Perform a task often enough and it becomes a routine. With enough regularity and repetition, that routine becomes a habit, and once it's hardwired into your brain, you'll sometimes do it without conscious thought. A lot of the actions you take while driving are unconscious habits -- I mean, how often do you really think about pushing in the clutch or brake pedal as you start your car?
Unfortunately, there's no shortage of bozos on the road who drive like total dicks and make the road a potential minefield for the rest of us. All the more reason to exercise constant vigilance and focus on developing good driving techniques. Here are 10 driving habits you should incorporate into your daily commute -- it's by no means an exaggeration to say they could one day save your life.
Vary your daily route
Back when I was in college, I had a prof whose area of specialization was counterintelligence, and he left an indelible mark on my daily driving practices. His suggestion -- to take a different route home every day to see how much more detail you remember from the trip -- works for the exact opposite reason of every other tip in this article. By breaking from your tired routine, you force your brain to snap out of your automatic, monotonous commute, and you'll pay better attention to the road and your surroundings.
Keep your hands at 9 and 3 (not 10 and 2)
I'm not saying driver's ed was total crap, but far too many drivers were taught to keep their hands at 10 and 2. If you're among those following this utterly false, unsafe driving myth, adjust to 9 and 3 and you'll notice a world of difference -- it feels more natural, because the steering wheel was actually designed for it. And unless you're taking a hard right turn or pulling into a parking spot, you shouldn't move your hands around on the wheel too much.
Pretend you're driving a limo
Always be smooth, and try not to make any sudden, jarring movements in braking, turning, or acceleration. You'll be safer, because it takes concentration and planning to drive smoothly. You have to brake earlier, ease off the pedal somewhat before you actually get to your turn, and be vigilant for potholes, bumps in intersections, and other potential dangers to steer clear of or move through more slowly.
Look past the car in front of you
When you scan the road ahead, look multiple car lengths beyond the car in front of you. Look to the left and right of it, and even through the front windshield if you can. Seeing through the gaps in traffic allows your brain to process more information, since the big objects nearer to you are easily picked up by your peripheral vision. You'll likely start braking for dangerous situations even earlier than that car you're behind, and that's a very reassuring feeling.
Don't let your neck lead your hands
Many people, when turning to check a blind spot, unconsciously begin to turn the steering wheel as they crane their neck. The end result is that you start the lane change not only before signaling, but before you even know it's safe. Consciously separating the actions of your neck from those of your hands corrects the problem, and in time you'll find you aren't even thinking about it, but are still looking, then signaling, then changing lanes.
Check your tire pressure with religious fervor
I've already written about the benefits of correctly adjusting your tire pressure to get better, more consistent handling on your car. Really, you should check your tire pressure every single week, for two key reasons: first, if you have a slow leak, you'll know about it and be able to get the tire patched up before it blows. Second, the air in your tires follows the laws of physics (duh), and pressure decreases with temperature. As a very loose rule of thumb, for every 10-degree drop in air temp, your tires' pressures will drop by one PSI. Each time you hit the gas station, check in with your tire pressure to keep your car handling at its best.
Check your mirrors and gauges constantly
This is driving 101, and frankly, if you're not already checking your mirrors every few seconds, I really don't want to share the road with you. Assuming you've adjusted your mirrors properly, scanning them not only becomes habitual, but you'll be unconsciously aware of the relative locations of the vehicles around you. Tracking your gauges means you're more likely to anticipate if something bad is about to happen mechanically -- and at the very least, you'll never have to worry about how far it is to the next gas station. This is called situational awareness, and it's kinda useful when all hell breaks loose.
... and your blind spot before you put your blinker on
Er, you do check your blind spot and use turn signals, right? If you're perpetually scanning your mirrors, you should already know no one's there, and checking is simply backup. You should never rely on your car's sensors to tell you if the coast is clear, and if your car ever has to warn you of an unsafe lane change, you've failed at this.
Do your own shifting -- even in an automatic
One of the most popular arguments in favor of driving a manual transmission is the higher level of driver engagement: it's harder to get distracted if you have to shift constantly. That's salient logic, but it doesn't apply exclusively to manuals. If you treat an automatic as though it were a manual and shift for yourself, you force yourself to pay that much more attention to your driving. Why anyone would be opposed to that, aside from reasons of laziness, is beyond me.
Tidy up the loose junk in your car
You should never have loose objects in your car for a nearly endless list of reasons. First and foremost, they're projectiles in the event of an accident, or even heavy braking. If they're heavy enough, they can upset your car's balance when they move during a turn. Simply using the cargo net from your car -- or buying one if you don't have one -- is a major help here. No matter how trivial the item, securing it before you drive is worth it.
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