Texts, Drugs, and Road Rage: The 11 Deadly Sins of Driving

Not everyone has the level of focus or dedication to driving like Gymkhana specialist/rally car driver Ken Block. Few people can even drive stick, let alone navigate abandoned parking lots like performance fanatic Tyler Witte in the short film seen here.

Driving a car is a dangerous, demanding endeavor. According to The New York Times, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 10% of all fatal accidents and 18% of crashes that caused injuries in 2014 involved distracted drivers. Those distractions included eating, smoking, adjusting the radio or air conditioning, or being “lost in thought/daydreaming.” This means in 2014, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents stemming from poor or distracted driving habits.

woman driving car and looking at watch
A woman takes her eyes off the road and looks at her watch | iStock.com/dolgachov

If you remove focus from driving it could quickly become a potential distraction and increase your risk of an accident. If you take a look around at the people in rush hour traffic you will notice that an alarming amount of commuters are on their phones, fooling with the car’s touchscreen, yelling at the kids in the backseat, or eating something. All of these distractions have the potential to cause an accident.

While speeding and driving under the influence still are two of the most dangerous ways of operating a motor vehicle, there are plenty of other factors that can contribute to dangerous driving habits. Here are 11 things you should avoid doing while behind the wheel.

1. You snooze; you lose

Driving a car while sleep deprived boosts your chances of a collision
Driving a car while sleep deprived boosts your chances of a collision | iStock

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released estimates showing about 21% of all vehicle deaths involve driver drowsiness. But even with actions, such as government awareness campaigns and news releases raising the alarm, plenty of people still get behind the wheel after not getting enough sleep.

2. Apply makeup or shave, end up in the grave

woman applies eyeliner
Applying makeup can be extremely dangerous if you are behind the wheel | Makeup.com

Remember a few years back when a Florida woman caused a pileup after deciding to shave her bikini area while driving? It might have stolen headlines because of its extremism, but what doesn’t snag the spotlight is how often people groom themselves while in traffic. Looking intently in a mirror while you shave your face or apply makeup means you aren’t watching the road. Not having both hands at the ready is always dangerous.

3. Disrobe at your own risk

Not all of us harbor the insane skills Mr. Bean has behind the wheel. But for whatever reason, many drivers still attempt wardrobe stunts while going down the interstate. Your fashion crisis can wait until you’ve come to a complete stop, people. Changing in the parking lot will only add a tad more time to your commute. Remember, when in park, you’re guaranteed to be pileup-free.

4. Selfies are a menace to the road

young women taking a selfie
Young women take a selfie, something that should never be done while driving | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

The U.S. government reports at any given moment during daylight hours, more than 660,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cellphone. Because selfies are all the rage nowadays, more people than ever before are attempting to take risky photos while driving. This dangerous activity has gotten so prominent The Seattle Times reports that “a House bill will soon make it illegal to hold a smartphone, tablet, or other communications device while driving in Washington state.” This move also would forbid the use of dashboard-mounted devices that require more than the tap of a finger.

5. Text and scroll your way into a crash

young woman driving in black car and checking her phone
A woman texts on her phone while driving, one of the most distracting things you can do while operating a vehicle | iStock.com/nandyphotos

Our nation’s safety website also points out the average time a driver’s eyes are off the road while texting is typically about 5 seconds. This might not sound like a long time, but when you’re traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of covering the entire length of a football field while blindfolded. Currently, 46 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban driver texting. It often includes a hefty fine, regardless of whether you were just scrolling through your Facebook feed or checking Twitter.

6. Sex, drugs, and distractions

marijuana joint
People getting high and driving has become a major concern in states where marijuana is now legal | iStock.com

The largest survey conducted on drugged driving recently assessed whether drivers’ marijuana use is associated with greater crash risks. Shocker: Stoned people did prove to be more likely to be involved in accidents than if they were sober.

Further, the tendency of people fooling around while driving raises another concern. For many, sexual activity puts them in a whole other world for a few blissful moments, which means they probably aren’t paying close attention to the road. We shouldn’t have to say this, but keep it in the bedroom.

7. Hands-free isn’t really the way to be

Audi Q7 Interior
The interior of the Audi Q7 might be loaded with hands-free connectivity, but that doesn’t mean it won’t distract a driver | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Another type of distraction occurs when hands-free devices fail to eliminate cognitive distraction. People generally do not realize when they are cognitively distracted. Therefore, the risk lasts longer and explains why researchers have not been able to find a safety benefit to hands-free phone conversations.

To prove this, The National Safety Council compiled the findings from 30 diverse studies from around the world to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones. What’s truly alarming is every single study found hands-free phones offered no safety benefit when driving. The cognitive distraction from paying attention to a conversation still creates dangerous driving impairments. So shut up, and drive.

8. Threaten people at your own risk

Couple arguing while driving
A couple argue in traffic, something that hurts feelings and puts those around them in danger | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

While road rage continues to be a problem in America, there’s more to it than just getting cut off in traffic. Losing your cool behind the wheel, either with someone else in traffic or an occupant of your automobile, is an extremely dangerous situation. Yelling and threatening others means you are focused on them and not driving, which could lead to an accident.

9. Tractor trailer drafting is foolish

The self-driving Delphi Audi passes a semi on its autonomous trip from California to New York in 2015
The self-driving Delphi Audi passes a semi on its autonomous trip from California to New York in 2015 | Delphi

Drafting, or tailgating behind a tractor trailer, is a way of cutting down air resistance and helps improve fuel efficiency. But you have to ride their bumper pretty close to see the desired results, which severely limits your vision. Skip the semi back-bumper love fest, and give yourself some breathing room.

10. Fiddling with infotainment systems

The infotainment screen on a Lexus RX450h
The infotainment screen on a Lexus RX450h might be informative and helpful, but it also takes time to navigate, meaning your eyes aren’t always on the road where they belong | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Brain researchers have identified “reaction-time switching costs,” which is a measurable time when the brain is switching its attention from one task to another. Even small amounts of time spent switching can lead to significant risks from delayed reaction and braking time. Don’t worry so much about those all-encompassing center stack or driver display controls. When a driver needs to react immediately, there is no margin for error.

11. Attempt to cross a flooded roadway

Flooded cars in Cincinnati that are beyond saving
Flooded cars in Cincinnati are beyond saving | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This final warning seems like it shouldn’t be an issue because it feels like a no-brainer. But people still seem to need to cross flooded roads frequently. Getting stuck in a swelling quagmire is always concerning, and you never actually know how deep or swift a rushing current really is.