2021 Traffic Safety Culture Index
The 2021 iteration of the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey provides insights into the magnitude of discordance between drivers’ attitudes/perceptions and their engagement in unsafe driving behaviors.
As the U.S. recovered from the pandemic, people’s daily travel increased and the traffic volumes on major corridors increased accordingly; unfortunately, so did the number of traffic fatalities. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding, alcohol involvement, and non-use of a seatbelt, account for a considerable proportion of the increased fatalities.
As the impacts of traffic safety on public health have worsened, the 2021 Traffic Safety Culture Index report should be a useful reference for stakeholders to understand public perceptions and attitudes toward unsafe driving behaviors in comparison to engagement in these behaviors as well as aspects that should be considered when developing countermeasures.
- Drivers predominantly believe texting/emailing (92%) and reading (93%) on a hand-held cell phone while driving is very or extremely dangerous. Fewer drivers perceive holding and talking on a hand-held cell phone (77%) or using a technology that allows hands-free use of their phones (17%) as very or extremely dangerous.
- Despite these perceptions, approximately a quarter of drivers (26%) reported having sent a text/email while driving in the 30 days before the survey. More drivers reported having read a text/email (36%) or held and talked on a cell phone (37%) while driving. More than half of the drivers (57%) indicated they had used a hands-free technology to talk or send texts/emails while driving.
- Though 63% of drivers believe police would likely apprehend them for traveling 15mph over the speed limit on a freeway, approximately half reported engaging in the behavior in the past month.
- Most drivers perceive drowsy driving to be very or extremely dangerous (95%) and that those important to them would disapprove of the behavior (99%); however, 19% of drivers reported having engaged in the behavior in the past month.
- Approximately 94% of drivers believe driving after drinking enough alcohol (to the point one considers they might be over the legal limit) is very or extremely dangerous. Only 7% of respondents reported having engaged in this behavior in the past month.
- In contrast, only 65% of drivers felt driving (within an hour) of using marijuana to be very or extremely dangerous. However, 93% of drivers believed people important to them would disapprove of the behavior, and only 5% reported doing so in the past month.
Comparisons between Drivers’ Attitudes and Perceptions and Their Behaviors
- As listed above for each unsafe driving behavior category, the level of discordance between a driver’s self-reported driving behavior and their perceptions of danger, likelihood of apprehension, and social disapproval varied depending on the specific risky behavior.
- Correlation analysis suggested that driver’s risk-taking behaviors were associated with their perceived danger and social disapproval of the behavior.
- However, there were no association or weak association between one’s risk-taking behavior and perceived likelihood of apprehension across all examined unsafe driving behaviors.
The 2021 TSCI survey used a probability-based sampling panel representative of the U.S. population to collect data between July 26 and August 30, 2021. Descriptive analyses were conducted based on weighted data that consisted of 2,657 active licensed drivers ages 16 or older who completed the online survey and reporting driving at least once in the past 30 days before the survey. Additional analyses quantified the magnitude of discordance between people’s engagement and their attitudes and perceptions toward unsafe driving behaviors at the individual level.