Better Driving Behavior

New data shows drivers still speeding and using the phone.
AAA Automotive

Unsafe Driving Behaviors on the Decline

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. Some dangerous driving behaviors have fallen more than others, with drivers still admitting to speeding and using a handheld cellphone, 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.

“Based on self-reported driving behaviors from our annual survey of traffic safety culture, it is encouraging to see more drivers recognize the danger of certain activities behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “However, the ultimate goal is to see the majority of drivers form safe driving habits and practice them.”

Pandemic Driving Patterns Emerge

While 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 percent 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 cellphone. Unfortunately, drivers who participated in the TSCI survey admit to risky driving behaviors despite knowing that loved ones, family or friends would strongly disapprove. Cellphone use is one such area where perception and behavior do not match.

“AAA has some positive news to share about trends in safer driving behaviors, but it’s not quite time to declare victory,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Downward trends in self-reported impaired driving, red-light running and drowsy driving is the kind of progress we need to curb the recent spikes in traffic fatalities. It’s my hope we are turning a corner. I know we can do better.”

AAA recommends these driving safety tips:

  • Obey speed limits. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100miles to save roughly five 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.
  • Smartphones: out of sight, out of mind. Stow your smartphone away, turn on airplane mode or activate call/text blocking features like Apple’s “Do Not Disturb” function.
  • Only drive sober. If you consume marijuana, alcohol or use potentially impairing prescription medications, don’t drive. And if you’re going to drive, avoid consuming these substances.
  • Stay alert. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk. Don’t drive if you feel sleepy or groggy.

The annual TSCI identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data is from a sample of more than 2,800 licensed drivers, ages 16 or older, who reported driving in the 30 days before the survey, which was administered between October 23 and November 23, 2020. The AAA Foundation issued its first TSCIin 2008, and the latest report is online (