Traffic Tech
Technology Transfer Series
Number 186January 1999


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a telephone survey in the spring of 1997 to learn more about the public's experiences and beliefs about speeding, unsafe, and aggressive driving. A total of 6,000 interviews were completed in this nationally representative survey of drivers 16 and older. There were two versions of the questionnaire. One focused on speeding issues and one on other forms of unsafe driving.

Speeding and Unsafe Driving Occur Frequently

Over half of the drivers reported that they see vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds all (31 percent) or most (28 percent) of the time when they drive on residential streets, non-interstate highways, and interstate highways. The other types of unsafe driving they usually encounter on the roads they regularly drive are: cars weaving in and out of traffic (24 percent); tailgating (17 percent); driver inattention (15 percent); unsafe lane changes (10 percent); unsafe passing (9 percent); and ignoring stop signs (8 percent). Only 16 percent reported they did not see any type of unsafe driving.

There's Some Concern that Speeding and Unsafe Driving Are Increasing

Although about half (54 percent) felt that driving was neither more dangerous nor more safe that a year ago, one-third said they thought it was more dangerous now. The reasons they gave were: more traffic and cars (33 percent); careless and inattentive drivers (20 percent); faster drivers (18 percent); increased speed limits (16 percent); aggressive driving (14 percent); young drivers (10 percent); and drinking drivers (10 percent).

When asked directly about aggressive driving, a substantial minority of the public (30 percent) thought drivers in their area were driving a lot or somewhat more aggressively than a year ago. Sixty one percent say that speeding by other people, and slightly more, sixty six percent, say that unsafe driving actions by other people are major threats to themselves and their families. Despite this concern, most people (88 percent) considered drunk driving to be more dangerous than aggressive driving (8 percent).

Dangerous Practices

Drivers noted the following driving practices as most dangerous: illegally passing a school bus (95 percent); racing another driver (90 percent); driving through a stop sign (84 percent); or traffic signal (83 percent); crossing a railroad track when the light is flashing (82 percent); driving when just under the alcohol limit (81 percent); cutting in front of another driver (80 percent); and passing in a no passing zone (80 percent).

Drivers Admitted to Unsafe Driving

About two thirds of all drivers report they at least occasionally exceed what they consider to be the maximum safe speed on roads they regularly travel. Twenty-one percent say they exceed it a few days a week and another 19 percent exceed it a few days a month. In the past week, drivers reported they had:

Reasons for Speeding and Aggressive Driving

The reasons drivers most often gave for exceeding speeds that they consider to be unsafe were that they were late or behind schedule (44 percent). The next set of reasons were: trying to keep up with traffic (12 percent), closely followed by good conditions (11 percent), or having an emergency (11 percent). Reasons for increased aggressivity include: drivers being rushed or behind schedule (23 percent), increased traffic or congestion (22 percent), careless, inconsiderate drivers (12 percent), and immature, young drivers (12 percent).

Gender and Age Differences

Men are more likely than women to commit many types of unsafe behaviors. Males were more likely than females to enjoy the feeling of speed (46 vs 32 percent) and also worry less about having a crash (41 vs 51 percent).

As drivers age, they are less likely to commit these unsafe driving acts. During the past year, the youngest motorists (16-20 and 21-24) reported the highest levels of driving through stop signs without slowing (81 & 71 percent); weaving back and forth between lanes (63 & 60 percent); tailgating (44 & 37 percent); driving through red lights (44 & 33 percent); making an angry obscene gesture or comment (37 & 39 percent); cutting another car off (39 & 40 percent); and driving when affected by alcohol (13 & 14 percent).

Regional Differences

By calculating the average unsafe driving score on the reported frequency of 8 to 9 unsafe driving acts, two regions, the Pacific Northwest (56.0) and the Mountain states (55.4), reported scores about one-third less than the national average (75). The New England region, on the other hand, had an average unsafe driving score of 104.3, nearly twice as high.


For a copy of National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driving Actions, Volume I, Methodology or Vol II, Driver Attitudes & Behaviors, prepared by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc., write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590, or send a fax to (202) 366-7096. Marvin Levy, Ph.D. was the contract manager email

U.S. Department
of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590

Traffic Tech is a publication to disseminate
information about traffic safety programs,
including evaluations, innovative programs,
and new publications. Feel free to copy it as you wish.
If you would like to receive a copy contact:
Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759, fax (202) 366-7096