Common driving myths debunked

man driving with headphones driving myth

When it comes to driving, we’ve all heard myths gathered over the years from relatives, friends, and beliefs in the public sphere. Whether it’s myths about car safety, maintenance, or trivial matters, such as whether it’s legal to drive barefoot or keep the light on in your car, you may have some misconceptions about your car and how you drive it. Let’s take a look at some of the most common driving myths and why they aren’t true.

General myths

Red cars are more likely to be pulled over

You’ve no doubt heard this myth before, that the very bold color of a red car means you’re more likely to be pulled over by the police. The reality is that your driving habits get you noticed by law enforcement, not the color of your car. There’s really no evidence to support the claim that red cars are more likely to be stopped by police.

You can only be pulled over for speeding if you go over 10 miles an hour

The truth of the matter on speeding is that any amount of speed over the posted limit is subject to ticketing. Police officers often operate at their own discretion on this issue, but there’s no acceptable number of miles over a speed limit to which you are immune from receiving a ticket.

When driving, put your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel

Earlier generations of drivers were taught to place their hands at the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel, however that guidance has changed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends drivers place their hands at the 9 and 3 position. This position gives you a wider range of motion and ability in maneuvering and accounts for the possible deployment of an airbag.

It’s illegal to drive barefoot

The idea that it’s illegal to drive barefoot is a myth that has persisted for a long time. While there may be local or city regulations prohibiting it, there is no U.S. state that has declared it illegal. The general rule of thumb is that driving barefoot may not be the safest practice to engage in as it could contribute to an accident, but it’s probably legal nonetheless.

Old cars were better made

The general consensus is that older cars were more durable and better manufactured than today’s cars, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Without a doubt, due to advancements in engineering and manufacturing, today’s cars are safer, better, and last longer, even among the lower-priced models.

It’s illegal to have a light on in the car while driving

This is another persistent myth that has lasted, but for most states, it is untrue. Though it may be distracting, it’s not illegal in most cases to have a light on in your car while driving. The only time it would be a factor is if it contributes to behavior that is considered distracting and contributes to a car accident.

It’s illegal to eat and drive

For the most part, eating and driving is legal, though not advisable. While states may not have explicit laws banning eating and driving, if eating causes you to be reckless or distracted while on the road, you could be cited.

You can’t get a ticket for driving too slowly

Though driving slowly on the road may seem like a harmless infraction compared to other bad driving behaviors, you can receive a ticket for driving too slowly. In a case like this, you would be blocking or impeding the flow of traffic, which is as much of a risk to drivers on the road as speeding.

Safety myths

Using a hands-free device to take phone calls while driving is safe

While using a hands-free device to make phone calls while driving may be permitted, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Hands-free devices improve a driver’s ability behind the wheel minimally.  Though it’s less involved than physically having your hands on a phone, talking on the phone while driving is still a cognitive distraction and does little to eliminate risk on the road.

Seatbelts and airbags cause more harm than good

Contrary to this popular myth, seatbelts and airbags actually do more good than harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that seatbelts reduce the risk of death and serious injury by half. While there have been airbag-related injuries, that number is a fraction compared to the lives saved by airbags.

You don’t need to wear a seatbelt in the backseat of a car

Nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that you don’t need to wear a seatbelt in the backseat of a car. First, you probably won’t have airbag protection in the backseat of a car, and second, you would still be an unsecured person in a car, which would greatly increase the likelihood of injury or death.

Using a cell phone at a gas station can cause an explosion

You may be surprised to hear it, but there’s no evidence to support this myth. The Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI) has investigated fires at gas stations for decades and has found no proof that cell phone use is responsible for igniting fires. PEI still advises against using any electronic device at the pump so as not to be distracted.

Four-wheel drive makes it safe to drive in the snow

Four-wheel drive does not automatically make it safe to drive in the snow. It can help with forward traction, but it cannot assist with lateral grip or braking. An investment in snow tires may be your best bet.

The parking brake can help you stop in winter weather

This is yet another myth. If your braking system has failed completely, then your parking brake could help you in winter weather, but generally speaking, it’s not true. It is thought you’d be switching your ABS system for all four wheels for a restricted amount of control on the rear wheels.

The bigger the vehicle, the safer it is

While common perception is that the bigger the vehicle, the safer it is, that may be true in some respects, but not entirely. A bigger vehicle is heavier and harder to control, and the consequences to the driver, passengers, or property could be severe.

You should keep your doors unlocked while driving

Though the consensus is you should keep your doors unlocked while driving as a precaution in the event of an accident, this is a myth and the reality is that locked doors are safer. Unlocked doors are more likely to open during a collision, increasing the chance you could be ejected. In fact, newer model cars automatically lock your door while you are driving. If an accident happens, the latest technology in rescue would allow for easier extrication of people.

It’s okay to drive if you’re “just a little buzzed”

Any amount of alcohol is too much and will impair your driving ability on the road. Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% is a federally recognized legal limit in driving, however, a person’s ability to perform two tasks at one time is affected at a BAC of 0.02%. Consumption of alcohol impairs your ability to think and reason, as well as your muscle coordination. Drinking and driving at any level of alcohol consumption is dangerous.

Maintenance myths

You must change your oil every 3,000 miles

This used to be a fast and hard rule, however, due to the advancements in oil and engine technology, it is no longer the case. How often you change your oil – new estimates are between 5,000 to 7,500 miles – now depends on the specific recommendations of your car manufacturer.

You should warm up your car before you drive it

Though your parents and grandparents’ cars had to be warmed up before driving decades ago, this is no longer necessary. Because of modern technology, this is a step you can bypass when you’re ready to take a drive on the road. Today’s electronic fuel injection allows engines to operate effectively even when they’re cold.

If you put premium gas in your tank every so often, your car will run more smoothly

Generally speaking, this myth is not true. If your engine is designed for premium or if your engine is equipped to handle both types of fuel, but gets better performance with premium, then this statement applies to you. However, it’s not a hard and fast rule and depends on the type of engine you have in your car. If your car manual recommends regular gasoline and you put in premium, there won’t be any benefit.

Some things get complicated…so check your state laws

Can you flash your headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps?

In some states this is allowed and under certain circumstances, such as the type of roadway, whether it’s day or night, or whether high beams or low beams are used. Some states even view it as constitutionally protected speech.

Even if it’s illegal to use your phone while driving, you can still use it at a red light

Whether or not this is a myth depends on the state.  Some states have total bans on cell phone use and drivers can be cited just for having a cell phone in their hand. Restrictions pertaining to age as well as whether a driver is in a school or work zone may also apply.

Passengers can drink alcohol as long as the driver doesn’t

Whether or not this can be done depends on the state. Some states prohibit consumption or possession of containers of alcohol for all passengers in a car, while other states limit it to the driver of the car.

You can honk your horn whenever you want

Some states may have noise control ordinances that might limit honking your horn.  Many states dictate when it is appropriate to honk while driving, such as to alert a driver who is about to hit you, to alert a driver of a changed traffic signal, or to warn a pedestrian of any danger.

All in all, some driving myths are false, others are outdated, and some depend on your car or state residence, but with the right information, you can be a better and safer driver on the road. Make sure you are properly covered with car insurance. Get a quote today.

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