By John Zaid, founder of Zaid Law
Do you chuckle affectionately when you see one of those cars that has the big “Student Driver” sign on top? It’s OK, we all do—we think, “Oh, I remember the days of just learning to drive and being totally clueless.”
Well, you know what? That student driver probably knows the rules of the road a lot better than you do. I know, it’s hard to believe but, unless you’ve recently been to traffic school, it’s pretty likely that you’ve forgotten a lot of what you learned in your driver’s education days.
Even if you’re a “good” driver, your driving habits may be partly ruled by years-old habits that are actually illegal.
These habits might seem inconsequential to you, but they could be dangerous and, if they result in a car accident, would mean you are at fault.
Read on for a refresher course on a few of the most commonly forgotten driving laws.
- Pedestrian Power
Those white stripes on the street in your city or town are not merely decoration. They are pedestrian crosswalks that legally require all drivers to stop if a pedestrian is waiting to cross. I live in a busy urban area and am alarmed by how often I see drivers fly through crosswalks when there are people plainly trying to cross the street.
It’s illegal, so you may very well be ticketed for such a violation. You should also be extremely cautious about passing if the car in front of you stops at a crosswalk—you think that they’re waiting to turn without a signal, but there may be a person that you can’t see, and if you’re too hasty about passing you might hit someone.
- Keep Your Distance
Tailgating or even following too closely is not only extremely annoying, it’s illegal. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common issues on the road, and one that also causes a lot of accidents. And the sad thing is that the reason most people do this is simply being in a rush. Although it doesn’t make much sense, we tend to drive too close to the car in front of us when we’re running late, as if that’s going to help get us where we’re going faster.
There’s actually a very specific rule when it comes to following distance. Think of it as the 3-second rule. To test yourself, watch the car in front of you pass an object, for instance a corner or building, and start counting. It should take your car at least 3 seconds to reach that same place. If not, slow down because you’re too close. This distance is not arbitrary—it’s determined by how long it would take for your car to stop if the car in front of you were to come to a sudden stop. So, following distance should increase in poor weather conditions or when driving at high speeds.
- Those Who Hesitate…
At some point or another, many of us have experienced a bit of trepidation about merging onto an expressway. You see cars and 18-wheelers speeding past you as you approach the point where you’ll have to join them. This trepidation, however, can result in a seriously dangerous driving mistake.
The whole point of a long on-ramp is to give you enough distance to get your car up to 60 miles per hour so that you can seamlessly merge with the rest of the traffic. If you don’t speed up on the ramp, you will have a very hard time merging, you may cause other highway drivers to have to slow down (which can result in an accident) and you’ll cause problems for the drivers behind you who are also trying to merge. You just have to get into the habit of speeding up quickly and having faith that you’ll be allowed to merge.
- What Are Your Intentions?
One of the first things we learn as drivers how to use the turn signal. And when you were first learning to drive, you were probably vigilant about using it. But it’s possible that you’ve gotten a bit lax about signaling your intention to turn or pull over. While it may seem minor to you, the person behind you probably doesn’t agree.
It goes back to the old golden rule: Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Have you ever been irritated or put in danger because someone else didn’t use a turn signal? Certainly you have. So, help your fellow drivers to drive more safely by always signaling well before slowing down to make your turn. Again, if you don’t and another driver rams into you, your lack of a signal could make you legally liable for an accident.
- Abusing the Left
By now many of us think of the left lane of a multi-lane highway as the fast lane. But in many states, it’s actually meant just for passing. That means it’s for temporary use when you’re trying to overtake the car in front of you in the second lane, which is actually the fastest lane for travel.
In states where you can remain in the left lane, it’s illegal to go slower than traffic there. So if you use it to pass but don’t intend to maintain a high speed, it’s best to move right at your first opportunity.
If you recognized yourself in any of these descriptions, you’re definitely not alone. But, before these nasty driving habits get you injured or in trouble with the law, you should work on changing your habits. After all, driving like a student driver isn’t always such a bad thing.
John Zaid is an injury attorney and founder of Zaid Law, a Houston personal injury law firm that specializes in cases that deal with vehicle accidents. John is also passionate about contributing his safety and legal expertise through writing. To find out more, head to www.Zaidlaw.com.