AAA: Drivers Behaving Badly

New study provides insights on driver behaviors during the pandemic

PORTLAND, Ore., – A new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds drivers admit to dangerous behaviors behind the wheel such as speeding and texting or talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. Some encouraging findings are that other unsafe driving behaviors, including red-light running, drowsy driving, and driving impaired on cannabis or alcohol, have declined in the past three years.

Here are the fact sheet and complete report. B-roll video can be found here:

https://newsroom.aaa.com/asset/red-light-running-b-roll-clip-3/
https://newsroom.aaa.com/asset/red-light-running-b-roll-clip-2/
https://newsroom.aaa.com/asset/speed-limit-signs-broll/
https://newsroom.aaa.com/asset/police-stop-with-teen-driver/

This survey is done every year by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. For more than a decade, the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index looks at driver behaviors and attitudes. This year’s study provides insights in public perceptions, attitudes toward and engagement in unsafe driving behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic years. The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s driving and travel.

As more Americans return to normal routines and daily commutes, AAA encourages everyone to practice safe driving behaviors.

“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,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “However, the ultimate goal is to see the majority of drivers form safe driving habits and practice them.”

“There’s still a big disconnect in driver attitudes and behaviors. Drivers know the dangers posed by distracted, aggressive and impaired driving, and say their loved ones would disapprove of these behaviors. But many drivers admit to doing at least one of these in the past 30 days,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

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

Unsafe Driving Behavior 2018

(%)

2019

(%)

2020

(%)

Change from 2018 to 2020 (%)
Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway 48.9 48.2 45.1 -7.8
Driven while holding and talking on a cell phone 52.1 43.2 37.2 -28.6*
Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone 41.3 38.6 33.9 -17.9*
Driven through a light that had just turned red 31.4 31.1 25.6 -18.5*
Driven aggressively by switching lanes quickly or very close behind another car 24.8 26.5 21.3 -14.1
Driven when so tired it was hard to keep eyes open 27.0 23.6 17.3 -35.9*
Driven when you had enough alcohol that you thought you were over the legal limit 10.9 9.8 5.9 -45.9*
Driven within an hour of consuming cannabis 6.6 6.5 4.4 -33.3*

* indicates a change is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level

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 (NHTSA) 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 2021 look even worse, as NHTSA estimates 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first three months of the year.

In Oregon, 507 people died in crashes in 2020, according to preliminary data from the Oregon Crash Analysis & Reporting Unit, compared to 494 people killed in 2019. This is an increase of nearly 3%. It’s also the largest numbers of fatalities since 2003 when there were 512.

For 2021, the year-to-date fatalities as of October 26 are 453, compared to 502 for the same period last year.

Oregon Motor Vehicle Crashes
Year Number of people killed in crashes
2020 507*
2019 494
2018 502
2017 439
2016 498
2015 445
2014 356
2013 313
2012 336
2011 331
2010 317
2009 377
2008 416
2007 455
2006 477
2005 488
2004 456
2003 512
* preliminary figure

While the reasons for this increase in crash fatalities are being studied, the AAA Foundation’s TSCI reveals some areas of admitted driving behavior that remain stubbornly high, despite declining since 2018: speeding and using a cell phone. Unfortunately, drivers who participated in the TSCI survey admit to risky driving behaviors despite knowing that loved ones, family or friends would strongly disapprove. Cell phone use is one such area where perception and behavior do not match.

Distracted Driving Remains High:

  • More respondents view reading (94.9%) or typing (95.5%) a text/email on a hand-held cell phone while driving as extremely or very dangerous, compared with holding and talking on a hand-held cell phone (79.7%).
  • Nearly all respondents 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.
  • Nevertheless, about a quarter of drivers (22.7%) report having driven while typing or sending a text/email on a hand-held cell phone at least once in the past 30 days. More respondents report having engaged in distracted driving by talking (37.2%) and reading (33.9%) on a hand-held cell phone while driving.

The proportion of people who believe people who are important to them would somewhat or completely disapprove of the following distracted driving behaviors, which shows that these behaviors are becoming more socially unacceptable

Distracted Driving Behavior 2018

(%)

2019

(%)

2020

(%)

Change from 2018 to 2020

(%)

Driving while typing an email or texting on a cell phone 93.9 94.6 95.5 +1.7
Driving while reading a text or email on a cell phone 93.8 93.2 94.0 +0.2
Driving while holding and talking on a cell phone 79.3 86.7 92.6 +16.8*

* indicates a change is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.

“AAA has some positive news to share about trends in safer driving behaviors, but we have much more work to do to reduce the recent spikes in traffic fatalities. Losing more than 38-thousand people including 502 in Oregon traffic crashes last year is just not acceptable,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “While it’s encouraging to see downward trends in self-reported impaired driving, red-light running, and drowsy driving, we can do better.”

AAAFTS TSCI 2021 AAAFTS TSCI 2021 AAAFTS TSCI 2021 AAAFTS TSCI 2021

AAA recommends these safe driving tips:

  • 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. And recent AAA Foundation research shows that small speed increases were enough to raise a driver’s risk of severe injury or death.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features such as 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.

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, and the latest report is online: AAAFoundation.org

About the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research develops educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users. 

About AAA: AAA provides more than 62 million members with automotive, travel, insurance, and financial services through its federation of 30 motor clubs and more than 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. To join, visit AAA.com

AAA news releases, high resolution images, broadcast-quality video, fact sheets and podcasts are available on the AAA NewsRoom at NewsRoom.AAA.com.

Find local news releases at https://oregon.aaa.com/community/media/media-contacts.html

For more info go www.AAA.com.  AAA Oregon/Idaho provides more than 850,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services, and is an affiliate of AAA National, serving more than 62 million motorists in North America.