Traffic Safety Culture Index Reveals Better Behavior Behind the Wheel but There’s Still Room for Improvement

by Gwen Newell

A new report finds unsafe driving behaviors, including red-light running, drowsy driving, and driving impaired on cannabis or alcohol, have declined in the past three years. While some dangerous driving behaviors have fallen more than others, drivers still admit to speeding and using a handheld cell phone, posing a danger on the roadways, according to new survey data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. As more Americans return to the daily commute, AAA reminds all motorists to practice safe driving behaviors by focusing on the task of driving, keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

Although fewer Americans took to the roads in 2020 due to the pandemic, those that 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.

While the reasons for this increase 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.

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. 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 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.

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