Dangerous driving behaviors on the rise after years of decline

distracted driving
Photo credit Getty Images

If you feel like drivers are more risky these days, it's not just in your head. Research shows that over the past few years, drivers have become more dangerous on the roads.

A new AAA report reveals that unsafe driving behaviors increased 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.

AAA says the most alarming increase 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," AAA spokesperson Adrienne Woodland said in a statement. "While drivers acknowledge that certain activities like speeding and driving impaired are not safe, many engage in these activities anyway."

The reckless attitudes have been life altering, AAA says. Traffic fatalities have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021 -- 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.

"Traffic patterns have largely normalized since the start of the pandemic, yet traffic fatalities are at their highest level in nearly two decades," Woodland said.

As dangerous driving behavior becomes more common on the road, AAA recommends that drivers take precautions to protect themselves against the growing risks on the road: make sure you are protected with adequate insurance coverage with a police that includes uninsured motorist coverage; be mindful of your own driving habits; be prepared in the event of a crash, with an emergency first-aid kit and roadside visibility items; and know what to do when a crash occurs -- check for injuries, call 911 and remain at the scene.

Safety tips to keep in mind:

• Stow your smartphone away -- turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features.
• Slow down -- drivers tend to overestimate the time saved by speeding. Speed kills and isn’t worth the cost.
• Stay alert -- sop driving if you become sleepy because you can fall asleep anytime. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision.
• Drive sober -- if you consume marijuana or alcohol, then don’t drive. If you are taking potentially impairing prescription medications, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist how best to stay safe and healthy behind the wheel.
• Buckle your seat belt for every ride -- it does not matter where in the vehicle you are seated. A properly worn seatbelt is the most effective way to survive a traffic crash.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images