New research shows that some drivers knowingly engage in dangerous driving activities

BOISE – (June 11, 2020) – As a growing number of states emerge from COVID-19 isolation, the AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index serves as an important reminder that when drivers return to the road, they need to leave their bad habits behind.

Every year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety surveys motorists to gauge their opinions about dangerous driving.  But expectations fall short of reality, as some Americans admit to engaging in driving practices that they disapprove of and consider to be extremely dangerous.  That’s a concern, because a flood of drivers with new or rusty skills will be sharing the road this summer.

“AAA’s research highlights the tendency of some drivers to believe that their skills are much better than those of the people around them, and therefore, that the rules of the road don’t apply,” says AAA Idaho Public Affairs Director Matthew Conde.  “Some drivers got used to being able to drive faster and perhaps a bit more recklessly while others were working remotely or staying closer to home, but with traffic volumes building in Idaho, there could be some dangerous days ahead.”

This year, AAA’s questionnaire measured the perceived danger, risk of getting caught, level of perceived social approval, and support for laws and policies surrounding distracted driving, aggressive driving, drowsy driving, and impaired driving.


Distracted driving

A majority of drivers view typing (96%), reading (94%) and talking (80%) on a handheld cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, yet nearly half (43 percent) report having driven while talking on a hand-held device in the past 30 days.  Nearly 39 percent said that they read an email or text, while 29 percent admitted to typing one.  Drivers who have been involved in one or more crashes in the past two years are significantly more likely to self-report some type of distracted-driving behavior.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, distracted driving accounted for 20 percent of all crashes and 21 percent of all fatalities on Idaho roads in 2018, the most recent year of data available.  Distracted driving resulted in 48 deaths, and a projected economic cost of more than $950 million dollars in damages, insurance rates, and lost productivity due to traffic congestion.

AAA reminds drivers that Idaho’s new hands-free law goes into effect on July 1, 2020.  Drivers may not use a handheld device except under rare circumstances, even when traffic is temporarily stopped.  While the new law helps drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel, it’s best to also remain mentally alert by avoiding distracting phone calls entirely.


Aggressive driving

More than half of drivers think that speeding on a freeway is dangerous, while nearly 64 percent consider it dangerous to speed on a residential street.  Despite two-thirds of respondents saying that they think the police would catch someone driving 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway, almost half reported having done so in the past month.

Over 86 percent of drivers think speeding through a red light is very or extremely dangerous, but only half think that a police officer would catch someone in the act.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, aggressive driving was a contributing factor in 50 percent of all crashes in Idaho in 2018, resulting in 75 deaths and more than 500 serious injuries at an economic cost of nearly $1.7 billion.

“Aggressive driving isn’t just about speeding.  Failure to yield, following too closely, and driving too fast for the road conditions are other examples,” Conde said.  “But let’s call it what it is – when people trade safety for getting to their destination sooner, it’s selfishness.”


Drowsy driving

About 96 percent of drivers say that drowsy driving is very or extremely dangerous, but just 29 percent think that drowsy drivers risk being caught by the police.  Nearly one-quarter of the respondents admitted to driving at some point in the past 30 days while being so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

In previous AAA research, drivers who skipped just two or three hours of sleep began to exhibit the same poor driving behaviors as people who were over the legal limit for alcohol.


Impaired driving

Most drivers (94 percent) perceive driving after drinking to be very or extremely dangerous, yet nearly 10 percent say that they have done so in the last month.  But the problems don’t end there.

“There’s a striking disconnect about the potential impairing effects of medications,” Conde said.  “While 88 percent of drivers think operating a vehicle after taking a prescription drug could be dangerous, just 47 percent think that they’ll be caught by the police for doing so.  Medications can make a driver weave in traffic, slow reaction time, and create inattentiveness just like alcohol.”

In 2018, 33 percent of all fatalities on Idaho roads were the result of an impaired driving crash, with a projected economic cost for all impaired-driving crashes of nearly $1 billion.


“AAA’s message to drivers is to do the right thing for the right reason,” Conde explained.  “We should drive safely all the time, whether someone is watching or not.”