How come we all seem to learn from our mistakes—except when it comes to driving?

One needn’t venture far on city streets or drive any highway to see the same long list of transgressions being repeated over and again—not just by others, but ourselves too, if we care to look honestly.

Driving isn’t easy. You’re guiding almost two tons of metal, glass and plastic at varying speeds through an ever-changing obstacle course populated by other moving vehicles, fixed objects and unpredictable pedestrians.

The AMA, the Alberta affiliate of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), lists the top 10 driving errors in Alberta as: following too closely, running off the road, turning left into the path of an oncoming vehicle, stop-sign violations, disobeying traffic signals, failing to yield to pedestrians, driving left of centre, improper turns, improper lane changes and backing up unsafely, in that order.

Above all other driving mistakes, inattention leads to the most heartache and misery.

Borne of many sins, from talking and/or texting on a cell phone to driving tired or while inebriated, wandering out of your lane while adjusting the radio or touching the touchscreen, inattention spans a host of mistakes that too many dismiss as small distractions. Except that now there are more distractions than ever, and they all add up.

If you’re driving, have your passenger fiddle with the infortainment system while you keep your eyes on the road. If you’re alone in the car, we prefer setting everything up before setting off—the nav, the radio, the climate etc. Presets are a big help if you use satellite radio too. It takes a very long time to scroll through 100-plus channels.

Similarly, taking a slacker attitude towards driving is a big mistake. In addition to avoiding distractions, you also need to actually pay attention to the road.

Some signs you’re not paying enough attention: not staying within your lane, following the vehicle ahead too closely, driving too fast for conditions, running red lights and stop signs, failing to yield to pedestrians; the list goes on.

We’ve all seen and been annoyed by these slacker drivers who just don’t seem to care. Don’t be part of the problem.

A 2007 Alberta Motor Association (AMA) report concluded that most drivers in that province wouldn’t pass a basic learner’s permit test.

Your driving instructor may have been a tad tedious, but he or she was trying to teach valuable lessons: Don’t drive on under-inflated tires, don’t take too much time to make a decision, adjust mirrors properly, hold the steering wheel correctly (with two hands, positioned at 9- and 3-o’clock), sit in the proper position, always signal lane or direction changes, and many more.

Of the kinds of collisions that occur, the most dangerous to life and limb are head-on and side-impact crashes, which happen with alarming frequency both in cities and on highways.

The American non-profit research group Insurance Research Council concludes that 75 percent of automobile crashes occur in cities (not surprising considering that in Canada and the United States, that’s where most people live), and that the most common cause of city accidents comes from drivers flooring the throttle at intersections when the light turns green.

That action, combined with other motorists flooring their throttles to run red lights at the same time, dramatically cuts the reaction times of both parties and increases exponentially the odds of a collision happening.

U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics show that of 41,000 automobile fatalities in 2007, 54 percent occurred in vehicles that sustained extensive frontal damage. And here’s one more sobering statistic: that same NHTSA report found that 60 percent of American drivers who died from injuries sustained in collisions after dark that year were legally drunk.

“Good drivers never disengage from the driving task,” said AMA Driver Education manager of novice operations, Rick Lang.

And few collisions are truly ‘accidents,’ he said. “They could have been prevented if people were paying attention.”

So to avoid becoming a statistic yourself: know and follow the rules of the road, anticipate others’ possible actions while driving, drive sober and stay focused and alert at all times while behind the wheel.

It’s just that simple and at the same time complex, and it’s entirely up to you.

(Photo credit: Kyle May, Flickr)