TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2022: Risky driver behaviors show signs of decline (TIRF)

Traffic Safety Pulse News

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc. (TIRF USA) has released the eighth annual Road Safety Monitor (RSM) on alcohol-impaired driving. In concert with the National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) call to action to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries, this fact sheet summarizes key findings regarding the prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving, reasons for engaging in this behavior and characteristics of these drivers. New work underway from TIRF’s Working Group on DWI Systems Improvements can help communities tackle this issue by implementing an impaired driving strategy based on the Safe System Approach.

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“The percentage of respondents reporting driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months decreased from 22.5% in 2021 to 19.6% in 2022. In addition, persons reporting driving impaired often or very often also decreased significantly in 2022 to 9.7% compared to 12.3% in 2021,” notes Carl Wicklund, TIRF USA senior research advisor. “This decline is promising and suggests a similar decrease in alcohol-related fatalities may potentially follow it.”

Early estimate data for 2021 from NHTSA showed a drop in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities to 8,174 despite total fatalities rising to 42,915 from 38,824 in 2021. While this data is preliminary and subject to change, it is encouraging to see progress with alcohol-impaired driving may have been made in 2021 compared to 2020.

The poll also explored reasons why this minority of drivers chose to drive when they thought they were over the legal limit. This knowledge is critical to guide prevention strategies. Notably, in the past five years, there has been a fairly steady downward trend in one of the primary reasons given by drivers, suggesting education is important for continued progress.

“Among the percentage of drivers who reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit, the percentage who did so because they ‘thought they were okay’ has shown some large declines to 30.7% in 2022 compared to 50.7% in 2018,” shares Dr. Ward Vanlaar, COO of TIRF Canada and lead author of the study. “Research has demonstrated drivers simply aren’t good at gauging their level of impairment after drinking and education can help address this issue.”

Other reasons reported by drivers included thinking there was no alternative to driving or believing they wouldn’t be caught. Coupling targeted educational efforts with other proven impaired driving deterrent policies such as alcohol ignition interlocks can help accelerate progress.

The good news is that there was a small 3.9% increase in the proportion of respondents indicating they had been a designated driver, used a designated driver, a taxi or public transportation or ridesharing (79.8%). “This rise may suggest that the health concerns related to exposure to COVID-19 and the negative effects on the usage of public transportation and ridesharing options have lessened, but still not returned to pre-pandemic levels,” says Vanlaar. “More work is still needed to encourage greater reliance on alternatives to driving impaired.”

There were also some other positive findings noted in the poll. In general, less risk-taking on the road was reported across all dangerous driving behaviors in 2022 compared to the 2020-2021 average.

In recognition of the importance of tools and resources to help communities implement a comprehensive strategy based on the Safe System Approach, the focus of TIRF’s Annual DWI Working Group meeting held last fall was to fill this gap. The meeting included a broad cross-section of criminal justice, health, engineering, state and community officials, including industry and nonprofit partners, who examined opportunities to strengthen community impaired driving initiatives and the types of tools and resources needed to support these efforts. Work is underway to create needed materials which will become available later this year. The DWI Working Group is also funded by Anheuser-Busch.

Access the full TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2022 article here.