The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Can you guess which drivers are the worst behaved? The answer might surprise you.

Photographed at the intersection of 14th and K streets NW on April 19, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

You’ve probably heard the reports about millennials: they’re not interested in getting their driver’s license and many are ditching cars altogether to live in more compact, walkable neighborhoods.

Now there’s new data suggesting that those millennials who do drive are making the roads more dangerous for the rest of us — and could benefit from more driver’s ed.

According to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, millennials are more likely to speed, run red lights, and text while driving than any other group. In short: they’re the worst drivers on the road. They even scored below inexperienced teen drivers.

Nearly nine in every 10 driver ages 19 to 24 engaged in at least one of those risky behaviors in a month.

About half of the surveyed young drivers said they’d driven through a red light, compared with 36 percent from all other age groups. They are nearly twice as likely as older drivers to say they sent a text or email while driving. And, more likely to say they have driven 10 mph over the speed limit on a residential street.

The infractions aren’t the only problem. The study found more than one in eight millennials said running light and texting while driving are acceptable behaviors, a higher rate than among all drivers.

“Alarmingly, some of the drivers ages 19-24 believe that their dangerous driving behavior is acceptable,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It’s critical that these drivers understand the potentially deadly consequences of engaging in these types of behaviors and that they change their behavior and attitudes in order to reverse the growing number of fatalities on U.S. roads.”

Though traffic deaths have dropped significantly in the past few decades, there has been a sharp increase in recent years.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that an estimated 35,200 people were killed on the nation’s road in 2015, up nearly 8 percent from 2014.

Distracted driving is a leading concern, transportation officials say. But young drivers aren’t the only ones to blame.

“Before you start finger pointing, look in the mirror,” AAA’s spokesman John B. Townsend II said, noting that drivers of all ages engage in the same risky behaviors as young millennials.

Nearly seven out of 10 seniors, 75 and older, say they have sped, rolled through a red light or texted while driving.  And, self-described responsible baby boomers aren’t that exemplary either. Check out this chart showing how they rank.

The AAA foundation poll of 2,511 licensed drivers ages 16 and older found motorists in general are aware of the dangers of using cell phones while driving. A majority of drivers say they think distracted driving is now a bigger problem than it was three years ago and more than 80 percent said texting and emailing behind the wheel is a serious threat to safety. Still, 1 in 3 admit they have sent a text or email while behind the wheel and 2 in 5 said they have read a text or email.

In the same way, drivers also view drinking and driving as a very serious threat, and nearly all, 96.7 percent, say people shouldn’t drink and drive. A great majority also support requiring alcohol-ignition interlocks for drivers convicted of driving under the influence, even for first-time offenders.  Still, more than 1 in 8 admit to driving at least once in the past year when they thought their alcohol level was close to or possibly over the legal limit.