6 Driving Mistakes You’re Making — and 6 Minutes to Being a Better Driver

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

Now there’s no excuse for being a bad driver.

You’ve driven behind this car: it seems as if it wants to curse all it its path, making wide turns, drifting in and out of the lanes, speeding and slowing randomly.

I was behind a car like this recently and I had to get away from this menace.

As I passed the car I saw a young woman straining to see over the steering wheel, craning her neck to see the rear view mirror. She was sitting so close to the steering wheel she was practically leaning on it. And her hands were grasping the wheel in a death grip. She looked miserable and I can only imagine how much she must hate driving.

And it hit me: she wasn’t using the equipment properly. Hadn’t she been taught this?

We are required to learn the rules of the road and our curiosity drives us to use the technology inside our cars, but the fundamentals of how to best adjust your car’s settings often escape us. Until now.

Here are the 6 biggest— and easiest to fix— mistakes drivers make before they hit the road.

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

Driver’s seat as set by the last driver–a man. The seat is so low I don’t have a good view of the road. Also, do y9u notice what I’m doing wrong here? Photo: Scotty Reiss

1.Your seat is too low

Women commonly make this mistake because the seat position was almost always first set by a man—at the factory, at the dealership, as the last driver. And men almost always sit lower than women and (maybe) see just fine.

For an optimal view of the road you should be positioned so you’re looking out the upper portion of the windshield. You should glance down to see your speed or other information on the gauges and glance sideways to see the rear view mirror.

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

This is much better; with the driver’s seat higher I can see much more of the road. And, I’m making a mistake here; can you tell what it is? Photo: Scotty Reiss

How to Correct This:

Electric seats are super easy to adjust with the press of a switch, usually on the side of the seat. If your car has a manual height adjuster, find the handle on the side of the seat and pull it up to ratchet up the seat height (pushing it down will lower the seat). You many need to pull the handle more than several times to get the right height.

Check your seat position every time you get in the car and make it a habit, especially if you share a car with someone else. If moving the seat to a higher position makes it tough to reach the pedals, try adjusting the steering wheel (mistake #4 below has more insight about this).

With your seat positioned higher you’ll also have better peripheral views and be able to see better when parking or backing up. Which leads to the second thing you’re doing wrong.

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

Use the foot rest to raise your visibility. Photo: Scotty Reiss

2.You Don’t Turn Around When Backing up

Yes, you are surrounded by mirrors and yes, rear view cameras are standard in most new cars and will soon be required by law. But nothing replaces the full spectrum view you get when turning around. You can see all that is around your car, anything (or anyone) heading your way and curbs, lane markings and other things you might not see in your mirrors.

How to Correct This:

Cars have a foot rest to the left of the brake (or clutch), and it’s not just for resting your foot; it can help with better visibility. Put your left foot on the footrest and push your body up out of the seat a bit. Turn and look over your right shoulder and put your right arm over the back of the passenger’s seat. You now have a full view through all the car’s windows. And, that lift-and-twist feels great!

Read more: Safety features you need in your next car. 

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

What you should see in your side mirror. Photo: Scotty Reiss

3.Your Mirrors Are Set Wrong.

You set them so you can see behind the car, right? Turns out, that’s just the start. Did you know that you can virtually eliminate blind spots beside and behind the car with proper mirror adjustment? Once you learn how to properly set your mirrors, make this and setting the height of your seat a habit.

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

How much of your car you should see side mirror. Photo: Scotty Reiss

How to Correct This:

Adjust your seat and adjust the rear view mirror so you can see as much of the rear window as possible. Then set your side view mirrors so the side of the car is barely in view, and you have an equal view of the horizon and the road behind you.

With your mirrors set like this you should be able to see cars approaching and switching lanes behind you and pulling up beside you so you always know the position of traffic around you.

Read more: 100 things you should always keep in your car. 

4.You’re Sitting Too Close to the Steering Wheel.

This one is dangerous. If you’re sitting too close to the wheel you risk severe injury in a crash. You need at least 12” between your chest and the center of the steering wheel to be safe, from both an impact and the airbag.

How to Correct This:

Adjust your seat’s height and make sure you have a solid command of the foot pedals (your legs should be extended and your knees should be slightly bent). Then adjust your steering wheel; almost all adjust up and down and many telescope in and out. If your steering wheel telescopes, set it for a comfortable reach. Your arms should be about three quarters extended and you should have a clear view of your car’s instrument cluster.

5. Your Hands are in the Wrong Place

We learned this in driver’s ed: look at the wheel as if it’s a clock face and put your hands at 10 and 2, right? This advice has changed over time, largely due to airbags embedded in the steering wheel—you don’t want your arms to suffer an injury from an airbag or block it from doing its job. Where you put your hands can have a big impact on your safe command of the car.

How to Correct This:

9 and 3 is the position recommend by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. This gives you the ability to turn the wheel as needed and reach controls such as paddle shifters or radio adjustments.

Always have a comfortable grip and be prepared to respond when traffic demands it. And with your hands at 9 and 3 you’ll be able to make most turns without taking your hands off the wheel.

Now that you’ve read this, can you see the mistake I’m making in the second and third photos in this story? My hands are in the wrong position for driving!

6 Tips To Be A Better Driver

Wouldn’t it be great if ALL cars had a center console that could hold your handbag? The 2018 Ford Expedition does just that. Photo: Scotty Reiss

6.Your Handbag is in the Wrong Place

Is there a right place? This is a big beef with a lot of women: manufacturers don’t create a natural place for handbags in cars. So women put them on the passenger seat, which can be dangerous: It can become a projectile aimed at you in a crash.

Other women put them on the floor and are tempted to lean over to grab something or to try to upright it after it falls over while driving.

Yet others will put it on the floor behind the passenger seat, which is ok until it turns over or is stepped on by kids clambering into the car after school (have you ever had to scrape mud and grass out of the bottom of your purse? I have!). 

How to Correct This:

Assess the possibilities of where to put your bag in your car, and when you buy a handbag, think of where it will ride. Can it fit in the center console (which is ideal and works with many SUVs and minivans)? Can it hang from a hook or other place in the car?

I prefer to put my handbag on the rear passenger seat. I can reach it when I need to but it’s not so close I’m tempted to try to reach it while I’m driving. If I have passengers in both rear seats, it goes between them. When I have three back seat passengers, it goes on the floor of the front passenger’s seat.

If space is really tight, such as in a Miata, take your wallet, phone, lip balm and change out of your handbag, put them in the center console and put your handbag in the trunk. Dealing with your handbag can be a case-by-case consideration but it’s an important one.

Now, you’re prepared and ready to be an even better driver. Enjoy the ride!

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss