As automotive journalists, we at Edmunds.com tend to be a little more practiced on the road than the average driver. Not only is driving cars our job but we're required to go to high-performance driving school every year "for insurance purposes." So take it from us when we say we know a thing or two about how to avoid a car accident. We're not talking about obvious tips your mom told you, like, "Look both ways before you enter an intersection" or "Don't tailgate." Rather, tips we've picked up in the field, interacting with L.A. drivers in particular, driving cross-country, and testing cars on the track.
1. The Tailgater
At 70 mph on the freeway, drivers here tailgate, oblivious to the danger involved. A combination of arrogance and ignorance, these "Type As" seem bent on causing a pileup and create stress for good drivers. All it would take is one person braking moderately hard (very common on the freeways) and wham — domino effect. It is these same tailgaters who forget all driving skills whatsoever in the rain or fog, causing those wrecks you see on TV news.
2. Merging Maniacs
There are two types of Merging Maniacs. The first, instead of immediately merging from a freeway on-ramp into the flow of traffic, drives to the very end of the on-ramp lane and weasels his/her way in between cars. Look for them during especially heavy traffic. They're the ones flying by you on their own personal speedway.
The second illegally uses the carpool lane of the on-ramp for a quick merge onto the highway — though he or she is clearly not carpooling nor driving a hybrid. The maniac passes by everyone who is doing the right (and legal) thing. There's nothing you can do about cheaters like them except stew — or become just like them.
3. Close the Gap (a.k.a. My Space)
This driver automatically closes the gap between his car and the car in front of him as soon as you turn on your lane-change blinker. In fact, every driver behind this one will do the same until there is an impenetrable wall of 20 or 30 cars preventing your lane change. This will happen every time you turn on your lane-change blinker, especially when you need to cross several lanes in order to exit the highway. Try it for fun just to see it happen.
4. Hummer View-Be-Gone
These monster SUV drivers get in front of you (always you!) and block all forward views, including the sun. Sometimes, if you're lucky and they don't have black-tinted glass (highly unlikely in Southern California), you can see through their windows, which allows some semblance of a view. But don't be disheartened; these drivers can only go about four or fives miles before they have to pull over for gas, so hang in there.
5. Must Turn Left (Think: Homer Simpson)
This driver must turn left. Nothing will stop him, even after the green left-turn arrow has changed to yellow and then red. Even if there is no space where he wants to go and his vehicle will take up two full lanes of oncoming traffic after he turns. It's easier if you imagine Homer Simpson behind the wheel, catatonically moaning, "Must...turn...left."
6. U-Turn! (Why Wait To Turn Left?)
This driver makes a U-turn past the left turn he originally wanted to make, then gets in the right lane of the previously opposite lane of traffic and turns right; thus achieving his goal without waiting to make a left turn.
Obviously this driver deserves a death sentence. (In Texas, actually, that is the punishment for this offense.) But don't hold your breath. And don't try calling someone at city hall to complain. They will just transfer you incessantly while laughing at the idiot who called to complain.
7. Leave a Gap
This is the weird phenomenon where, at a red light, a driver will leave a large gap (often measuring two car lengths or more) between them and the car in front of them. This is most maddening when you're trying to move over into a left-turn lane (where there is a green arrow glowing) while this airhead, oblivious to you behind him with your signal on, sits there with 30 feet of open space in front of him.
Like most L.A. drivers, this unconscious individual never looks in his rearview, and even if you give him a quick beep, he'll remain in la-la land. Chances are, when his light turns green, he won't move until you honk him out of his daydreaming.
8. Your Space Is My Space
As you're waiting patiently in slow-moving traffic, wondering if you should try to cross the intersection before the light turns red, a driver roars past and cuts into the space ahead of you. Sometimes two or three drivers will do this before you can react. Immediately after this happens the light will change to red as you 1) sit there cursing, or 2) become stuck in the middle of the intersection as both streams of traffic honk at you. Again you are cursing.
9. Traffic Signal Terror
This driver is determined to make the light from the opposing lane of traffic, no matter what its color. If it's yellow, instead of slowing, he accelerates to the speed of light, screaming by you. You're left stuck in the middle of the intersection at a red light, with zero chance of making your left turn. Honking horns, embarrassment follow.
If the light is red, no matter: He blasts through it anyway, because his time is simply more important than yours. A perpetual accident waiting to happen, these drivers never get caught by a cop until they actually T-bone some innocent person who was moving on a green light.
10. Ladies in Mercedes
These drivers are typically middle-aged women (sorry about the gender typing, but it's true) whose husbands have bought them status cars that they do not know how to drive.
These women are not to be confused with the younger Angelenos who gab on cell phones and check their looks in the rearview mirrors while a small dog sits in their laps. Don't even try to get around these drivers. They seem to meander exactly where you intend to try to pass them every time.
None of these are surefire ways to prevent a car accident. You can only control what you do behind the wheel, not what your fellow drivers do. But take responsibility when you drive and focus on the task at hand. It's not a time to return phone calls or shave or log onto your e-mail. Take it from our editors: Driving isn't a mindless activity, it's an exercise in self-restraint, self-defense and self-preservation.