No Time for Complacency

Readers familiar with our work will doubtlessly know what a strong emphasis we place on understanding and improving traffic safety culture in the United States. Starting with the 2007 publication of a compendium of articles by noted scholars, professionals, and advocates, we have since conducted annual surveys of the American public in order to measure and analyze the extent to which the nation’s motorists value and actively pursue safety on our roadways. Now, for the first time, we’ve taken a multi-year look at our Safety Culture Index surveys in order to analyze trends over time.

Troublingly, our new analysis appears to show that Americans have grown less concerned about key traffic safety hazards, such as impaired, drowsy, or distracted drivers. In 2009, for example, 90 percent of our survey respondents said they believed drivers operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol posed a very serious threat to their safety. This percentage has fallen every year since, however, reaching a low of 69 percent in 2012. For drowsy driving, these respective figures fell from 71 percent in 2009 to 46 percent in 2012.
Admittedly, we can’t determine from the survey data whether people believe these dangers pose less of a threat today because they think Americans have improved their driving behaviors overall, or because fewer people think the behaviors themselves are inherently dangerous. However, with 2012 showing a 5.3 percent increase in traffic fatalities over 2011 – the first annual increase in seven years – it’s clear that now is not the time for complacency, regardless of the reasoning.

To keep pushing the needle on safety culture, the Transportation Research Board has just concluded a two-day National Roadway Safety Culture Summit, which was sponsored by the AAA Foundation and attended by about 100 members of the traffic safety community. The Summit’s goal was to identify research needs in this area and “next steps” that can be implemented in communities nationwide. The findings will ultimately inform the Toward Zero Deaths – a National Strategy on Highway Safety effort that is being developed by the traffic safety community.
We will of course continue our research and education in the area of safety culture, with our immediate next step being to complete and publish the 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index. As in recent years, certain issue-specific findings will be available in the fall, and the full survey will be released in January. To learn more about our trends report, please click here. For information about the AAA Foundation-sponsored TRB summit, please visit this page.