By Remy Maisel
Most of us know there are certain things we should never do behind the wheel – like sending text messages or driving if we’re extremely tired. Yet in anonymous surveys, we’ll admit to doing those things, and to other bad habits that can be just as unsafe.
In some cases, these bad habits are against the advice in the Highway Code, outright illegal, or – if the law hasn’t quite caught up to 21st century life – just plain dangerous.
Our survey revealed that 17% of drivers admit to calling or texting on their mobile while driving 1. Almost a third (32%) of drivers typically use their mobile phone most frequently while their car is in motion on a road or motorway.
Any phone use is very distracting and could cause a serious – even fatal – accident, but texting on the motorway is particularly dangerous. Texting makes it impossible for you to completely focus on the road, and doubles your reaction time to any potential hazards – and when you’re on the motorway, you travel great distances in short periods. Reading and writing text messages are equally dangerous 2.
What you should do instead: If you need to use your phone, pull over onto the hard shoulder, into a car park, or another safe space. The law says you must be safely parked, not just stopped at a traffic light 4.
Eating while driving
If you’re driving long distances, or even if you just have an early start for your morning commute, it’s understandable that you might want to eat in the car.
But although it’s common, and certainly not illegal, research has found eating and drinking behind the wheel to be dangerous, as it’s distracting. And you could end up with penalty points if your distraction is severe enough that it amounts to driving without due care and attention 5.
Our survey shows that eating and drinking while driving is very common, with over two thirds (69%) of drivers surveyed reporting they’ve eaten food while driving.
The more regular the driver, the more likely they are to have eaten while driving: just 44% of those surveyed who drive at least once a week do this, but 58% of those who drive two to three times a week do, 69% who drive four to six times a week do, and over three quarters (78%) of those who drive daily have eaten behind the wheel.
What you should do instead: If possible, take a break and eat at the services if you’re on a long drive, or before you set off. Keep in mind that some studies say eating while driving is worse than using a phone 6.
Skimping on cold weather prep
In cold weather, you might need to put in some extra time and effort to get your car ready for your journey, including properly de-frosting the windscreen before you set off. Almost half (46%) of respondents have cleared just part of their frosted windscreen in order to save time.
It should go without saying that if you can’t see out of your windscreen, you shouldn’t be driving the car.
Almost half (48%) of drivers typically leave the car engine running with the heaters on to defrost their car in snowy or icy weather conditions. However, if you leave your car unattended and it gets stolen, you’re unlikely to be covered by your insurance – a fact that less than half (47%) of Londoners were aware of.
An additional study by Halfords found that one in six drivers have broken down in the winter due to not completing routine maintenance, such as checking battery life, tyre pressure, and oil levels, before the weather turned.
What to do instead: De-frost your entire windscreen before you drive. Don’t leave your car unattended with the engine running to do so, as you’re risking a theft that won’t be covered by your car insurance.
“It’s concerning that so few people perform the relevant checks on their vehicle ahead of winter,” adds Aaron Edwards from Halfords Autocentres. “Purchasing antifreeze, changing tyres to ensure better grip on the road and getting your brakes checked are all simple measures motorists can take if they plan to drive over the colder, darker months.
“Do check your car battery, top up on windscreen washer fluid and ensure your lights are in good working condition too. It’s important to take the time to check your car all over to make sure it’s in the best possible condition before winter arrives.”