2018 Traffic Safety Culture Index
This annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI), a nationally representative survey, has been conducted to identify and assess key indicators regarding American drivers’ attitudes toward and behaviors regarding traffic safety, since 2008.
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Driving is an important part of many Americans’ lives. For the last decade, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has been committed to strengthening our understanding of our nation’s traffic safety culture through the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI), a nationally representative survey. In 2018, the questionnaire was revamped to include more measures such as perceived danger, risk of arrest, personal and perceived social approval of risky driving, support for laws and policies designed to curtail these behaviors, and self-reported engagement in these behaviors.
The revised 2018 TSCI once again reveals that people in the United States value traveling safely and support strengthened laws that promote safer roads. American drivers perceive distracted, drowsy, aggressive and impaired driving as dangerous. However, similar to years prior, this year’s survey highlights the discordance between drivers’ attitudes and their behaviors. For example, many drivers noted the serious dangers associated with holding and talking on cellphones while driving but admitted to having done so in the past month.
- More drivers view reading (95.9%) or typing (96.7%) a text/email on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, compared with talking on a hand-held cellphone (79.8%).
- Over 17% of drivers personally approve of talking on a hand-held cellphone and about 20% believed that people who were important to them approved of talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving.
- A majority of drivers support laws restricting distracted driving, with almost 75% supporting a law against holding and talking on a cellphone and about 88% supporting a law against reading, typing, or sending a text or email while driving.
- Nevertheless, more than half of drivers (52.1%) report having driven while talking on a hand-held cellphone at least once in the past 30 days. Fewer respondents report engaging in distracted driving by reading (41.3%) and typing a text/email (32.1%) on a hand-held cellphone while driving.
Risky and Aggressive Driving Behaviors
- About half of drivers (54.2%) indicate that speeding on a freeway is dangerous, while 64% of drivers perceived speeding on a residential street as dangerous.
- Nearly 66% of respondents felt that the police would catch a person driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit on a freeway, yet almost 50% reported having done so in the past 30 days.
- Over 85% of drivers consider speeding through a red light to be very or extremely dangerous, and 55% felt that the police would catch a driver for running a red light.
- Over 96% of drivers identify drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous. However, only slightly less than 40% thought drowsy drivers risked being caught by the police.
- Less than 2% of drivers personally approve and nearly 3% of drivers believe friends/family would approve of drowsy driving.
- Despite high rates of perceived danger and personal/social disapproval regarding drowsy driving, about 27% of drivers admitted to having driven while being so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the past 30 days.
- Most drivers (95.1%) perceive driving after drinking as very or extremely dangerous. However, almost 11% admitted to having done so in the past 30 days.
- Seventy percent of respondents consider driving shortly (within an hour) after using marijuana to be very or extremely dangerous. However, over 7% of drivers personally approve of driving shortly after using marijuana.
- Most drivers (87.3%) indicate driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs as very or extremely dangerous. About 45% of drivers consider that a person driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs would be likely to be caught by the police.
- A majority of drivers support laws against impaired driving. Over 81% of respondents support laws making it illegal to drive with a certain amount of marijuana in your system, and 76.3% support laws preventing the transport of a minor by a driver who has had any alcohol.
This study recruited a sample of 3,349 respondents ages 16 and older from KnowledgePanel®, an online probability-based research panel maintained by Ipsos (formerly GfK). The panel was designed to be a representative sample of households in the United States and recruited using standard probability-based random digit dial (RDD) and address-based sampling method (GfK, 2016).
If a sampled household lacked internet access or an internet-capable computer, they were provided internet access and a netbook computer at no cost to the household. Individuals not sampled could not volunteer to join the panel. Statistics were weighted to reflect the entire population from which the sample was drawn in response to each individual respondent’s probability of selection into the panel and the probability of selection for the survey.
Results from the TSCI suggest American drivers perceive distracted, aggressive, drowsy and impaired driving as dangerous. Driving after drinking enough alcohol to be over the legal limit and distracted driving behaviors related to reading and sending text messages on cellphones are considered particularly dangerous. Speeding, either driving 10 miles over the limit on a residential street or driving 15 miles over the limit on a freeway, is regarded as the least dangerous.
Of particular interest is the concordance (or lack thereof) between attitudes toward risky driving and self-reported behaviors. Often there is also a concordance between perceived risk of arrest and/or social approval. For example, the public regards drinking and driving as extremely dangerous, and people rarely report engaging in this behavior. On the other hand, speeding is regarded as the least dangerous of the driving activities in the survey and the most commonly cited self-reported risky driving behavior.
There is a stark contrast between the public’s attitudes toward cellphone use and self-reported behaviors. Many drivers noted the serious dangers associated with holding and talking on cellphones while driving, while also admitting to having done so in the past month.