Some of you may recall these car insurance ads from a few years back that always used the catch phrase, “We all do dumb things…” where they would show regular people committing moronic acts, often with humorously disastrous results. As a species we may be on the top of the food chain, but our brains could use some training every now and then, and anyone daring enough to hit the open road will attest that the typical driver isn’t “all there” all of the time.
Okay, so not everyone on the road is a complete buffoon, but ask any person you know who commutes to work every week and they’ll tell you how bad it is out there. From people jumping lanes without signaling and not adjusting their mirrors properly, to distracted drivers plowing into one another because a Facebook update is more important than safety, the list of driving offenses you see on America’s roadways every day are oftentimes downright avoidable.
Then there are the little mistakes — the ones other drivers may not notice since you are not causing an expensive car accident. Instead, these missteps bare a certain level of shame that can only be summed-up by one word: foolish. While we may be proud car owners, that doesn’t always necessarily mean we operate them well, and no one is safe from making a faux pas every now and then.
There is something humorous and embarrassing about have a boneheaded moment behind the wheel, and man are you in for it if there are passengers present who can later recall your poor driving skills. Here are six silly mistakes Americans make while driving, and while these miscues may not make us bad drivers per se, they certainly take us down a notch or two every time we commit one.
1. The cops can’t hear you, man
You are breezing down the interstate, with the sunroof open and Motörhead blasting in your eardrums. Suddenly there’s a cop on the horizon and he is waiting in the median, radar gun at the ready. You panic, slamming on the brakes and dialing down the stereo as you approach, causing the person behind you to freak out since they can’t see a thing and assume there’s a large moose in the road.
But as you putter past you realize that cruise control had been holding a safe speed all along, and that there was no way the cop heard “Ace of Spades” enough to pull you over for disturbing the peace. Now you feel like a tool because you ruined the best part of the song with unnecessary braking and muting, and now you’ve got to start the whole track over again and get back up to speed.
2. The HVAC early morning face-blast
This one isn’t so bad in summer because while an initial blast of hot air is unpleasant, it at least switches over to cold air within a moment or two. But oh man does it suck when it is -28 degrees out and you crank that car up just to realize you left the heat in Tahiti Mode and a gust of ice-cold air is aimed right at your melon. Sure, it only takes a flip of a switch to turn the air back off, but how ridiculous do you feel knowing that you didn’t have the foresight to turn the blower off before exiting the car? The worst part is when you do the exact same thing a few days later, and you feel like even more of a jack-wagon because you were unable to learn from your previous mistakes.
3. Wipers or blinkers, take your pick
This one is typically noticeable by anyone around you, as they bare witness to you foolhardy attempt at managing the simplest controls on your car. Most vehicles have a stalk on each side of the steering column, with one controlling the wiper blades, and the other the turn signals. But sometimes the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, or the news on the radio is distracting enough that you go to signal a right turn and instead send your wipers into Beast Mode.
Meanwhile, the guy behind you has no idea what is going on, and assumes a bird has shat upon your car and you are desperately trying to clean it off before taking that next turn. The worst is whenever everything goes pear-shaped a few minutes later when a pigeon actually does crap on your car, and you vigorously signal for a left turn while engaging your high-beams.
4. 3rd gear is nice, but 5th is better
Over here at the office, we love our manual transmissions, and while only 10% of new car buyers opt for one these days, there is something undeniably rewarding about working in tandem with a car. But things don’t always go according to plan, and something as simple as selecting the appropriate gear doesn’t always pan-out when the clutch is engaged.
Third is one of the most missed gears in the book, and anyone who has owned a stick shift knows the humility involved when this gear and the one below it get skipped for an RPM-plummeting fifth. It isn’t like your engine is going to explode, but by god you look and feel like a goof behind the wheel as you hastily disengage the higher gear in order to put the transmission where it belongs. This same feeling can be experienced in an automatic, especially when neutral is accidentally selected and you redline it unknowingly.
5. Put some pump in your trunk
Everything is going according to plan, as you pull into the gas station with the simple intention of refilling your bone-dry tank. The price per gallon is reasonable here, there is 93 octane aplenty, and you know that inside a mango Slushie is waiting with your name on it. But the moment you turn the ignition off and reach for the fuel door latch, everything seems to go sideways.
You push on the latch instead of pulling, the trunk pops open exposing the poor chap behind you to lord knows what, and the fuel cap is still inaccessible. So you do what any sane person would do and you try to play it off, opening the gas cap for a fill, and then rummaging around in your trunk while refueling, acting all the world as if you desperately needed to find that copy of Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum Rush the Show.”
6. E-brake take-off time
May you be in a hurry to get to the dentist or going for a leisurely cruise, the emergency brake on your car is here to protect and embarrass you. While many cars now come equipped with an electric e-brake, many of us are still yanking or stepping on emergency brakes to get them to engage. So the minute you peel-out of your parking spot, and that dash on the light starts flashing, you realize that your brakes are getting smoked by the second. While this may not happen often, it is certainly makes everyone feel like a fool for not noticing.