You’re Probably Breaking these Driving Laws: What You Forgot from Driver’s Ed

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.

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9 Responses to “You’re Probably Breaking these Driving Laws: What You Forgot from Driver’s Ed”

  1. Eric says:

    Eh, there's a little issue with #2. You say, "following distance should increase in poor weather conditions or when driving at high speeds." The poor weather thing I'm good with, but the high speeds part is already accounted for in the 3-second rule that you described.

  2. Spike says:

    As an attorney, John is perhaps more concerned with adherence to seldom-enforced traffic law than most of us. Not only are some these laws seldom enforced but they don't work in the Real World, which is why most disregard them. The 3-second-rule cannot be complied with in most areas because traffic will tailgate you relentlessly and pass constantly — sometimes unsafely — to fill that gap. The Left Lane may technically be the passing lane but in actual fact, it is full of vehicles that will only go a tiny bit faster rarely and briefly in light traffic. Signaling for a lane change to the left usually results in somebody accelerating madly in an attempt to cut you off, while signaling for a lane change to the right often results in the vehicle immediately in front of you simultaneously making the same maneuver to block you on that side as well. Most of us learn early on that there are times to communicate our intentions and other times to just make our move. I could go on at great length but my point is simply that traffic law is often completely out of step with Reality, and you comply with some of it at your peril.

  3. rkshanny says:

    "these laws"? With everything becoming more and more criminalized for revenue/keeping State goons (robed, uniformed, and otherwise) in jobs, we're undoubtedly breaking a helluva lot more "laws" than "these laws"!! Ever seen the book "Three Felonies A Day" by Silvergate?

  4. Ken Michaud says:

    Correction: you are not required to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross, at least not in Massachusetts. You are required to yield to pedestrians *already in* the crosswalk.

  5. jdgalt says:

    Re. "Pedestrian Power" — Most of this problem is with pedestrians themselves. Unless a pedestrian on the sidewalk clearly indicates that he wants to cross, he is indistinguishable from someone who is just standing there talking or playing with his phone or Walkman. Drivers are quite right to assume he's not going, just as we would do if it were a car whose driver appears undecided. Decide where you intend to go, and make that fact clear to drivers. Then we'll wait for you.

  6. macktheripper says:

    Look at the (2) you say 3-second rule, then look at the signal rule.

    I'll bet the loser in the he did not signal, and I hit him in the ass end, will be the because I was not following the 3-second rule fellow.

    Speaking of signaling, my father taught me when the other drivers signal is on, it does not mean they are going to turn. It only means their signal is working. In other words do not pull out in front of them. If they hit you, it was you that failed to yield.

  7. Jim B. says:

    Ok-first issue: Stopping for pedestrians. No, you only have to stop for a pedestrian that is ALREADY in the crosswalk. If he's standing on the curb, you do not have to wait, unless other traffic control devices tell you to stop anyway. At least in Ohio it's that way. And frankly, waiting for someone that's standing on the curb is a good way to cause a traffic jam, and maybe get rear-ended as well.

  8. Brother John says:

    It's kind of silly to have to legislate that "pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right-of-way." First, if you're a car, and you don't yield to them while they're in front of you, you're going to kill them. Second, encouraging pedestrians to walk carelessly across the street because they have the technically legal right-of-way encourages them to defy laws of physics. Like incoming fire, four thousand pound vehicles have the REAL right-of-way, no matter what the silly law says.

  9. John Brody says:

    I posted this to an earlier article that was solely about the left lane. Thought it could use a repost here…

    Interesting article! Like most drivers, I like lane courtesy when slow moving vehicles are involved. And by slow moving, I mean LESS than the speed limit. NOT slower than Mach 2 with their hair on fire. The speed limit has its’ definition written right on the sign: LIMIT. No police officer I’ve ever spoken to on this topic has told me that it is OK break the speed limit just because everyone else is doing it.

    I agree that most cars and drivers are safely able to go well above most posted speed limits. Sadly though, most towns and counties see tickets as REVENUE. Not simply bonus bucks to pad the coffers for rainy days. Reference ticket and arrest quotas! My last two tickets for speeding were $110 each (10 mph over for both) and have cured my lead foot. I simply don’t want to give up my hard earned money to municipalities that can’t handle their budget and DEPEND on ticket money to pay the bills.

    So, I’m one of the guys in the left lane going the speed limit (maybe 5 over out on lonely highways). If that bugs you, too bad. Speed around me. I’ll laugh and wave as I pass by you as the revenue officer writes your ticket. Lobby your local city council and state highway department first. THEN you can bitch and complain about me in the left lane.

    – See more at: http://blog.motorists.org/needed-change-in-drivin