Going in Reverse: Dangerous Driving Behaviors Rise

After years of improvement, new research shows a troubling increase in admitted risky driving.
James Phelps

A recent report 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 from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, this is a reversal in the steady declines in these dangerous driving behaviors in the three years from 2018 through 2020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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 reversal in the frequency of U.S. drivers engaging in risky driving behavior is disturbing. While drivers acknowledge that certain activities behind the wheel – like speeding and driving impaired – are not safe, many still engage in these activities anyway,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “We must be aware of the serious consequences of dangerous driving behaviors and change course.”

As in previous years, drivers reported that their driving habits would be met 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% admitted 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% admitted to doing it in the last 30 days

“The privilege of driving comes with great responsibility, which some motorists are not taking seriously,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Fortunately, we know that reinforcing safe behavior with someone we know can influence them to change, so on our next ride with a passenger, let’s show them how it’s done safely. Together we can move closer to zero traffic deaths.”

AAA recommends these safety tips to keep in mind.

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.

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.

Unsafe Driving Behavior

Author: James Phelps, President & CEO