New Report Shows Unsafe Driving Behaviors Increase from 2020 to 2021

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Information from the AAA Foundation just released shows that after years of improvement, the following unsafe driving behaviors rose from 2020 to 2021: speeding, drivers running red lights, drowsy driving, and impaired driving. According to AAA, drivers admitting to getting behind the wheel after drinking enough that they felt they were over the legal limit rose nearly 24%, which they say is the most alarming increase.

Additional Information from the Press Release:

A new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds unsafe driving behaviors, including speeding, red-light running, drowsy driving, and driving impaired on cannabis or alcohol, rose from 2020 to 2021. The most alarming increase was among drivers admitting to getting behind the wheel after drinking enough that they felt they were over the legal limit – an increase of nearly 24%.  According to new survey data in the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, this is a reversal in the steady declines in these dangerous driving behaviors in the three years from 2018 through 2020.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, traffic fatalities have risen. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. According to NHTSA, dangerous driving behaviors such as speeding, alcohol impairment, and non-use of seatbelts account for a considerable proportion of the increased fatalities. Accordingly, AAA urges drivers to keep everyone safe on the roads and warns motorists against falling back into dangerous driving habits.

“The increase in the number of U.S. drivers engaging in risky driving behavior is troubling,” said Jana Tidwell, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “While drivers consistently acknowledge that certain risky behaviors behind the wheel, such as speeding and driving impaired, are not safe, many still engage in these activities anyway.”

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

Unsafe Driving Behavior2018(%)2019(%)2020(%) 2021(%)Change from 2020 to 2021 (%)
Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway48.948.245.150.7+12.4
Driven while holding and talking on a cell phone52.143.237.237.4+0.5
Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone41.338.633.936.2+6.8
Driven through a red light31.431.125.628.2+10.1
Driven aggressively by switching lanes quickly or very close behind another car24.826.521.322.9+7.5
Driven when so tired it was hard to keep eyes open27.023.617.318.8+8.7
Driven when you had enough alcohol that you thought you were over the legal limit10.99.85.97.3+23.7
Driven within an hour of consuming cannabis6.66.54.45.0+13.6

As in previous years, drivers reported too often engaging in risky behaviors that they know are dangerous and would meet with disapproval from friends or family. For example:

  • Texting While Driving
    • 92% think it’s very or extremely dangerous
    • 96% think someone important to them would disapprove
    • 26% admit to doing it in the last 30 days
  • Aggressive Driving
    • 88% think it’s very or extremely dangerous
    • 96% think someone important to them would disapprove
    • 23% admit to doing it in the last 30 days
  • Impaired Driving
    • 94% believe driving after drinking enough alcohol (to the point one considers they might be over the legal limit) to be very or extremely dangerous
    • 7% admit to engaging in this behavior in the past 30 days
    • 65% of drivers feel driving, within an hour, of using marijuana is very or extremely dangerous
    • 93% believe people important to them would disapprove of the behavior

Nearly three in four drivers supported making it illegal to drive with any drug (not legally prescribed) in one’s system. “The privilege of driving comes with great responsibility, which some motorists are not taking seriously,” said Tidwell.  AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index illustrates a clear disconnect when it comes to impaired driving and the perception that marijuana use and driving is less dangerous than drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel. “We must be aware of the serious consequences of all dangerous driving behaviors and change course,” Tidwell added.

The purpose of the Traffic Safety Culture survey is to better understand drivers’ perceptions and attitudes towards risky behaviors, so we can work together to find the best possible way to address those issues and reduce crashes.  “With nearly 43,000 fatal crashes nationwide every year, we’ve got to do everything we can to save more lives.” Tidwell said.

In Delaware according to the Delaware State Police 139 people lost their lives on Delaware roadways in 2021 and up 18% compared to 2020. 

AAA recommends these safety tips:

  • 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.
  • Slow down. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. Speed kills and isn’t worth the cost.
  • Stay alert. Stop driving if you become sleepy because you can fall asleep anytime. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision.
  • Drive sober.  If you consume marijuana or alcohol, then don’t drive. If you are taking potentially impairing prescription medications, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist how best to stay safe AND healthy behind the wheel.  
  • Buckle your seat belt for every ride. It does not matter where in the vehicle you are seated. A properly worn seatbelt is the most effective way to survive a traffic crash.

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Foundation for Traffic Safety was established in 1947 by AAA. The Foundation 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.


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