You drive, so you know America’s highways and byways are a poorly choreographed idiot ballet. Even if you’re one of the good guys out there, you probably do something idiotic from time to time. (We all do.)
Of course, you may not realize when your driving behaviors are idiotic. Maybe you learned from parents who were poor drivers, or you just weren’t paying attention in driving school. Whether your offenses are born of ignorance or insensitivity, here are the moves and maneuvers you should steer clear of (get it?) to avoid being “that guy” behind the wheel.
CUTTING SOMEONE OFF
Maybe you were trying to scoot around a semi, or you didn’t notice how fast that other car was coming up on your backside. Whatever the reason, your move may trigger a traffic jam. A research team from the University of Exeter in the UK found forcing someone to jam their breaks creates a kind of domino effect when traffic is heavy. The guy behind the guy you cut off has to break a little harder and longer than the car in front of him, and eventually this results in a traffic standstill. If you’ve ever emerged from a jam that seemed to have no explanation—no roadwork or accident—one driver cutting off another might have been the cause.
First of all, you’re begging for a fender-bender. Secondly, if the guy in front of you brakes, you’re going to have to brake quickly and forcefully, which will lead to a stoppage behind you for the same reasons described above.
CHILLING OUT IN THE PASSING LANE
The far-left or “fast” lane is also referred to as the “passing lane.” It’s called this because it should be used for passing. If you’re sitting in this lane—yes, even if you’re going well above the speed limit—you’re preventing those behind you from passing other vehicles, which slows the flow of traffic and, again, creates a domino effect that leads to congestion or jams, suggests research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You’re also forcing faster drivers to pass you on the right—a maneuver that puts everyone at greater risk for accidents. Arguably no other driving behavior is so disruptive (or so infuriating to other motorists).
SPEEDING UP WHEN SOMEONE’S PASSING YOU
Dude. Are you trying to get someone killed? This isn’t NASCAR. If anything, you should be braking slightly to make sure the other driver can get around you quickly and safely. There is literally no circumstance when this behavior is acceptable.
CHECKING YOUR PHONE
Texting behind the wheel is more dangerous than drunk driving, research suggests. Despite the dangers, 31% of drivers between 18 and 64 admit they wrote or checked a text while driving sometime during the last month, according to the CDC. While our laws and technology haven’t quite caught up with the risks of smart phones, you can bet they will soon. For now, do us all a favor and holster your iPhone while you’re on the road.
If it’s not already clear to you, a crowded highway is like a delicate ecosystem. Small disruptions ripple outward, causing massive problems. If you’re slowing down to peer at an accident, a traffic stop, or any other roadside attraction, you’re causing traffic delays for every driver behind you, shows a study on rubbernecking from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The takeaway from all this research: Small mistakes lead to big trouble on the road. Stay focused, stay out of other drivers’ space, and (for the love of god) stay out of the passing lane if you’re not passing.