As fatalities on our nation's roadways continue to rise at a disturbing rate, a new AAA survey finds there's actually been a decline in unsafe driving behaviors.

Drivers self-reported engaging less frequently in unsafe behaviors like red-light running, driving while impaired and drowsy driving, according to the annual survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

This study was done in 2020, which asked motorists if they engaged in these risky driving behaviors in the past 30 days, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Tracy Noble.

So keep in mind what the situation was in 2020 when these questions were asked. New Jersey and the nation were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. People were driving less.

When motorists were asked if they drove through a red light, that number declined by 18.5% compared to 2019, said Noble.

Driving while talking on a handheld cell phone fell 28.6% from a year ago. Drowsy driving declined nearly 36%

When they were asked if they had driven aggressively, that number dropped by 14.1%. However, there was a much less decline in drivers who were speeding. It was only a decline of 7.8%.

"We know when we look back at 2020, speeding was one of the largest factors in fatalities on our roadways during that year," she said.

It can be assumed that when there were fewer motorists on the roads and more people were following stay-at-home orders, there were fewer commuters and people were engaging in less risky behavior, Noble added.

The top five bad behaviors drivers were engaging in were speeding, driving with a handheld cellphone, driving while reading a text or email on a cell phone, driving through a red light and driving aggressively. Other bad behaviors included drowsing driving, driving intoxicated and driving within an hour of consuming marijuana.

Noble said another interesting question motorists were asked was if people who were important to them would say that their driving behavior was socially unacceptable. The survey found that 95.5% of those surveyed said loved ones would find their behavior of texting and emailing while driving would be completely unacceptable.

"So they know it's unacceptable to their loved ones and yet they would still do it," said Noble.

While it's a positive sign that drivers self-reported that they've engaged in less risky behavior. But Noble pointed out that 2020 was a deadly year on our roadways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that over 38,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. That was an increase of 7.2% and the greatest number of fatalities since 2007.

That's because when people saw more open roadways, they tended to speed in excess, said Noble. There were crashes reported where motorists were traveling over 100 mph. There were reports of people who, for some reason, stopped wearing seat belts. She added that if someone is not wearing a safety belt in a high-speed crash, the likelihood of being ejected, increases.

While some risky behaviors may have decreased in 2020, a lot of places were not open and people were not using their cars as much. Yet, there was still an unusually high death rate on the roads, she said.

AAA recommends some safety tips to keep in mind while driving. Always obey the speed limits. Not only is it safer, but will help with gas mileage, especially in these days where gas prices remain very high due to increased demand and high crude oil prices.

Put the cellphone away in the center console or the glove compartment or activate call/text blocking features like Apple's Do Not Disturb.

Drive sober and always stay alert, especially this time of year when it will get darker earlier. Paying attention to what's around you is vital to staying safe.

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