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Drivers Confess: What They Really Do Behind the Wheel

Drivers Confess: What They Really Do Behind the Wheel
Pam O'Brien
Pam O'BrienUpdated March 14, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Chances are, today you’ll spend at least an hour or two in your car to go to work, run errands, or meet up with friends. The average American drives 13,476 miles a year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. But driving might not be the only thing you’re doing. These days, more and more drivers are multitasking at the wheel, according to SoFi’s survey of 1,000 U.S. drivers. In fact, our distracted driving statistics found that many people are not as focused as they should be while behind the wheel. And it’s not just the obvious culprit (aka their phones). Pets are contributing to distracted driving as well. There’s no question about it: Sitting in the driver’s seat seems to provoke some aggressive and even dangerous behavior. A number of survey respondents admit to risky, distracted driving habits, including excessive speeding and road rage. Yet despite this, 75% consider themselves “safe” or “great” drivers!Why is there such a disconnect between how people think they drive, and the way they act once they get in the driver’s seat? And what are drivers really doing in their cars when they should be focused on the road? Read on for the eye-opening results of our survey. Drivers told us their good driving habits, their bad driving habits, and their risky driving habits — and they didn’t hold back.Source: Based on the driving habits survey of 1,000 U.S. adults aged 16 and older on January 6, 2023.Note: Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number, so some data may not add up to 100%.

Driving While Distracted

Have you ever glanced into the car next to you and done a double take because the driver was doing their nails? Or reading a book? According to our survey, this kind of behavior happens more often than you might think. In fact, respondents confessed that while driving they’ve also:
  • Recorded a video with their phone or other device: 36%
  • Changed their clothes: 26%
  • Shaved or applied makeup: 26%
  • Fed or changed a baby or child: 8%
These types of distracted driving can be dangerous. In 2019, 424,000 people were injured in accidents with a distracted driver at the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many states now have laws in place to help prevent distracted driving, including bans against holding a cellphone while driving.  

Pets Are in The Driver’s Seat

People aren’t just driving with pets in the car—many allow their dog to sit behind the wheel with them! 42% of drivers of all ages admit to having their pet on their lap as they drive. Women are more likely to have their furry friend upfront with them than men are: 58% of women say their pet sits on their lap, while 42% of men admit the same.Recommended: 7 Tips for Lowering a Car Payment 

Sleepy While Steering

Americans are tired. More than one-third of us don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The result: A lot of exhausted drivers on the road. 40% of survey respondents confess that they drive when they’re tired.Research shows that fatigue can impair our judgment and decision-making skills and slow reaction time. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving results in approximately 6,400 deaths a year.

Risky Driving Habits Hit the Road

Besides driving drowsy, other potentially hazardous activities drivers engage in include:
  • Texting/using their phone: 35%
  • Zooming 10 miles per hour or more over the speed limit: 33%
  • Going through a red light or stop sign: 27%
Recommended: Car Loan Terms Explained 

Road Rage Is All Too Real

Incidents of road rage have been on the rise, according to data from across the country. Our survey certainly bears that out. A number of respondents told us they’ve taken aggressive actions aimed at other drivers. When another driver made them mad, the men and women who answered our survey responded by:
  • Yelling at the other driver: 27%
  • Cutting them off: 17%
  • Slowing down or speeding up to stop the vehicle from merging into their lane: 17%
  • Tailgating: 13%

Parallel Parking Is Petrifying

People aren't always bold behind the wheel, however. There are some driving activities survey respondents find scary enough to steer clear of. The biggest fear by far: parallel parking. Some 50% say this is the driving move that intimidates them most. Coincidentally (or not), some states have dropped parallel parking as a requirement from their driving tests.

Other Top Driving Fears: 

  • Driving through a toll booth: 30%
  • Going through a car wash: 18%
  • Navigating the drive thru: 15%
  • Putting gas in the car: 15%
  • Driving with other people in the vehicle: 14%
One thing not to be afraid of: Looking for a way to make your car loan easier to pay off. Whether you’re looking for a longer loan term or smaller payments, auto refinancing is an option to explore, and it’s easier to do than you might think.  

Full Speed Ahead

Plenty of drivers ignore the posted speed limit. Half of our survey respondents admit they regularly drive faster than that—mainly because they’re late or in a hurry. Of this group, 43% have gotten a speeding ticket at least once. And 57% have been in accidents while behind the wheel.

Repeat Offenders

More than a third of respondents (38%) have gotten a ticket. And of that group, 66% say they’ve been ticketed more than once.

The Most Common Infractions:

  • Speeding: 67%
  • Seat belt violations: 29%
  • Failing to stop or yield: 27%

Who Taught Drivers All These Bad Driving Habits?

Dad may have some explaining to do. Respondents whose parents taught them how to drive were more likely to been taught by their dad than their mom (33% for father vs. 19% for mother). The rest took driving lessons or learned from another relative.Recommended: 9 Tips on How to Shop for Auto Loans

Boredom May Lead to Risk-Taking

Let’s face it, driving can sometimes be dull. Some 12% of survey respondents confess they engage in risky behaviors like texting or speeding because they’re bored. Those aged 25 to 44 are most likely to do this — 77% of the thrill seekers fall into this group.

Drivers Have a High Opinion of Their Skills

Most people are pretty pleased with the way they drive. Three quarters say they’re safe or great drivers. Only a few survey respondents describe themselves as aggressive, despite the fact their behavior might suggest otherwise.

How Drivers Describe Themselves:

  • I’m a safe driver: 45%
  • I’m a great driver: 30%
  • I’m a mediocre driver: 10%
  • I’m a nervous driver: 9%
  • I’m an aggressive driver: 6%

But … Their Family and Friends Don’t Always Agree

In our survey, 35% of people acknowledge that they’ve been told they’re bad drivers. Perhaps not surprisingly, in our research, if they were told they were bad drivers, the respondents have admitted they’ve been told they’re guilty in the following specific areas:Excessive speeding: 36% have been told they do itTailgating: 17% Cutting off other vehicles: 15% Going through red lights or stop signs: 33% Preventing another car from merging: 24%  Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol: 21%  

Safety (Sometimes) Comes First

People don’t drive recklessly all the time, our survey found. Risky driving takes a backseat in certain situations. 

People Tend to Drive Safer and Slower If:

  • The road conditions are poor, due to conditions like snow or ice: 61%
  • Passengers are in the car: 53%  

What We Drive

Cars are the number-one vehicle of choice. More than half of our respondents own them, rather than an SUV or pickup truck.Car: 54%SUV or crossover: 27%Pickup truck: 10%Minivan: 5%Whatever type of vehicle you drive, if you’re looking for ways to lower your car payments, refinancing might be a helpful option if you can qualify for a lower interest rate. One of the benefits of refinancing is that you may be able to reduce your monthly payments.How much could you save? Plug your numbers into this auto loan calculator and find out fast, with no credit check required.

The Takeaway

Our cars have become vehicles for multitasking. Drivers are distracted by everything from their pets to their phones. And some of them aren’t afraid to do some potentially dangerous tasks while driving, including shaving and changing a baby. (Just don’t ask them to parallel park — that’s one thing that scares half of them.) A number of drivers are also more aggressive behind the wheel, and they take risks, like speeding and driving while drowsy. So what can you do to protect yourself and others on the road? Pay attention to the traffic around you, stay focused, and minimize the distractions in your car. Put your phone away. Keep your pets in a crate, or put a pet seat belt or harness on them. Get enough sleep before you get behind the wheel. And be courteous to other drivers. Finally, to potentially help avoid accidents, make sure your car is in good condition. Keep up to date on getting it serviced, and have any necessary repairs made. If money for car maintenance is tight, auto refinancing could be an option for you to explore. By getting a lower interest rate you could save on your car payments, freeing up funds for any auto body work that needs to be done. Lantern by SoFi can help simplify the process. By filling out one form, you can compare offers from multiple lenders in our network to find the best rates and terms for your needs. You can even prequalify for a car loan.

About the Author

Pam O'Brien

Pam O'Brien

Pam O’Brien is an award-winning editor and writer who has covered personal finance, budgeting, small business, and money issues. She is also an expert in health and wellness whose work has appeared in O Quarterly, Shape, Health, and More magazines, among others.
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