AAA: New Data Shows Better Driving Behaviors, But Still Room for Improvement

There’s good and bad news when it comes to unsafe driving behaviors, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey.

Red-light running, drowsy driving, and impaired driving have all declined in the past three years, but motorists still admit to speeding and using a handheld cell phone despite increased social stigma. AAA East Central is encouraging motorists to focus on the task of driving safely, especially in light of a recent nationwide spike in roadway fatalities.

“While it is encouraging to see more motorists embracing safer driving behaviors, risky behaviors are still alarmingly high,” says Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs, AAA East Central. “Distracted driving and speeding can have deadly consequences and motorists need to be aware of the importance of practicing safe habits behind the wheel.”

The new data from the Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI) comes at a time where roadway fatalities are at a 14-year high. Even though fewer Americans drove in 2020 due to the pandemic, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that an estimated 38,680 people died in crashes—an increase of 7.2% and the largest number of fatalities since 2007. Moreover, the numbers for 2021 look even worse, as NHTSA estimates 8,730 people died in crashes in the first three months of the year.

While the cause of this drastic increase is still being studied, the TSCI reveals the extent to which motorists have admitted to engaging in the following dangerous behaviors (chart 1). Also, many are driving distracted despite increasing awareness of its dangers (chart 2).

The proportion of people who reported having engaged in the following unsafe driving behaviors at least once in the past 30 days:

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The proportion of people who believe family/friends would somewhat or completely disapprove of the following distracted driving behaviors:

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AAA recommends these safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Obey speed limits. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 80 mph instead of 75 mph. Speed kills and isn’t worth the cost.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features like Apple’s Do Not Disturb.
  • Only drive sober. If you consume marijuana, alcohol, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don’t drive. And if you’re going to drive, then don’t consume these substances.
  • Stay alert. Stop driving if you become sleepy because you could fall asleep at any time. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.

About the survey: The annual TSCI identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are 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 between October 23 and November 23, 2020. The AAA Foundation issued its first TSCI in 2008.

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