Temporal Trends in Indicators of Traffic Safety Culture among Drivers in the United States, 2009–2012

An examination of the trends in attitudes about traffic safety and self-reported driving behaviors, based on the findings from our most recent surveys of the American public.

August 2013

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

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

Authors

Lindsay Arnold, MPH

Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Deborah C. Girasek

Department of Preventive Medicine & Biometrics Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Jurek G. Grabowski

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

AAA Teen Driving AAA Senior Driving

Abstract

This report provides a multi-year analysis of the Foundation’s four most recent Traffic Safety Culture Index surveys (2009-2012), and offers insights into the trends observed since AAAFTS began studying and tracking the nation’s safety culture. While much has remained relatively stable, there are some potentially-troubling findings as well, such as a general decrease in the public’s perception of the threat posed by impaired, distracted, and drowsy drivers.

Since 2006, the AAA Foundation has been committed to studying and promoting the concept of traffic safety culture, which it defines as a “social climate in which traffic safety is highly valued and rigorously pursued.”

Our annual survey of American motorists — The Traffic Safety Culture Index — addresses core topics, such as:

  • Perceived traffic safety threats
  • Acceptability of potentially-dangerous behaviors
  • Frequency of engaging in various risky behaviors

The findings of these surveys have led us to characterize the traffic safety culture in the United States with the phrase “do as I say, not as I do.” This is because high numbers of people consistently admit to doing the same dangerous things — like texting, driving drowsy, or speeding — that they condemn other drivers for doing.

Now, for the first time, we have conducted a multi-year analysis of the data from our four most recent surveys (2009-2012) in order to offer insights into how the traffic safety culture in the United States has changed since we began our efforts. The findings of these surveys have led us to characterize the traffic safety culture in the United States with the phrase “do as I say, not as I do.” This is because high numbers of people consistently admit to doing the same dangerous things — like texting, driving drowsy, or speeding — that they condemn other drivers for doing.

Notable Findings

Americans Show Decreasing Concerns about Traffic Dangers

  • Percentage of respondents who say they perceive a serious threat from hazards such as drunk, aggressive, or drowsy drivers has fallen
  • Motorists are becoming less concerned about drivers texting or emailing behind the wheel, despite publicity surrounding distracted driving

“Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Still Holds True

  • High numbers of motorists consistently admit to behaving in ways for which they criticize others. For example:
    • Each year, more than 7 in 10 people say red-light running is completely unacceptable, yet more than 1 in 3 admit to doing so when they could have stopped safely in the past 30 days
    • There is overwhelming condemnation of drowsy driving, yet more than a quarter of drivers admit to driving when they were so sleepy that they had trouble keeping their eyes open in the past 30 days

Most Indicators Fairly Stable Over Time

  • The proportion of drivers who admit to talking on a cell phone has consistently hovered around two-thirds
  • Each year, the majority of drivers reports never driving without a seatbelt
  • The proportion of drivers who report that drivers’ speeding on freeways (15+ mph over limit) is completely unacceptable has increased, from 39% in 2009 to 46% in 2012
  • There is greater public acceptance of drivers using hands-free devices than hand-held ones (though recent Foundation research has sounded the alarm about cognitive distractions)

Suggested Citation

For media inquiries, contact:

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

Authors

Lindsay Arnold, MPH

Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Deborah C. Girasek

Department of Preventive Medicine & Biometrics Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Brian Tefft

Senior Researcher, Traffic Research Group

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Jurek G. Grabowski

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety