This AAA study examines 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 United States 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.
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 majority 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.
The current study examined the association of the frequency of engagement in self-reported risky driving behaviors within the past 30 days and changes in frequency of driving due to the COVID-19 pandemic among a sample of U.S. drivers aged 16 years and older who participated in the AAA Foundation’s 2020 Traffic Safety Culture Index survey. Data were collected between October 23 and November 23, 2020, from a sample of 2,888 licensed drivers who reported having driven in the past 30 days.
Participants were asked whether they reduced, increased, or did not change how much they drove due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were also asked to report how often they engaged in a variety of risky driving behaviors during the 30 days before the survey. The demographic characteristics and self-reported driving behaviors of drivers who reported that they increased or reduced their driving due to the pandemic were compared to those who reported that they did not change how much they drove. Multivariable models were used to examine differences in behaviors after adjusting for demographic characteristics and frequency of driving.