AAA: Dangerous driving behaviors on the rise

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new AAA study indicates a “troubling” increase in unsafe driving behaviors from 2020 to 2021.

The report, which includes survey data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, noted increases in risky behaviors including speeding, running red lights, drowsy driving, and driving impaired due to cannabis or alcohol.

When compared to 2020, the number of drivers admitting to running a red light increased by over 10%, according to AAA’s survey data. Analysts also noted an increase of over 12% in drivers admitting to operating a car within an hour after consuming cannabis and a nearly 24% increase in drivers admitting to operating a car when they felt they were too drunk to drive.

Perhaps not surprisingly, traffic fatalities had also risen by 10.5% between 2020 and 2021, with an estimated 42,915 people dying in road accidents last year, vs. 38,824 in 2020, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The increase comes after three years of steady declines, according to AAA.

“The reversal in the frequency of U.S. drivers engaging in risky driving behavior is disturbing,” said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in a press release issued alongside the full results of the AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index. “While drivers acknowledge that certain activities behind the wheel — like speeding and driving impaired, are not safe, many still engage in these activities anyway.”

Below are the partial results of AAA’s study on risky driving behaviors.

Unsafe Driving Behavior 2018(%) 2019(%) 2020(%)      2021(%) Change from 2020 to 2021 (%)
Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway 48.9 48.2 45.1 50.7 +12.4
Driven while holding and talking on a cell phone 52.1 43.2 37.2 37.4 +0.5
Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone 41.3 38.6 33.9 36.2 +6.8
Driven through a red light 31.4 31.1 25.6 28.2 +10.1
Driven aggressively by switching lanes quickly or very close behind another car 24.8 26.5 21.3 22.9 +7.5
Driven when so tired it was hard to keep eyes open 27.0 23.6 17.3 18.8 +8.7
Driven when you had enough alcohol that you thought you were over the legal limit 10.9 9.8 5.9 7.3 +23.7
Driven within an hour of consuming cannabis 6.6 6.5 4.4 5.0 +13.6

The study also included data concerning the drivers and their views on the perceived reactions to their own behavior. The majority felt that behaviors such as aggressive driving, texting, or being under the influence of cannabis or alcohol was dangerous, and would be disapproved of socially.

“The privilege of driving comes with great responsibility, which some motorists are not taking seriously,” Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research, said in a statement included with Thursday’s press release.

AAA’s 2021 Traffic Safety Culture Index collected data from 2,657 drivers across the country, who self-reported their own behavior via an online survey.

More information on the study, including the complete findings of the technical report, can be found at

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