to texting while driving at least once in the last month.

Texting behind the wheel is so dangerous that it joins our list of 10 deadly mistakes drivers make on the road. Others include well-known no-nos like driving while drunk and underestimating weather conditions.

Rough Roads
Inclement weather is associated with 7,000 fatalities, 800,000 injuries and more than 1.5 million crashes annually nationwide, with an estimated economic toll of $42 billion, according to the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. Researchers there say the day after the first storm of the season is the most dangerous for drivers because people are unwilling to avoid driving or don't adopt safer procedures as completely as they will later in the season.

Speeding becomes especially dangerous during the winter, too, as it shortens the amount of time and distance drivers have to respond to changing conditions. Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Bridgestone, Colo., says drivers should know the weight and drivetrain of their car and know the condition of their tires before they venture onto potentially slippery or snow-bound roads. It's not necessarily about going fast or slow, he says, it's about knowing your vehicle and acting accordingly.

"The main thing is that people have to adjust their speed to the conditions at hand," Cox says. "Know what tools you have at your disposal because really your car is just a tool and it responds directly to the input of the operator."

Weather aside, speeding is involved in about 13per cent of all crashes and 33per cent of fatal crashes nationwide, according to AAA. It's also the most common traffic-law violation. Thing is, speeding doesn't actually save that much time. A 30-mile trip, driven at the speed limit of 55 miles per hour, takes 32.7 minutes. Driven at 75 miles per hour, the trip takes 24 minutes, saving a maximum of 8.7 minutes. But even those savings come only on a straight road that doesn't require turning at traffic signals, weaving through traffic or navigating curves, all of which take up more time.

Avoid Alcohol
At the risk of stating the obvious, the worst mistake to make on the road is to drive after drinking. The numbers don't lie: Alcohol is a factor in 40per cent of crash-related deaths; it is present in 60per cent of the fatal crashes of people 16 to 24 years old. But it's not just about hurting others or yourself, it's also about avoiding fines and jail time: AAA reports that every year, 1.5 million people are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

David Salmon, director of traffic services for the New York State Police, says alcohol is especially dangerous because it so often leads to other driving mistakes—like not wearing a seat belt, over- or understeering and road rage.

"Alcohol and drug use just doesn't mix with vehicles, and that only becomes exacerbated when the weather and the driving conditions are worse," he says. "Because your abilities are impaired, those added obstacles to safe driving are exacerbated, too, by the fact that you lose judgment."