AAAFTS “2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index”

Founded in 1947, the AAA Foundation in Washington, D.C. is a not-for-profit, publicly supported charitable research and education organization dedicated to saving lives by preventing traffic crashes and reducing injuries when crashes occur.

Since 2008, AAAFTS (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety) publishes a traffic safety culture index report based on surveys of motorists.  This provides us with a benchmark of where people’s minds are at regarding their perceptions of safety and how Public Safety Ads, enforcement campaigns and other methods are working.

The full report can be found at this link –

This year’s report was titled “Distracted and Risk-Prone Drivers” since “…distracted driving remains a significant and high-profile traffic safety concern…”

Indeed, the opening of the report offers these interesting insights:

In the 2012 survey, more than two-thirds (68.9%) of licensed drivers* reported having talked on a cell phone while driving at least once within the previous 30 days, and nearly one-third (31.9%) said they had done so fairly often or regularly during this time.3 This is the case despite the fact that nearly nine-in-ten respondents (88.5%) said that drivers talking on cell phones were a somewhat or very serious threat to their safety.3  In August 2012, researchers at MIT published results from a study that found that drivers who frequently used cell phones behind the wheel were more likely than those who did so infrequently to report or be observed engaging in other risky behaviors, such as frequent lane changing, speeding, and hard acceleration.4 Based on the findings, the researchers suggested that cell phone use itself may not account for the entire crash risk increase associated with this behavior, and that drivers who used their phones were more likely to engage in a range of other relatively risky activities, as well.4

While, in the past we’ve used the phrase “at-risk” driver to mean a driver who is at higher than average risk of becoming involved in a collision (if their behavior/habits are not addressed), the AAAFTS report prefers to use the term “Risk Prone” driver.  Risk prone drivers engage in these types of behaviors (as defined by AAAFTS):

  • Driven 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway;
  • Driven 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street;
  • Read a text message or email while driving;
  • Typed or sent a text message or email while driving;
  • Driven without wearing a seatbelt;
  • Driven when so tired it was difficult to keep eyes open;
  • Driven through a light that had just turned red when it was possible to stop safely;
  • Checked social media while driving;
  • Used the internet while driving;
  • Talked on a cell phone while driving; and
  • Driven when BAC was close to or possibly over the legal limit.

What I find interesting is that these behaviors are quite serious and present situations far in excess of what is typically reported on a safety hotline program (giving you an earlier indicator to intervene before the situation gets even this far advanced).  In the AAAFTS survey, they asked drivers to self-report whether they engaged in these behaviors never, just once, rarely, fairly often, or regularly (within the past 30 days).

Their statements about risk prone drivers are interesting:

For all risky behaviors examined, respondents who reported a greater frequency of cell phone use while driving were more likely to report also having engaged in that behavior. For example, 65 percent of drivers who talked on a cell phone while driving fairly often or regularly within the past 30 days also reported driving 15 mph or more over the speed limit on a freeway at least once during this time. [emphasis added] In contrast, only 31 percent of drivers who reported never using a cell phone behind the wheel admitted to such speeding (Figure A).  This pattern was consistent across all behaviors. Nearly half (47%) of drivers who regularly talked on their phones also ran a red light, compared to just 25 percent of drivers who never used their phones (Figure B). Likewise, 44 percent of frequent cell phone users also admitted to drowsy driving, whereas only 14 percent of those who reported not talking on their phones while driving did so (Figure C).

What remains unclear is whether there’s a causal effect between using cell phones and engaging in other “at-risk” or “risk-prone” behaviors or if it is coincidence.  Regardless, its still best policy to discourage use of cells while driving, encourage proper driving tactics and monitor driver behavior with a view towards coaching to modify behaviors.

What are you doing in your fleet to monitor your driver’s “at-risk” behaviors and intervene compassionately to prevent collisions?

If you’re looking for a more pro-active approach, consider safety hotlines to get motorist observation reports on egregious risk taking behaviors — when coupled with coaching and training it has been shown to reduce collision rates by 10-30% and it requires far less data analysis than most telematic or video based systems which can be onerous for safety metrics (data overload leading to difficulty separating the urgently actionable from the background noise of data buzz).


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