By Kathy Benjamin
You might have passed your driving test with flying colors and never text while driving, but it turns out there are a lot more bizarre things that can affect how dangerous you are on the road.
Music is important when you are driving. You’d be hard pressed to find a car that didn’t at least come with a basic radio and lots of people will spend thousands of dollars making sure they have the best aftermarket stereo systems available. But listening to music contributes to hundreds of car accidents every year. People fiddling with the radio will look away from the road. Even the type of music you listen to can affect your driving; high tempo music, like techno, makes you twice as likely to go through a red light, for instance. But possibly the worst thing to do is sing along to your favorite tunes. Even when singing a song you know by heart, your brain has to work to remember the melody and the words. This increases the workload on your brain and in turn makes it harder to react to dangerous situations when driving. So next time you are out for a drive, maybe leave the ballads to Beyoncé and concentrate on the road.
2. Having a Cold
Your health can have an obvious effect on how well you drive. After all, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, or are in chronic pain, or seriously ill, you are going to react slower to danger. But it doesn’t have to be some major health issue that makes you a worse driver. A 2012 study found that even a slight cold is enough to make driving a car more dangerous. In a driver simulation, researchers found that people with a cold are more easily distracted while driving, have slower reaction times and are more likely to follow the car in front too closely. So next time your boss says that a cold isn’t a good enough reason to miss work, tell her you are just being a responsible driver by staying home.
3. Driving the Same Route All the Time
Getting complacent is one of the worst things you can do if you hope to make it to the end of your drive alive. When completing familiar tasks our brain stops trying as hard, and according to a 2010 study, this includes when we are driving a route we know by heart. So you are actually more likely to do something stupid and get in an accident on the way to work than you are taking a road trip. When following a new route your brain stays engaged and allows you to react to a child stepping into the road or a car braking suddenly.
A racy billboard for Wonderbra was once removed from Britain’s roadways when the number of car accidents around it went up. But it’s not just bra-clad supermodels that directly affect how well you drive. The advertisements on the side of highways are all fighting to get your attention, and you will speed up or slow down according to what kind emotion they evoke in you. A study found that billboards that reference money, fame, or sex will make a driver speed up. Negative emotions, triggered by billboard reminders of abuse, prison, or war, caused drivers to slow down. But they were also more likely to drift out of their lane after seeing one, meaning there is really no way to win when advertisers are fighting with traffic for your attention.
5. Being a Libra
Insurance companies don’t really take your star sign into consideration when deciding what to charge you for coverage. So when one company did a study to find out what zodiac sign had the worst drivers, it started as a joke—but the results indicated an overwhelming pattern. Libras get in the most accidents by far, followed by Aquarius and Aries. But Pisces receive the most tickets. Overall, Geminis win safest drivers, with the least accidents and tickets. So next time you hop in a cab be sure to ask the driver his sign.
6. Living in D.C.
According to a huge study by Allstate, the average American gets in a car accident once every 10 years. But where you live can drastically change your collision frequency. Obviously, the bigger the city you live in the more cars, and the greater the chance of getting in an accident. But while San Francisco (6.4 years between accidents), Philadelphia (6.2), and Baltimore (5.3) all have worse odds than average, no one comes close to Washington, D.C., where stressed-out politicians can expect to get in a wreck every 4.8 years. On the other hand, the safest large city is Phoenix (10.2) and the most driver-conscientious small city is Sioux Falls (13.8.)
7. Road Signs
When a small town in the Netherlands got rid of many of their road signs, their traffic deaths plummeted. Not what you’d expect, we know. But it seems that when we have traffic signs directing us where to go, drivers tend to pay less attention to what is actually happening on the road. The signs make us feel safer, which makes us more complacent drivers. When there are fewer road signs and you have to concentrate more on where you are going, you also avoid colliding with another car. Now more towns are considering removing some of their own signs
8. Being a Lawyer
If you get sued over a car accident, there is a good chance you could represent yourself. A 2010 study by an insurance company found that a shocking 44 percent of lawyers who applied for car insurance admitted to being in at least one previous accident. Other groups that made the top ten were financial professionals (#2), nurses (#10), and, for some reason, dog groomers (#6.) On the other end of the scale were homemakers, who got the least speeding tickets and had the least accidents, which is weird considering this next entry.
9. Having Kids
In March, an Australian research team came to the conclusion that almost nothing is more distracting while driving than having children along for the ride. During a 16-minute car journey, parents will take their eyes off the road for an average of 3 minutes and 22 seconds to deal with their kids. Many also adjust their rearview mirror not to see the cars behind them, but the children in the back seat. And while many states have banned using cell phones in the car, there can’t do much about people driving with kids, which this study found was 12 times more distracting than taking a phone call.
Even if you are driving alone in the car, down a deserted stretch of road with no billboards, not using your cell phone and with the radio off, there is still a chance that you will crash into something. That’s because you can’t stop your brain. When 65,000 people were asked what the cause of their car accident was, a surprisingly large number of them said daydreaming. Even if you try to concentrate on the road 100 percent of the time, there is a very good chance you will find your mind wandering. Suddenly, you’re a mile down the road and you don’t even remember how you got there. And our short attention span leads to many accidents every year.
11. Gas Prices
The cost of gas has been all over the place in the last decade, so in 2008 Congress decided to find out how those prices were affecting how well people drive (you can see a PDF of the study here). It turns out, while we all complain about higher gas prices, those $4 gallons could be keeping you alive. First there is just the fact that when gas costs a lot people drive less, and the less cars on the road, the safer you are. But the study also found that people tend to drive safer when gas prices are up, possibly because they are trying to conserve as much as possible. The number of people who speed – especially on the highway – drops as gas prices increase. But the opposite is also true; as gas becomes cheaper more cars are on the road and people start driving a bit crazy again. So while you might hate filling up when gas prices are high, remember it could be saving you paying for a new car or a trip to the emergency room.