[Copied from online AAASNE Horizons, October 2013, originally located at
but those link contents change every month so the text in question is preserved here.]

AAA Foundation study: Troubling shift in safety index

In 2007, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety made a long-term commitment to study and track indicators of traffic safety culture in the United States.

Beginning with the publication of a compendium of articles by noted scholars, professionals and advocates, the AAA Foundation has gone on to conduct annual surveys of the American public to measure and analyze the extent to which the nation's motorists value and actively pursue safety on our roadways.

Half a decade later, a multiyear analysis of these Safety Culture Index surveys points to a troubling trend: Despite the fact that 2012 saw a 5 percent increase in traffic fatalities from 2011 (the first such annual climb in seven years), American motorists indicate reduced concern for hazards such as impaired, drowsy, or distracted drivers.

In 2009, for example, 90 percent of those surveyed 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. Even texting and driving -- an issue that has attracted significant media coverage and public debate in recent years -- is less of a concern to motorists, with 87 percent saying in 2009 that it was a very serious threat, and 81 percent saying so four years later.

It should be noted that the survey data cannot clarify whether people believe these dangers pose less of a threat today because they think Americans have improved their driving behaviors, or because fewer people think the behaviors themselves are inherently dangerous. However, given the aforementioned increase in traffic fatalities in 2012, now is not the time for complacency for any reason.

This past summer, the Transportation Research Board hosted 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 and "next steps" that can be implemented in communities nationwide. Summit findings and proceedings will ultimately inform the Toward Zero Deaths -- a National Strategy on Highway Safety effort that is being developed by the traffic safety community.

For its part, the AAA Foundation will maintain its commitment to safety culture research by continuing to annually survey American motorists, and conducting in-depth studies of specific topics, such as cognitive distractions or drowsy driving. As always, all Foundation research is available online at AAAFoundation.org.

Published: October 25, 2013