For many people, the beginning of a year often means a chance to start anew, to improve a longstanding issue of some sort. Getting in shape and shedding extra pounds are the most common resolutions, but some people decide they need to save more money, quit smoking, reduce stress, or get a more fulfilling job.

How about drive smarter?

Consider this: Driving is an activity that many of us do almost every day. And like everything that we do almost every day, we do it so much that we don’t think about how we do it anymore (unless someone cuts us off or we have a close call). But unlike brushing your teeth or answering email, the consequences of not driving well can be annoying, dangerous, or deadly.

Driving well means driving smarter. It means being careful, looking far ahead, anticipating and planning, and sharing well with others. It means being aware, paying attention, and staying focused. It means driving smoothly and steadily even through the most challenging conditions. It means knowing how to use technology to help you travel efficiently and safely—and when to ignore it.

Most of us think we drive really well. According to cognitive research studies, exactly 80 percent of us, in fact, believe we are above-average drivers. And 999 times we drive somewhere, we don’t get into a crash, or even close to it. So we’re good drivers, right?

But when was the last time you were out driving and something took you by surprise? A pedestrian stepping out from behind a parked car? A motorcycle in your blind spot? A vehicle that was entering the same lane you were changing to on the highway? An invisible patch of ice on an onramp? A red stoplight on a busy downtown street that wasn’t visible until you were already in the intersection? Another vehicle tailgating you?

If you were surprised or startled by any of these, it means there’s room for improvement. Over 90 percent of vehicular crashes are completely avoidable. An “accident” should mean a freak happening, such as a tree falling down on your car during a windstorm. Everything else is irrelevant—and preventable.

Driving smarter also means being completely honest with yourself about your abilities, personality, intent, and execution. Most of us aren’t.

The rewards of driving smarter are huge. Safety is the obvious benefit; no one wants to be in a crash or risk being injured or killed. Or worse yet, do that to someone else. But aside from that, driving smarter means you’ll be less frustrated and scared by traffic and others around you. That means you’ll be less stressed, and you’ll likely even save some time, because you know how to drive more efficiently. And when you drive smarter to your destination, you’ll have that secret inner satisfaction of having executed a job well-done in a hazardous world.

It’s not just for behind the wheel, either. The mental and physical skills to drive smarter directly improve just about everything else you do—looking far ahead, being aware of what’s going on around you, and focusing not on the mistake that just happened, but how to avoid repeating it in the future.

So try it—take a refresher course from a good driving school, join an auto club that offers car control clinics, research the Web for driving techniques (including this blog), or get one-on-one training with a professional driving instructor. Or take a single bad driving habit you have, and work deliberately on replacing it with a better one.

Driving well, really well, takes practice. Lots of it. But most of us drive everyday. What a great opportunity to get better throughout the year.