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AAA Finds Better Behavior Behind the Wheel, But There’s Room for Improvement

New Data Shows Drivers Still Speeding And Using Phone

BELLEVUE, Wash. — A new report reveals a decline in several unsafe driving behaviors in the past three years, including red-light running, drowsy driving, driving drunk or within an hour of consuming cannabis. Despite some significant decreases, the survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found nearly half (45%) of the drivers admit to speeding, more than one third had used a handheld cell phone to make calls (37%) or read texts and emails (34%) while behind the wheel.

“Based on self-reported driving behaviors from our annual survey of traffic safety culture, it is encouraging to see more drivers recognize the danger of certain activities behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation. “However, the ultimate goal is to see the majority of drivers form safe driving habits and practice them.”

For this new report, researchers compared the unsafe driving behaviors data collected from 2018 to 2020 through the Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index (TSCI).

The proportion of people who reported having engaged in the following unsafe driving behaviors at least once in the past 30 days.

Unsafe Driving Behavior2018 (%)2019 (%)2020 (%)Change from 2018 to 2020 (%)
Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway48.948.245.1-7.8
Driven while holding and talking on a cell phone *
Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone41.3 38.633.9-17.9 *
Driven through a light that had just turned red31.431.125.6 -18.5 *
Driven aggressively by switching lanes quickly or very close behind another car 24.826.521.3-14.1
Driven when so tired it was hard to keep eyes open 27.023.617.3-35.9 *
Driven when you had enough alcohol that you thought you were over the legal limit *
Driven within an hour of consuming cannabis 6.66.5>4.4-33.3 *
* indicates a change is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level

When it comes to cell phone use, the TSCI reveals a discrepancy between perception and behavior. The drivers who admit to these dangerous practices do so while knowing that loved ones, family or friends would strongly disapprove.

The proportion of people who believe their loved ones would somewhat or completely disapprove of the following distracted driving behaviors, which shows that these behaviors are becoming more socially unacceptable.

Distracted Driving Behavior2018 (%)2019 (%)2020 (%)Change from
2018 to 2020 (%)
Driving while typing an email or texting on a cell phone93.9 94.6 95.5 +1.7
Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone93.8 93.2 94.0 +0.2
Driving while holding and talking on a cell phone 79.3 86.7 92.6 +16.8 *
* indicates a change is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level

“AAA has some positive news to share about trends in safer driving behaviors, but it’s not quite time to declare victory,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Downward trends in self-reported impaired driving, red-light running, and drowsy driving is the kind of progress we need to curb the recent spikes in traffic fatalities. It’s my hope we are turning a corner. I know we can do better.”

While fewer Americans drove in 2020, due to the pandemic, those who did appeared to take greater risks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes—an increase of 7.2% and the largest number of fatalities since 2007. The numbers look even worse for 2021, as NHTSA estimates 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first three months of the year.

As more Americans return to the daily commute, AAA reminds all motorists to practice safe driving behaviors and recommends these tips:

  • Obey speed limits. Drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 80 mph instead of 75 mph. Speed kills and isn’t worth the cost. And recent AAA Foundation research shows that small speed increases were enough to raise a driver’s risk of severe injury or death.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features like Apple’s Do Not Disturb.
  • Only drive sober. If you consume marijuana, alcohol, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don’t drive. And if you’re going to drive, then don’t consume these substances.
  • Stay alert. Stop driving if you become sleepy because you could fall asleep at any time. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.


The annual TSCI identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of more than 2,800 licensed drivers ages 16 or older who reported driving in the 30 days before the survey, which was administered between October 23 and November 23, 2020. The AAA Foundation issued its first TSCI in 2008, and the latest report is online:

About AAA Washington:

AAA Washington was established in 1904 by 10 prominent Seattleites determined to champion the betterment of motoring conditions and laws, the preservation of Washington state’s natural beauty and the promotion of Washington as an unrivaled tourist destination. Nearly 120 years later, the club continues to pursue these on behalf of its 1.2 million members. 

Members of AAA Washington receive exclusive benefits, including roadside assistance, discounts on hotels and rental cars, comprehensive insurance options, and personalized trip planning. AAA Washington was named a Best Place to Work by Puget Sound Business Journal and voted the best Travel/Tourism Company by 425 Business readers in 2023, and AAA was named one of the most trusted travel and automotive brands in the U.S. Additional information is available through the company’s Washington and northern Idaho stores and at 

About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety:

Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation’s mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit

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