Unsafe driving on America’s roads, like red-light running, drowsy driving, and driving impaired on cannabis or alcohol have declined in the past three years, but motorists are still engaging in dangerous and risky behavior behind the wheel, like speeding and using handheld cell phones.
The trends showing mixed progress were based on a survey released on Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and education association that compared behavior behind the wheel from 2018 to 2020.
“Based on self-reported driving behaviors from our annual survey of traffic safety culture, it is encouraging to see more drivers recognize the danger of certain activities behind the wheel,” David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. “However, the ultimate goal is to see the majority of drivers form safe driving habits and practice them.”
The annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety, was based on responses from a sample of more than 2,800 licensed drivers ages 16 or older who reported driving in the 30 days before the survey, which was administered in late 2020.
The survey found that while fewer Americans took to the roads in 2020 due to the pandemic, those who did appeared to take greater risks.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes—an increase of 7.2% and the largest number of fatalities since 2007. And, the numbers for the first quarter of 2021 look even worse, the AAA Foundation noted.
Drivers who participated in the survey admitted to risky driving behaviors despite knowing that loved ones, family or friends would strongly disapprove, like engaging in distracted driving.
Nearly all survey respondents said they believed that people who were important to them would disapprove of typing or sending a text/email on a hand-held cell phone while driving, yet about a quarter of them reported having driven while typing or sending a text/email on a hand-held cell phone at least once in the 30 days before the survey.
More than 80% of respondents said they supported a law against talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving for all drivers, while less than half respondents (45.9%) supported a law against using hands-free technology to read, type, or send a text or email while driving, according to the report.
“AAA has some positive news to share about trends in safer driving behaviors, but it’s not quite time to declare victory,” Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research, said in a statement. “Downward trends in self-reported impaired driving, red-light running, and drowsy driving is the kind of progress we need to curb the recent spikes in traffic fatalities.’
As more Americans return to their places of work, the safety group reminds all motorists to:
Obey speed limits. People tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. For example, drivers have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 80 mph instead of 75 mph. Recent AAA Foundation research found that small speed increases were enough to raise a driver’s risk of severe injury or death.
Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features.
Don’t drive if you consume marijuana, alcohol, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, and if you’re going to drive, then don’t consume those substances.
Stop driving if you become sleepy. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.