Study: As drivers return, so does danger

Annual survey reveals that drivers engage in behaviors they know are risky

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Traffic Safety

DENVER (June 11, 2020)  - As drivers take back to the roads in the wake of easing "stay-at-home" orders, they risk falling into the same driving habits that put them in danger before COVID-19 became a fact of life. That's the takeaway from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI), which revealed Americans continue to grapple with a serious "Do as I say, not as I do" problem behind the wheel.

"The pandemic has highlighted the extent to which individual decisions and behaviors can impact the health and safety of others," said Skyler McKinley, director of public affairs for AAA Colorado. "As we return to the roads, staying mindful of that same 'we're all in this together' sentiment will save lives, plain and simple."

The TSCI, which was conducted before the pandemic hit, shows a sizable gap between what drivers consider dangerous and what they report doing themselves. It found that drivers perceive distracted, aggressive, and impaired driving as dangerous – even as they admit to engaging in at least one of the exact same behaviors in the 30 days before the survey. The numbers were even higher for those involved in a recent crash, indicating people don't change their behavior even after it results in serious consequences.

  • 50% of those involved in a recent crash admit to talking on a hand-held device while driving in the past month vs. 42% not involved in a crash.
  • 43% of those involved in a recent crash admit to texting while driving in the past month vs. 27% not involved in a crash.
  • 39% of those involved in a recent crash admit to running a red light in the past month vs. 30% not involved in a crash.

Behaviors & Perception | By the Numbers 
Percent who: Perceive as Dangerous | Have Done in the Last 30 Days

Reading on a cell phone

94.3% | 38.6%

Typing on a cell phone

 96.2% | 29.3%

Talking on a handheld cell phone

79.7% | 43.2%

Driving 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway

55.1% | 42.8%

Driving 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street

64% | 41.5%

Driving through a red light

86% | 31%

Driving while being so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open

96.1% | 23.6%

Driving after drinking enough alcohol to be over the legal limit

94% | 9.8%

Driving within an hour after using marijuana

68.7% | 6.3%

Driving while using potentially impairing prescription drugs

88.4% | 5.8%

How to Stay Safe

Luckily, it's easy to keep you, your neighbors, and your loved ones safe on the road: 

  • Out of sight, out of mind. Stow your smartphone, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features such as Apple's Do Not Disturb mode.
  • Slow down. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You'd have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes if you were traveling at 75mph in a 70mph zone. Speed kills. It's not worth the cost.
  • Stay alert. Take care of your health and get plenty of rest. Stop driving if you become sleepy. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision – causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk. 
  • Drive sober. If you consumer marijuana, alcohol, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don't drive. And if you're going to drive, don't consume those substances. It's that easy. If you are taking prescription medications, visit Roadwise Rx to learn if they can impair driving.
  • Watch for vulnerable road users. Biking and walking have soared in popularity this year. It's the responsibility of every driver to watch and share the road safely with cyclists and pedestrians. 
  • Always wear your seatbelt.

The annual TSCI identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,714 licensed drivers ages 16 or older who reported driving in the 30 days before the survey, which was administered between Sept. 6 and Oct. 8, 2019. The AAA Foundation issued its first TSCI in 2008, and the latest report is online:

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety 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.

About AAA – The Auto Club Group

AAA Colorado is a proud part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more.