2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index

This report presents the results of our annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey, providing data on the attitudes and behaviors of the American public with respect to key traffic safety topics.

January 2013

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Abstract

For the fifth consecutive year the Foundation has conducted a national survey of driver attitudes and behaviors. As in previous years, the Index highlights aspects of the current traffic safety culture that might be characterized as a culture of indifference, where drivers effectively say “do as I say, not as I do.”

For the fifth consecutive year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has continued its efforts to measure and benchmark the attitudes and behaviors of American drivers in an attempt to understand – and strengthen – a culture of safety on our roads. As in previous years, the 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index found that an attitude of “do as I say, not as I do” persists among motorists, many of whom admit to engaging in the same dangerous behaviors that they criticize as being “unacceptable.” Complete highlights are below.

Methods

  • Random sample of 3,896 U.S. residents of driving age (16+)
  • Conducted September 7-24, 2012 using web-enabled probability-based panel representative of U.S. population
  • Participants were asked questions about threats on the highway, acceptability of behaviors, support for laws and countermeasures, and frequency of engaging in risky behaviors
  • Survey conducted by GfK for the AAA Foundation

2012 Key Findings

Personal Experience with Crashes:

  • More than one in five drivers have been involved in a serious crash
  • Nearly one in three Americans have had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a crash

Severity of Traffic Safety Concerns:

  • More than two thirds of Americans (67.7%) say aggressive drivers are a somewhat or much bigger problem today compared with three years ago
  • Nearly nine in ten (88.5%) say this about distracted driving
  • Roughly half (51.6% and 50%, respectively) say this about drunk driving and drivers using drugs

“Do As I Say, Not As I Do”:

  • Texting/emailing: 80.7% say it is a very serious threat to safety, and 82.9% say it is completely unacceptable; however, more than a third (34.7%) read a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, and more than a quarter (26.6%) typed one
  • Speeding (10+ mph) on residential streets: 45.2% say it is a very serious threat, 63% say it is completely unacceptable, but nearly half (46.8%) have done it in the past month
  • Red light running: 55.5% say it is a very serious threat, 69.6% say it is completely unacceptable, yet more than a third (38.4%) of drivers admit to doing it in the past 30 days
  • Drowsy driving: 45.4% say it is a very serious threat, 82.7% say it is completely unacceptable, yet nearly three in ten (29.9%) have done it in the past month

Perceptions of Cognitive Distraction:

  • Although two thirds (66%) say hand-held cell phone use by drivers is unacceptable, more than half (56.2%) say hands-free devices are acceptable
  • Nearly three quarters (74.3%) say they believe hands-free devices are safer to use behind the wheel than hand-held ones
  • Over half (51.3%) of drivers who report using speech-based in-vehicle systems say they do not believe these systems are at all distracting
  • Support for total bans on mobile devices (hand-held and hands-free) is lower (48.6%) than for hand-held-only bans (66.5%)
  • Despite this, existing research has not indicated that hands-free devices are safer. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is therefore currently sponsoring a landmark study of cognitive distraction to better understand this issue

Variations by Age:

  • In general, compared with older drivers, younger drivers were:
    • More likely to report engaging in distracting behaviors behind the wheel;
    • More likely to find these behaviors acceptable; and
    • Less likely to support legislation aimed at curbing distractions

Support for Laws and Countermeasures:

  • Strong societal support exists for texting bans (86.4%), ignition interlock requirements for all offenders (80.5%), and universal helmet laws for motorcyclists (81.7%)
  • There is majority opposition for speed cameras on freeways (64.3%) and residential streets (51.2%)
  • Support is greater for hand-held cell phone bans (66.5%) than for total bans, which would prohibit hands-free devices (48.6%)

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

Tamra Johnson
202-942-2079
TRJohnson@national.aaa.com

Authors

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety