4 little driving failures with potentially big consequences

Linda Melone

Drivers in the U.S. fail to use their turn signals over 2 billion times each day, resulting in as many as 2 million crashes a year, according to a report from the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In addition to failing to use a turn signal, tapping the brakes while driving along a freeway or highway and other seemingly little driving “fails” can increase crash risks for motorists.

Even if you’re not at fault, a crash resulting from any of these fails may raise your auto insurance premiums, says Bill Baker, president of Schul Baker Partners, an insurance consulting firm in Dallas. “Typically, you can expect to see a 15 percent bump up in your insurance if you have an accident, which can stay with you from three to five years,” Baker says.

Here are four common failures and experts’ advice on how to avoid them.

  1. Failure to use a turn signal.

If you don’t use your turn signal, you’re not communicating your intentions, such as making a lane change or turning at an upcoming intersection, says Maria Wojtczak, owner of DrivingMBA (a company that offers driver training) and a board member of Arizona’s Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance. 

“Failure to turn off your signal after you make a turn also miscommunicates to other motorists, who expect you to do one thing when you are not and can cause a collision,” Wojtczak says.

Insurance price: The details of the accident will determine whether you’re considered at fault for failing to use your turn signal, says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California. 

2. Not using your parking brake on a hill.

Using your parking brake when parked on a hill prevents your vehicle from drifting into traffic and causing a collision, Wojtczak says. “Aside from applying the brake, you also need to turn your tires in the correct direction,” she says.

For example, if you park facing downhill, your tires should be turned toward the curb or to the right, so that if your vehicle starts to move, your front tires will grab the curb, Wojtczak says.

“If you are parked uphill, then you need to turn your tires away from the curb or to the left so your front tires will grab the curb if your vehicle starts to move,” she says.

Insurance price: Even if you’re not in the car and it rolls down and hits another car, your auto insurance covers the damage under the liability portion of your policy, Moraga says. “It may be dumb not to use your parking brake, but your policy will still cover the damage, up to the policy limits,” he says.

The good news is you won’t get points on your driving record for an accident such as this, since it’s technically not a driving offense, Baker says.

3. Tapping your brakes.

Getting behind a motorist who taps his brakes can be unnerving. Maybe he’s looking for a certain address or is trying to get you to back off. This strategy can sometimes end badly, Wojtczak says.

If a motorist taps his brakes and slows down and the driver behind him isn’t paying attention, the following motorist likely will plow into the rear of the braking car. If you’re behind a driver who’s doing this, you’re better off changing lanes to get out of his way, Wojtczak says.

Insurance price: Unfortunately, you’d still be at fault if you hit the braking motorist from behind, Baker says. “The only way it may not be your fault is if you can prove the driver in front of you did not have brake lights,” he says.

4. Driving slowly in the passing lane (left lane).

Driving slowing in the left lane can cause backups in all lanes, Wojtczak says. Maintaining the speed limit or driving below it should be done in the right lane. “However, driving under the speed limit is also dangerous, as it impedes traffic flow,” she says.

Insurance price: Although it may be annoying, if you hit someone from behind because he’s moving too slow, it’s still your fault, Baker says. In at least 21 states, slower traffic is expected to keep to the right.

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