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AAA: More than half of drivers surveyed engage in risky behavior

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More than half of U.S. drivers engage in risky behaviors while behind the wheel, new research shows.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI) survey, just 41% of drivers were considered safe. The latest study, based on 2022 data, found that of the 2,499 drivers studied, more than 1 in 5 sped while others admitted to being distracted.

Some of those studied also engaged in aggressive or impaired driving, the study found.

“Despite acknowledging the dangers, some drivers continue to engage in potentially deadly behaviors, particularly speeding,” said David Yang, AAA Foundation’s president and executive director. “Understanding the different types of risky driving behaviors and the characteristics of drivers who engage in them is crucial for developing targeted interventions to achieve safe mobility.”

The AAA Foundation grouped drivers into six profiles: safe drivers, distracted drivers, speeding drivers, distracted and aggressive drivers, and impaired drivers. Another category, called “most dangerous drivers,” represented those who engage in all of the included risky behaviors.

The survey found that while 63% of respondents believed they would be nabbed by police for going 15 mph faster than the limit on a highway, about half said they sped within 30 days of taking the survey anyway.

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for intelligent speed assistance (ISA) technology in all new cars. It made the recommendation after investigating a multi-vehicle collision in Las Vegas, Nevada that killed nine people.

The probe determined the crash was caused by “excessive speed, drug-impaired driving, and Nevada’s failure to deter the driver’s speeding recidivism due to systemic deficiencies, despite numerous speeding citations.”

The NTSB said ISA uses a car’s GPS location, which is compared with a database of posted speed limits, alongside onboard cameras to ensure the driver is complying with posted speed limits.

Passive ISA systems warn a driver when the vehicle exceeds the limit through sound, visual, or haptic alerts, while active systems make it more difficult to increase the speed above the posted limit.

According to NTSB, speeding-related crashes killed 12,330 people in 2021, representing about one-third of all U.S. traffic fatalities.

Distracted driving

The latest TSCI data found that as it relates to distracted driving, 93% of respondents believed texting or emailing on a phone while driving to be “very or extremely dangerous.”

Despite recognizing the risks, 27% of those surveyed admitted sending a message while driving, while 38% said they’d had a conversation on a handheld phone.

Meanwhile, several other initiatives are underway to discourage distracted driving. For instance, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and General Motors announced recently that they were advancing their joint efforts to end distracted driving through two new grants issued in Washington D.C. and Washington State.

Each state will receive $87,500 to create, implement, and evaluate initiatives focused on eliminating distracted driving, GHSA said.

“Distraction is a ‘dirty little secret’ that few drivers want to talk about,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA’s chief executive officer. “Distracted drivers kill people every day, yet surveys show most drivers think others are the problem, not themselves. We need creative solutions and new ways of thinking to meaningfully shift public opinion on this deadly behavior.”

In September, a mainstream media report drew attention to an increase in traffic fatalities despite an increase in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) meant to make vehicles safer.

The NBC affiliate article was the latest to draw a parallel between increased safety features and last year’s projected roadway deaths being up nearly 10% over 2020’s figures.

The 42,915 people killed in traffic crashes last year was also 26% higher than the 32,885 deaths that occurred in 2010, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.

The AAA foundation said that while traffic volumes rebound from the pandemic, roadway deaths remain “alarmingly high” as risky behaviors like impaired driving remain an “epidemic on our roadways.”

“This study highlights a near-term and important opportunity to concentrate on enforcement that makes an immediate safety impact,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy. “Many risky drivers in this study were classified into profiles that involved speeding behavior. Focusing on speeding drivers will deter other risky driving behaviors like impaired driving and red-light running. This traffic safety measure will have the greatest impact on safety.”


Featured image courtesy of PeopleImages/iStock

Secondary graphic courtesy of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

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