The prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving, reasons for engaging in risky behavior, and characteristics of drivers who do it are reflected in a new public opinion survey.
“In general, all dangerous driving behaviors were reported more often in 2021 compared to 2020,” Carl Wicklund, senior research advisor for the Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA (TIRF USA), said in a statement.
The seventh annual “Road Safety Monitor 2021: Alcohol-Impaired Driving & Covid-19 in the United States” results were released on Wednesday by TIRF USA, which developed and conducted the poll in partnership with TIRF in Canada. Responses from the new poll were compared to data from previous years.
“While most drivers took extra care and were less likely to engage in certain risky driving behaviors during the pandemic,” Wicklund added, “a smaller but significant proportion of drivers indicated they were more likely to do so. This helps explain the preliminary data demonstrating increases in speeding, impaired driving, and more severe crashes as a result of the pandemic.”
The online poll, completed in September 2021, included the feedback of nearly 1,500 drivers in the U.S. aged 21 years or older. It also describes the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on risky driving behaviors.
Some highlights from the survey:
– there was a significant increase in self-reported alcohol-impaired driving, resulting in the highest percentage of respondents admitting to this behavior compared to past years;
– the percentage of respondents who reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months increased significantly from 16.6% in 2020 to 22.5% in 2021;
– there were increases in the percentage of drivers who reported engaging in other risky driving behaviors in 2021;
– during the pandemic more than 8% of drivers reported they were more likely to drive distracted, drive alcohol-impaired, drive within two hours of using drugs, and to not wear a seat belt;
– 10.5% of drivers indicated they were more likely to drive within two hours of consuming alcohol;
– 11.7% said they were more likely to excessively speed during the pandemic
– 78% of U.S. drivers agreed alcohol-impaired driving was a serious problem;
“Despite this high level of concern about alcohol-impaired driving, more U.S. drivers reported often driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in 2021 than in 2019,” Ward Vanlaar, chief operating officer of TIRF Canada and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “It’s concerning that the primary reason for drivers reporting this behavior was they believed they were okay to drive, which suggests they do not understand the impairing effects of alcohol on driving or the risk they pose to themselves and other drivers on the road.”
The poll also addressed the issue of safe rides; the percentage of drivers stating they relied on safe rides as an alternative strategy to avoid alcohol-impaired driving in 2021 was lower than in 2019.
In 2021, three of four respondents (75.9%) indicated they had been a designated driver, used a designated driver, used a taxi or public transportation or ride sharing (75.7% in 2020), a decrease from 82.3% in 2019.
“A fear of exposure to the Covid-19 virus through close contact may have affected the use of safe rides with the use of both public transit and ride sharing decreasing during the pandemic,” Vanlaar said. “Regardless, it’s imperative people understand the use of safe rides remains a safer option than choosing to drive impaired.”
Overall, compared to behavior before Covid-19, the pandemic’s effects on drinking and driving are “alarming,” the survey found.
“Most concerning is results showing males 21-29 years old represent the highest percentage of drunk drivers,” Wicklund added. “They most often do this because they think they might still be “okay” to get behind the wheel of a car. Continued enforcement and increased awareness are needed to curb this trend.”