I've never met anyone who says they're a bad driver. Maybe they admit it half-jokingly after they run a red light. But they don't mean it.
Yet there are bad drivers out there. A lot of them. More than 1 million people die in traffic accidents every year, according to the World Health Organization. Collisions leave 20 million to 50 million motorists injured or disabled.
Are you an accident waiting to happen? How do you know – and what should you do if you are a bad driver? Since we're in the middle of the busy holiday driving season, these are questions worth asking.
Are you paying attention? If you aren't, you might be a bad driver.
"Your vehicle should have 100% of your attention, especially in this crazy environment in which we drive every day," says Mike McGovern, chief instructor at the Bondurant High Performance Driving School in Chandler, Arizona. "You're a good driver if you're following the rules – wearing your seat belt, not running red lights or drinking and driving or talking on the phone while you're driving. You're concentrating on managing your vehicle."
In a survey by Cambridge Mobile Telematics, almost one-third of drivers admit to texting and driving. It's so easy to glance away from the road for a second. I'm often tempted by my incoming text messages when I'm on the road. Who knows, it might be one of my editors with an important question about my column.
Look at how other drivers react to you. If they're honking or giving you the finger, then chances are, well, you are a bad driver.
Another telltale sign: You've been in a few accidents. Jeff Westover, owner of 911 Driving School in Lakewood, Washington, says bad drivers are dismissive about their fender-benders. "They say, 'Well I've been in three crashes, but none of them were my fault,' " he says.
Most collision investigators will tell you that almost all crashes are preventable with defensive driving habits, he says.
You don't have to stay a bad driver forever, experts say. You can adopt some safe driving habits:
"Good drivers are aware and flexible," says Jamie Deaton, executive editor of U.S. News Best Cars. "They pay attention to what's going on and adjust their driving accordingly. They're courteous and try to make things a little easier for other drivers, like moving over so someone can make a lane change."
Ah, politeness. That's what McGovern alluded to in his comment about "this crazy environment." There’s so much rudeness on the road, it’s easy to be distracted and even pick up a few bad habits.
"Avoiding accidents is not only critical to finishing but also a way to have better results," says Charlie Kimball, an IndyCar driver. Being able to take accurate reading of situations and the personalities of other drivers can keep you out of trouble, he says.
Defensive driving means you're anticipating erratic drivers or hazardous conditions and taking preemptive action to stay safe. You can't control those conditions, but you can control how you respond.
I travel by car, mostly. I've seen some of the most gruesome accidents. One happened on a Friday evening on Interstate 95 between Palm Beach and Miami. As I passed the scene of this accident on the rain-slicked highway, I swerved to avoid a severed foot in my lane. I'll never forget that.
As the holiday driving season revs up, it's worth thinking about whether you're a bad driver – and what it would take to make you a better one. If you're getting honked at, have been in a few accidents and always believe it's the other guy who's at fault, you might have a problem. Consider taking a driving course or an online course to sharpen your driving skills. Please do something before you end up a statistic.
If people refuse to ride with you: "If people refuse to drive with you, you know you're a bad driver," says Jeffery Leving, an attorney from Chicago. You probably know a few people whom you don't want behind the wheel. Maybe they need help.
If your car says so: Today's connected vehicle functionality and artificial intelligence features offer insights into what drivers do behind the wheel. "Alerts against a driver for speeding, harsh braking or accelerating, cellphone usage, lane departure and collisions are cause for concern and behavior adjustment," says Emily Candib, director of fleet products and services at Merchants Fleet, a fleet management company.
If you do any of the following: Driving aggressively, tailgating, failing to signal, veering out of your lane, speeding, riding your brakes, making sudden stops and starts, bad parallel parking, swerving in and out of traffic. The list goes on and on.