A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that 87 percent of drivers engaged in at least one risky behavior while behind the wheel within the past month. They drove while distracted, impaired or drowsy; speeding; ran red lights, didn’t wear a seatbelt or a combination of the above.
Most disturbing is that 556 fatalities occurred on Wisconsin roads in 2015, a 13-percent increase that preliminary federal estimates indicate is part of a national trend. No doubt distracted driving played a part in the majority of them.
The AAA report finds that one in three drivers have had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a crash, and one in five have been involved in a crash that was serious enough for someone to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, motorists often think they are driving safer than the “other guy,” and don’t realize their own unsafe behaviors until it is too late.
So, let’s take a closer look at those unsafe behaviors:
• Distracted driving: More than two in three drivers (70 percent) reported having talked on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days. Nearly one in three (31 percent) said they do this fairly often or regularly.
Moreover, more than two in five drivers (42 percent) admitted to reading a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days, while 12 percent reported doing this fairly often or regularly. One in three drivers (32 percent) admitted to typing or sending a text or email over the past month, and 8 percent said they do so fairly often or regularly.
More than 80 percent of drivers view distracted driving as a bigger problem than three years ago, and they are right. Previous research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving is a factor in at least 3,000 deaths per year, although the actual number is likely much higher. Motorists who take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds can double their risk of being in a crash.
• Speeding: Nearly half of all drivers (48 percent) reported going 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway in the past month, while 15 percent admitted doing so fairly often or regularly. About 45 percent said they went 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street in the past 30 days, and 11 percent admitted doing so fairly often or regularly.
The NHTSA estimates that speed plays a factor in nearly 10,000 deaths per year. Not surprisingly, drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed at higher speeds, and speeding increases the risk of being in a crash because there is less time and distance available to respond.
• Drowsy driving: Nearly one in three motorists (32 percent) said they drove when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open in the past 30 days. More than one in five (22 percent) admitted to having done this more than once during that time.
The AAA Foundation estimates that drowsy driving is a factor in an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes.
• Running a red light: More than one in three drivers (39 percent) said they had driven through a light that had just turned red when they could have stopped safely during the past 30 days. About one in four (26 percent) reported having done this more than once during that time.
The NHTSA estimates that 697 people were killed and 127,000 were injured in crashes that involved running red lights in 2013.
• Not wearing a seatbelt: Nearly one in five motorists (18 percent) reported driving without a seatbelt within the past 30 days, and more than one in seven (15 percent) admitted to doing this more than once.
According to the NHTSA, nearly half of all vehicle occupants who died in a crash in 2013 were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Seatbelts can reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than 45 percent.
• Impaired driving: More than one in eight motorists (13 percent) reported driving when their alcohol level might have been near or over the legal limit within the past 12 months. About 9 percent of drivers reported doing this more than once over the past year.
The NHTSA says there are nearly 10,000 deaths a year from crashes involving drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher, and impaired-driving crashes cost the country more than $50 billion per year.
About a decade ago, law enforcement agencies started asking us and other journalists to call traffic collisions “crashes” rather than “accidents,” and rightly so. Traffic crashes are not inevitable. Sure, a deer might run out into the road, but most crashes are caused by the people inside a vehicle.
By buckling up, keeping off the cellphone, and staying focused, sober and patient while behind the wheel, we all have the power to reduce the number of needless deaths and injuries on our roadways every year.
Drive – and stay – safe.