2020 Traffic Safety Culture Index

The 2020 iteration of the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey provides insights on public engagement in unsafe driving behaviors and related attitudes and perceptions in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic relative to previous years.

October 2021

Suggested Citation

Authors

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Abstract

Introduction

For more than a decade, the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI) survey has contributed to deepening our understanding of public perceptions of, attitudes toward, and engagement in unsafe driving behaviors. Responses from 2020, when exceptional conditions were observed on roadways due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can provide insights on America’s traffic safety culture during the pandemic and underscore changes relative to pre-pandemic years.

Key Findings

The following summarizes key findings related to American traffic safety culture based on responses from the 2020 TSCI survey.

Distracted Driving

  • More respondents view reading (94.9%) or typing (95.5%) a text/email on a hand-held cell phone while driving as extremely or very dangerous, compared with holding and talking on a hand-held cell phone (79.7%). However, only 20.2% perceive using technology that allows hands-free use of their phones, such as Bluetooth or CarPlay, while driving to be extremely or very dangerous.
  • About a quarter of respondents (22.7%) report having driven while typing or sending a text/email on a hand-held cell phone at least once in the past 30 days. More respondents report having driven distracted by talking (37.2%) and reading (33.9%) on a hand-held cell phone while driving. 

Aggressive Driving

  • About half of respondents (52.3%) indicate that speeding on a freeway is extremely or very dangerous, while roughly 85% of respondents perceive driving through a red light as extremely or very dangerous.
  • Three-in-five respondents felt that the police would likely catch a driver for traveling 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway, while 45.2% reported having done so in the past 30 days. 

Drowsy Driving

  • Despite high rates of perceived danger and social disapproval regarding drowsy driving, 17.3% of respondents admit to having driven while so tired that they had had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the past 30 days.

Impaired Driving

  • Most respondents (94.5%) perceive driving after drinking enough to be over the legal limit as very or extremely dangerous, while 6.0% admitted to having done so in the past 30 days.
  • Nearly 70% of respondents consider driving within an hour after using marijuana to be very or extremely dangerous, and 93.7% believe people who are important to them would disapprove of doing so.
  • Most respondents (87.0%) indicate driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs is very or extremely dangerous. Over 40% believe that people driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs would likely be caught by the police.

Methodology

Data from the 2020 TSCI were collected between Oct. 23 and Nov. 23, 2020, using a probability-based sampling panel representative of the U.S. population. Descriptive analyses have been conducted based on weighted data that consisted of 2,889 licensed drivers ages 16 or older who completed the online survey and reported having driven at least once in the 30 days before the survey. Additional analyses have been conducted to compare responses from the 2020 survey with those from 2018 and 2019. Further information on the methodology is provided in the full report.

Results

Comparing 2020 results with those from 2018 and 2019, no significant changes in drivers’ perceived danger were found for all unsafe driving behaviors examined in the survey. With regard to perceived risk of apprehension, however, significant positive changes were found for some unsafe driving behaviors such as driving while talking or reading on a hand-held cell phone. Additionally, respondents were more likely to perceive social disapproval and less likely to have engaged in most of the unsafe driving behaviors. Fewer respondents, however, were supportive of most of the included safety countermeasures.

 

Suggested Citation

Authors

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety