6 Driving Mistakes You’re Probably Making—and How to Fix Them

Recently, I was driving behind someone who was making wide turns, drifting in and out of lanes, speeding and slowing randomly and just generally being a menace to the roadways. When I passed, I saw a young woman straining to see out the windshield, craning her neck to access the rearview mirror and sitting so close to the steering wheel she was practically leaning on it. She looked, in a word, miserable.

And then it hit me: She wasn’t using the equipment properly.

Here are the six biggest—and easiest to fix—mistakes drivers make on a daily basis. Learn ’em now so you won’t be that woman later.

woman drinking coffee while driving
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Mistake 1: Your Seat Is Too Low

Chalk this one up to the fact that seat position is almost always initially 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, position yourself so you’re looking out the upper portion of the windshield and can glance down to see your speed or other dashboard information and glance sideways to see the rearview mirror.

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 (again, 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, especially if you share your vehicle with someone else. If moving the seat to a higher position makes it tough to reach the pedals (your legs should be slightly bent and your feet should have solid contact with both the accelerator and the brake), try adjusting the steering wheel (more on this later).

With your seat positioned higher, you’ll have better peripheral views and will be able to better see when parking or backing up. Which leads me to…

Mistake 2: You Don’t Turn Around When Backing Up

Yes, you are surrounded by mirrors, and yes, rearview cameras are standard in most new cars. 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, not to mention curbs, lane markings and other stuff that might not show up on a rearview monitor.

How to Correct This:
Cars have a footrest, or dead pedal, to the left of the brake (or clutch). This guy isn’t just for resting your foot; it can help you boost yourself up for better visibility. Simply 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 windows. Plus, that lift-and-twist feels great!

I Love My Ponytail, I Hate Moving My Seat to Accommodate It

woman adjusting her rearview mirror
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Mistake 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 with proper mirror adjustment? Once you learn how to properly set them, make checking them a habit.

How to Correct This:
Adjust your seat, then adjust the rearview mirror so you can see as much of the rear window as possible. Next, 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.

You should be able to see cars approaching, switching lanes behind you and pulling up beside you, so you always know the position of traffic.

Mistake 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. Ideally, there should be at least 12 inches between your chest and the center of the steering wheel to be safe, from both an impact and the airbag itself.

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 the steering wheel by moving it up and down. 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.

woman driving a car
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Mistake 5: Your Hands Are In The Wrong Place

We learned it in driver’s ed: Look at the wheel as if it’s a clockface and put your hands at ten and two, right? Not exactly. See, this advice has changed over time, largely due to airbags embedded in the steering wheel—which could cause you injury or get blocked if your arms are incorrectly positioned.

How to Correct This:
Nine and three 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, turn signals or radio adjustments.

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

Mistake 6: Your Handbag Is In The Wrong Place

Yet another one we can blame on the men who manufacturer cars: There’s no natural place for handbags. Some women put them on the passenger seat, which can be dangerous, since they become a projectile in the event of a crash. Other women put them on the floor and are tempted to lean over to grab something. Yet others will put them on the floor behind the passenger seat, which is OK until they tip over or are stepped on by kids clambering in after soccer practice. (Have you ever had to scrape mud and grass off the bottom of your purse? I have!)

How to Correct This:
Assess your car for ideal purse locations, 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 in the back or get handed to a passenger for safe-keeping?

I always put mine on the rear passenger seat. I can reach it when I need to, but it’s not so close I’m tempted to check my texts while 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 Mazda 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.

That said, if you’re driving a Miata, I’m officially jealous.

100 Things You Should Always Keep in Your Car

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Freelance PureWow Editor