Americans Are Spending More Time Behind the Wheel, Increasing Their Risk for Accidents
American drivers are spending more time behind the wheel every year, resulting in increased risks for car accidents, serious injuries, and fatalities.
AAA Driving Studies
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Americans spend a lot of time on the road each week. Studies show that drivers travel more than 220 miles every week, which equates to an average of 11,498 miles every year. That’s the equivalent of two round-trip drives from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. each year. During a one year period, Americans drivers spend about 70 billion hours behind the wheel of a car.
Spending more time on the road means a greater risk of car accidents and injuries caused by a variety of factors including:
- Bad weather conditions
- Road debris and potholes
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Impaired drivers
- Speeding and negligent drivers
The most driving trips are reported by drivers ages 25-34 and 35-49, while the least driving trips are reported by drivers ages 75 and above. Women report more daily trips than men, and drivers in cities report more daily trips than drivers who live in small towns and more rural areas. In 2015 and 2016, driving trips rose significantly for women drivers, people living with a spouse or partner, and people living in the country.
Teens and senior drivers report the least time behind the wheel. Many teenage drivers do not own their own vehicles, so they rely on borrowing a family vehicle which is not always available or accessible. Many senior drivers report physical illnesses, disabilities, and vision problems, so they don’t feel safe spending a lot of time behind the wheel of a car. Nearly 83 percent of senior drivers report never talking to a doctor or a family member about their safe driving ability. In 2016, more than 200,000 drivers ages 65 and older were injured in a traffic crash and more than 3,500 died as a result of their injuries.
Driving Behaviors Impact Accident Risks
AAA driving studies show that driving behaviors have a big impact on a driver’s risks of car accidents. Although driving styles and behaviors vary greatly between drivers, most drivers have distinctive driving behaviors.
Slow drivers come in all ages, but many are elderly drivers who do lack the driving skills they once had as younger drivers. Although driving slowly and carefully is safe, other drivers get frustrated and tied up in traffic by slow drivers. Driving 10 to 15 mph under the posted speed limit forces drivers behind a slow driver to travel at the same speed if passing is not an option.
Fast drivers often drive with a sense of urgency that increases their risk of traffic accidents. Fast drivers change lanes a lot to get around slower drivers and exceed speed limits when they can. When fast drivers become frustrated or agitated, they often exhibit aggressive driving behaviors that cause car accidents and injuries.
Nervous drivers often lack confidence in their driving skills, so they get even more nervous in heavy traffic or fast-moving traffic. Nervous drivers typically drive at or below the posted speed limit. They do not accelerate properly because they are indecisive about making turns, passing other cars, and merging into lanes of traffic.
Tailgaters endanger drivers ahead of them, as well as themselves. When a driver is tailgating (driving too closely) behind another car, the chance of an accident jumps to 95 percent, if the car in front stops suddenly. Tailgating is bad driving behavior that is very dangerous, especially when drivers are traveling at speeds of 65 mph or greater.
Drivers who are not paying attention to the road cause thousands of car accidents every year. Changing radio stations, looking at navigational maps, talking or texting on a cell phone, and snapping selfie photos significantly increases a driver’s risks for serious or deadly accidents with other drivers, motorcycle riders, bicycle riders, and pedestrians.
Drivers who are fatigued or sleepy, taking medications, and under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs pose significant accident and injury risks while behind the wheel. Whether drivers are young or old, male or female, driving in the city or on the interstate, impaired drivers often cause deadly traffic accidents with their risky driving behaviors.
Teenage drivers take a lot of risks on the road, especially when they have other teen passengers in the car with them. When a teen driver has only teen passengers in their vehicle, the crash fatality rate for everyone involved in the crash increases by 51 percent. In comparison, when older passengers, ages 35 or older, are in the car with a teen driver, the fatality crash rate drops by almost 10 percent.