AAA: 87% of drivers engage in unsafe behavior behind the wheel

In the wake of a projected 9% increase in 2015 traffic fatalities, a new AAA study has found an estimated 87% of drivers have engaged in at least one risky behavior while behind the wheel within the past month.

These behaviors include driving while distracted, impaired or drowsy; speeding, running red lights or not wearing a seat belt, according to the Foundation’s latest Traffic Safety Culture Index study.

According to the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety, these disturbing results come as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the number of 2014 fatalities hit nearly 33,000. The agency also projects a 9% increase in auto deaths in 2015.

Meanwhile the National Safety Council, while reviewing its preliminary figures, contends 2015 is the deadliest driving year since 2008.

“There’s a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety,” said Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety president and CEO. “The vast majority of motorists believe they’re more careful than others on the road, although most don’t make safe decisions while behind the wheel.”

These findings continue to be problematic for the American driver especially since car crashes continue to rank among the leading causes of death in the United States. What’s also disturbing is that drivers, in the study, admit to engaging in these behaviors regularly.

The Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index identifies attitudes and behaviors related to safe driving. Although the full report is available online at, here are some key findings categorized by unsafe behaviors which drivers reported they regularly participated in within the last 30 days.

Seatbelt Use

  • Nearly 1 in 5 drivers (18%) report driving without a seatbelt;

  • More than 1 in 7 (15%) admit to doing this more than once.

Distracted Driving

  • More than 2 in 3 drivers (70%) report talking on a cell phone;

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (31%) report doing this regularly;

  • More than 2 in 5 drivers (42%) admit to reading text messages or emails;

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (32%) admit to do this regularly


  • Nearly half of all drivers (48%) report going 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway;

  • 15% admit doing this regularly;

  • About 45% of drivers report going 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street

  • About 11% admit doing this regularly

Red-light Running

  • More than 1 in 3 drivers (39%) admit to having driven through a light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely.

  • About 1 in 4 (26%) admit doing this regularly

Drowsy Driving

  • Nearly 1 in 3 drivers (32%) say they’ve driven when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

  • 1 in 5 (22%) admitted doing this more than once during that time.

Impaired Driving

  • More than 1 in 8 motorists (13%) report driving when their alcohol level might have been near or over the legal limit within the past 12 months.

  • About 9% admit doing this more than once over the past year.

The data are from a sample of 2,442 licensed drivers ages 16 and older, who reported driving in the past 30 days. The AAA Foundation, the educational and research arm for AAA, issued its first Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2008.