AAA Traffic Foundation Releases Study on COVID Driving

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study: COVID Driving

The number and rate of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a large reduction in the total number of miles driven on U.S. roads.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety announced it has released a study examining the prevalence of self-reported risky driving behaviors of drivers who increased their driving during the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with those who reduced or did not change how much they drove.

The number and rate of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a large reduction in the total number of miles driven on U.S. roads. Increases in crashes involving driver impairment, speeding and seatbelt non-use have been reported; however, the reasons why such risky driving behaviors and negative traffic safety outcomes increased during the pandemic are not well understood.

This study examined data from the AAA Foundation’s 2020 Traffic Safety Culture Index survey to investigate the relationship between respondents’ self-reported risky driving behaviors and changes in how much they drove during the first several months of the pandemic.

Key findings included:

  • The majority of all U.S. drivers — 60% — reported that they had reduced their driving due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These drivers had a median age of 50, and 56% of them were female.
  • Slightly more than one-third of all drivers (36%) reported that they had not changed how much they were driving. This group was similar in age to those who reduced their driving, and 56% of them were male.
  • A small subset of U.S. drivers — 4% — reported that they had increased their driving during the pandemic. This group was younger than the others (median age 39), and the majority were male (64%).
  • Drivers who reported increasing their driving during the pandemic were the most likely to report having engaged in a wide variety of risky driving behaviors in the 30 days before the survey. These behaviors included reading and typing text messages, speeding on freeways and residential streets, running red lights intentionally, changing lanes aggressively, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving after using marijuana. These differences persisted even after accounting for group differences in age, gender and frequency of driving.
  • Drivers who reported reducing their driving during the pandemic generally reported similar or lower rates of risky driving behaviors than those who did not change how much they drove. The only notable difference was that those who reduced their driving were significantly more likely to report always wearing their seatbelt.
  • Results suggest that the increase in the rate of traffic fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic may be attributable at least in part to differential changes in driving exposure among segments of the driving population with differing safety profiles. Relatively safer drivers reduced their driving. Relatively riskier drivers increased their driving. These shifts increased the average level of risk of the drivers on the road.

For more information on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, click visit aaafoundation.org.

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