AAA study: small group of high-risk drivers may have influenced 2020 death spike

An increase in driver fatalities and risky driving behaviors amid a sharp reduction in miles driven during the COVID-19 pandemic may in part be linked to an increase in driving by a small group of motorists “to high risk,” according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety (FTS) concluded.

Although the pandemic resulted in fewer drivers on the roads and fewer miles driven, 4% of drivers in the study had increased their driving. These were “younger and disproportionately male – a statistically higher risk group of drivers than the average population,” FTS said.

The foundation said it undertook the study because “existing research has not elucidated why such risky behaviors and negative road safety outcomes have increased” during the pandemic.

“Our research reveals that high-risk motorists made up a larger share of drivers during the pandemic than before,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of FTS, said in a statement. “Safety conscious people drove less, while those who increased their driving tended to engage in riskier driving behaviors.”

The study did not determine why this group drove more, or why they were more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Federal data shows that in addition to driver fatalities, crashes involving impaired driving, speeding, running red lights, aggressiveness and not wearing seat belts were at their highest levels in over of a decade, according to the FTS research file.

According to a fall 2020 survey, those who drove more during the pandemic were also more likely to report engaging in risky driving behavior in the past 30 days.

” Above all, [the group’s] higher rates of risky behaviors are not entirely explained by their demographics or driving frequency,” the study found. “The results therefore suggest that at least some of the increase in crash rates seen during the COVID-19 pandemic may be attributable to increased driving among a small subset of drivers with both a higher baseline risk and a greater propensity to engage in risky driving behaviors.

“While these data do not indicate why a small subset of drivers have increased their driving or why they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, they do provide insight into increased risks on U.S. roads. during a period when global displacement measures showed declines.

Riskier drivers might also have been willing to take even more risks with fewer cars on the road, the study found.

“With less traffic on the roads during the pandemic, drivers’ perceptions of the risk and difficulty of the driving task have likely been reduced compared to typical pre-pandemic driving situations, allowing them to engage in more at risk while perceiving themselves as driving in a level of risk or task difficulty that they find comfortable,” FTS said.

The survey found that 60% of respondents had reduced their driving during the pandemic, 36% had not changed the duration of their driving and 4% had driven more.

The foundation’s most recent U.S. conduct survey, conducted during the early months of the pandemic, shows how severely COVID has affected travel in the United States. The survey found that the average daily number of car trips taken by American adults fell about 42% in April 2020, rebounded slightly, and then leveled off in the second half of the year at 2.2 trips per day, about 20% below the figure. for 2019.

Despite this, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recorded 38,680 fatal crashes in 2020, the highest number since 2007, and a 7.2% increase from 2019.

Deaths in the first nine months of 2021 are even higher, about 12% above the same period in 2020, FTS said.

“Despite safer roads, safer vehicles, and tougher traffic safety laws, the United States has seen more, not less, deaths on our roads, even at a time when other countries have experienced dramatic declines,” Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of road safety advocacy and research, said in a statement. “What is absolutely clear to AAA is that it will take further steps to bring us closer to zero road fatalities.”

More information

Research paper: “Self-reported risky driving in relation to changes in the amount of driving during the COVID-19 pandemic”


Feature Image: Emergency services personnel respond to a car accident on a main road. (tillsonburg/iStock)

A graph showing the percentage of drivers who engaged in various risky behaviors
within 30 days prior to the AAA Foundation survey (October-November 2020). (Provided by AAA Road Safety Foundation)

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