Through meticulous research, which usually involves craning our necks to get a good look at the person who just took a right turn across three lanes, we all have theories about exactly who the worst drivers are.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has taken a slightly more scientific approach, surveying 2,511 licensed drivers age 16 and older for its latest "Traffic Safety Culture Index." The Auto Club concludes that more than any other age group, "younger millennials" admit engaging in at least one "risky behavior" behind the wheel in the past month.
Generational historians Neil Howe and William Strauss define millennials as Americans born between 1982 and 2002. The AAA survey says 88 percent of respondents age 19 to 24 admitted to the risky driving behavior. For those age 25 to 39, the figure was 79 percent.
Seventy-five percent of 40- to 59-year-olds said they'd engaged in risky driving behavior; 69 percent of those 16 to 18 — and those 75 and older — said that. The best-behaved group, if you can believe their own answers to the survey, is the cohort age 60 to 74, according to the AAA: 67 percent of them said they'd done something dangerous behind the wheel in the past 30 days.
Though texting while driving is a serious concern when looking at the data for younger millennials (they were twice as likely as all drivers to text behind the wheel), that age group's red light–running was shocking. Nearly half of all drivers age 19 to 24 said they had driven through an intersection after a traffic light "had just turned red," according to the Auto Club. Fourteen percent of that age group said doing so was "acceptable."
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"It really stood out that millennials are running red lights after the light just turned red," says Elaine Beno, a spokeswoman for the Auto Club of Southern California. "We're urging young drivers stop at red lights, don't text while driving and obey speed laws."
The survey did not break out data for Golden State drivers, she said.
It's not clear why millennials are taking risks while driving. Contemporary vehicles are vastly safer than in the past — a major collision is no longer a death sentence — and some can even drive themselves. It's possible that Americans who grew up surrounded by multiple airbags and collision-avoidance systems feel more comfortable taking driving to the edge. Of course, that's no excuse.
"Young people are driving in a much more complex environment," Beno says. "They have the technology at their fingertips. But bad driving habits still lead to increased crash risk."