Drivers fess up to bad habits

This guest editorial was written by the Alexandria Echo Press, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.


“Our roads would be a lot safer if there weren’t all those dumb drivers out there.”

While that is absolutely true, many people make that statement without realizing that they’re part of the “dumb drivers club,” too.

A new report from the American Automobile Association (AAA) contains some eye-opening data about bad driving habits that increased significantly from 2020 to 2021. The increase comes after three years of steady declines.

According to the study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the rise in risky behaviors included speeding, red-light running, drowsy driving and driving impaired due to cannabis or alcohol.

The most alarming increase, AAA experts said, was among drivers admitting to getting behind the wheel after drinking enough that they felt they were over the legal limit – an increase of nearly 24%.


“The reversal in the frequency of U.S. drivers engaging in risky driving behavior is disturbing,” said Meredith Mitts, spokeswoman for AAA. “While drivers acknowledge that certain activities like speeding and driving impaired are not safe, many engage in these activities anyway. This reckless attitude can be life altering.”

Here’s a look at how the percentage of unsafe behavior that drivers confessed to in 2021 and how that compares to the 2020 data:

  • Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway – 50.7%, up 12.4%.
  • Driven while holding and talking on a cell phone – 37.4%, up 0.5%.
  • Driven while reading a text or email on a cell phone – 36.2%, up 6.8%.
  • Driven through a red light – 28.2%, up 10.1%
  • Driven aggressively by switching lanes quickly or very close behind another car – 22.9%, up 7.5%.
  • Driven when so tired it was hard to keep eyes open – 18.8%, up 8.7%.
  • Driven when you had enough alcohol that you thought you were over the legal limit – 7.3%, up 23.7%.
  • Driven within an hour of consuming cannabis – 5%, up 13.6%.

Something else to ponder: Traffic fatalities have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021. That’s a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020.
According to NHTSA, dangerous driving behaviors such as speeding, alcohol impairment and non-use of seatbelts account for a considerable proportion of the increased fatalities.

With dangerous driving behavior becoming more common on the road, AAA recommends that drivers follow these tips:

  • Make sure you are protected with adequate insurance coverage. If your policy doesn’t include uninsured motorist coverage or has low minimal liability limits, you could be stuck paying some big bills out of pocket.
  • Be prepared in the event of a crash. Keep an emergency kit with first-aid and roadside visibility items (e.g., flashlight, flares) in your car. You should also keep a copy of your proof of insurance (plus a pen and paper) in your glove box and add your insurance company’s phone number and your policy number to your phone.
  • Know what to do when a crash occurs. Check for injuries, call 911 and remain at the scene. If no one is injured and your vehicle is drivable, turn on the hazard lights and safely move it to an emergency lane or parking area. If the vehicle can’t be moved, turn on the hazard lights and go to a spot safely away from moving traffic until emergency services arrive. You should exchange information with all parties, take photos of the location, people involved and damaged vehicles, and notify your insurance company as soon as possible.
  • If you see flashing lights ahead and are driving past a crash or disabled vehicle, slow down and move over a lane to give the stranded motorist and first responders the space to be safe on the roadside.
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