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Positioning Statements

The RAC is often asked for its comment on key motoring and road related issues by our members, the media, students and the public. The following statements reflect some of the current issues we are frequently asked about.

2015: our view on the short-term motoring priorities for the Transport Secretary

The RAC believes the short term motoring agenda for the new Government should be:

  • Major roads – deliver the Road Investment Strategy on time and within the agreed budget
  • Fuel duty – stay fair to the motorist by, as a minimum, continuing the duty freeze
  • Local roads – eradicate the pothole problem with a long-term strategy and funding for tackling the maintenance backlog
  • Road safety – publish the green paper on reducing accidents involving young drivers, and reintroduce national casualty reduction targets

What the RAC believes motorists can now expect from the new government

The Road Investment Strategy (RIS), which was published by the previous government, will deliver long-awaited improvements to England’s motorways and A-roads. With spending secured up to 2021, this will give both motorists and businesses confidence that the 127 schemes right across the country that form part of the RIS will at last be delivered. The Office of Rail and Road will monitor the progress to ensure that motorists see the benefits and Transport Focus will gather feedback from road users and assess their satisfaction. RAC is working closely with both of these bodies to represent members’ interests.

The high rate of fuel duty and VAT on petrol and diesel result in almost 70% of the pump price going to the Treasury and this means that UK motorists continue to be amongst the most harshly taxed in Europe. Immediately prior to the election and during campaigning, Mr Osborne committed to maintain the freeze on fuel duty until at least September 2015. This will benefit motorists, although there is still a strong case for a reduction in fuel duty in order to help sustain economic growth and boost jobs.

Where the RAC believes motorists deserve greater clarity from the new government

There remain a number of important areas where the RAC seeks greater clarity on policy issues that affect the UK’s motorists:

Local roads – cracking the pothole problem

The commitment to repair 18 million potholes in the Conservative party manifesto was a welcome sign, but what is needed now is a long term strategy led from the Department for Transport to properly tackle the maintenance backlog on local roads – much like we now have for major roads in the RIS. Local authorities, whose role includes maintaining and developing local roads, need longer-term certainty of funding of a magnitude sufficient to allow them to plan ahead and progressively reduce the £12 billion maintenance backlog. Only this will see an end to the reactive ‘patch and dash’ approach that many local authorities are forced to take because they cannot afford the preventative maintenance that would stop potholes forming in the first place.

Road safety – giving the young drivers’ green paper the green light, and reintroducing national road safety targets

Young drivers are statistically much more likely to be involved in an accident than older drivers – with nearly one in four 18 to 24 year-olds being involved in a road traffic accident within two years of passing their driving test. In 2013, the government announced its intention to publish a green paper to examine how young driver safety could be improved. However, after a succession of delays, publication was postponed indefinitely. The RAC calls on the new government to commit to a renewed focus on improving the safety for young drivers by publishing a green paper that sets clear proposals and timescales for the development and implementation of policies to tackle the root causes of the problem.

2013/14 also saw the first rise in the number of children killed or seriously injured on British roads. The RAC believes this is a stark reminder of the need for national casualty reduction targets to be reintroduced. Theses should be complemented by establishing road safety education on the national curriculum.

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Ageing Drivers

The RAC recognises the importance of driving to maintaining the mobility and hence the quality of life of many older people, particularly in rural areas where public transport is less likely to be available as an alternative to the car.

The RAC believes that measures to prevent older motorists from driving should be discouraged unless there are compelling reasons why it’s not safe for them to do so. After all, older drivers are much fitter and healthier now than ever before – 70 could well be the new 60 so far as fitness to drive is concerned.

RAC technical director David Bizley said: “Research for our annual RAC Report on Motoring suggests that only 15% of UK motorists rate ageing drivers as a major concern. This is backed by Department for Transport statistics which demonstrate that while the number of drivers aged 70 and over is on the increase, older motorists cause fewer accidents than their younger counterparts.  

“While the majority of motorists would like to see more rigorous medical checks on drivers aged 70 and over, such as regular eyesight tests, there is no strong evidence that more draconian measures such as compulsory re-sitting of the driving test at regular intervals is required.

“Drivers themselves tend to self-regulate as they get older – for example, stopping driving at night or on motorways or in adverse weather conditions – and tend to recognise their own limitations. Family members too, have a role to play in helping older drivers make the right decision regarding when they should hand over their car keys.

“RAC research shows that there is slowly increasing support for the introduction of further checks on older drivers, but we do need to take an evidence-based approach as to what checks are appropriate and at what age.  

“Driving is a skill that needs to be practiced and adapted as the roads and in-car technology change through a motorist’s lifetime. We support measures to ensure motorists continue to develop and refresh their driving skills from the first time they pick up their car keys to the last time they put them down.”

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Mobile Phones

Driving is a demanding and responsible task requiring full attention, concentration and awareness at all times. The RAC believes there are significant risks to safety if mobile phones are used while driving.

If it is essential for business or personal reasons for a driver to use a mobile phone while on the move, the RAC advises that a fully-installed, hands-free, in-car kit that does not require the user to physically pick up the phone should be fully installed before the mobile phone is used. Even with a hands-free kit it is advisable to keep calls short and to the point. If a longer, more in-depth conversation is required, the better option is to find somewhere safe to pull over.

The use of ear piece-type hands-free devices may still require the driver to hold the phone to dial a number, to scroll through a menu or to read the screen. Drivers are therefore advised that these devices, while legal, may still put the user at risk of prosecution, if they hold the handset at any time during its use.

If a driver does not have a hands-free, in-car kit, the RAC advises that drivers turn off their mobile phone while driving and divert all calls to a messaging service. Messages received while the phone is switched off should only be retrieved when parked with the engine off in a safe place (and never on the hard shoulder of a motorway).

If an essential call needs to be made via a handheld mobile phone, drivers are advised to find a safe place to stop before calling.

RAC technical director David Bizley says: “The RAC welcomes any measures which help improve safety for all road users and supports tougher penalties for drivers committing mobile phone-related offences.

“The RAC believes there is a whole new generation of younger drivers who are missing out on vital information about the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone due to the reduction in high-profile road safety campaigns in recent years. In fact, this is an essential safety message that all drivers would benefit from being reminded of on a regular basis, particularly as government road casualty figures for 2011 show that fatalities on our roads have gone up for the first time since 2003.

“The RAC is therefore calling on Government to make this a priority to ensure greater awareness of this issue and to help safeguard the lives of everyone on Britain’s roads.”

The law

The law makes it an offence for anyone to use any type of handheld mobile phone while they are driving. Drivers are therefore reminded that it is an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving (including between the shoulder and neck).

The definition of driving for the purposes of the law means whenever the engine is switched on, even if the vehicle is stationary. It is therefore an offence to use a handheld mobile phone even when the vehicle has stopped at traffic lights or is in a traffic jam.

The law requires a driver to ‘have proper control of the vehicle’ at all times. This means that responsibility for the safe control of the vehicle rests solely with the driver. If a driver is not in proper control through the use of a mobile phone, they will be committing an offence for which they can be prosecuted, fined, disqualified or imprisoned for two years.

Safety advice for mobile phone users

If it is essential for business or personal reasons for a driver to use a mobile phone while on the move, the RAC advises that a fully-installed, hands-free, in-car kit that does not require the user to physically pick up the phone should be fully installed before the mobile phone can be used. (Whenever possible, pre-programmed numbers should be used). Pressing keys is permissible only if the phone is in a cradle and it is safe to do so.

The RAC recommends the following safety points should be adhered to when operating a mobile phone while driving:

  • Keep calls brief and to the point
  • Calls should be as non-distracting as possible – never hold conversations of a confrontational nature
  • Do not make calls unless it is safe to do so and traffic conditions are appropriate
  • Always explain to the person you are speaking to that you are driving and may need to break the conversation off at any point without warning
  • Give your full attention and priority to your driving at all times and always maintain a high level of concentration and awareness
  • Never use mobile phones where signs are displayed banning their use, e.g. in petrol filling stations/garage forecourts

RAC Report on Motoring findings

The RAC Report on Motoring 2012, which presented the results of a survey of more than 1,000 UK motorists, revealed widespread support for tougher penalties for those convicted of mobile phone-related offences.

Some 42% would like to see those found guilty of mobile phone wrongdoings given a driving ban, while 53% support fines and three or six points on their driving licence. Only 4% support no penalty at all.  

This is backed by the 2011 Department for Transport British Social Attitudes survey which found that half (49%) of respondents wanted any form of mobile phone usage in vehicles banned and 71% felt the law was not properly enforced.

Despite this, the RAC Report on Motoring found that some motorists are still flouting the law when it comes to mobile phone usage:

  • 21% have held a mobile phone while either driving or stationary at lights (17 to 44-year-olds are the worst offenders with 28% admitting it compared with just 9% of motorists aged 70 and over)
  • 23% of motorists have texted while either driving or stationary at lights
  • 11% of all motorists have accessed social media or their emails while driving, rising to 19% for the 17 to 24-year-old age group. Nineteen per cent of urban drivers also admitted to this compared with 9% of rural drivers
  • 11% of all motorists have also accessed other websites while driving including 18% of 17 to 24-year-olds and 20% of urban drivers (compared to 7% of rural drivers)

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Motoring Taxation

The RAC is urging the Government and other political parties to launch an intelligent and inclusive discussion about long-term motoring tax solutions. 

Tax revenue from fuel duty looks set to decline as drivers continue to reduce their mileage in the face of high fuel prices and opt for more economical and environmentally friendly vehicles and driving styles. 

The reality is UK motorists currently massively fund other areas of Government spending, contributing around £45 billion a year to the Treasury, five times the £9 billion spent on roads, and any suggestion that they will be charged more in road tolls will face a fierce backlash.

Constantly increasing fuel duty is not an option. Motorists are demonstrating they can no longer stomach rising fuel prices and duty so it is now critical that the Government addresses the issue for the future.

It is essential the Government consults with the public on plans to conduct a wholesale review of motoring taxes. We believe a fair system will not only look at charging drivers for the mileage they travel but also where, what and how they choose to drive.

We envisage this would look very different from today’s system of motoring taxation which includes 60% tax on petrol and diesel – fuel duty and VAT – the road fund licence/Vehicle Excise Duty, company car tax, showroom tax and ad hoc road tolls.

The RAC is not opposed to road pricing, but the introduction of road charges should be part of a wider overhaul of motoring taxation so they are not seen as an additional motoring tax. Any net increase in motoring taxation revenues arising from road pricing should by set aside for investment in the transport infrastructure.

Any new system will also have to take into account business and freight traffic as well as domestic and personal motoring and look at incentivising green vehicles and environmentally friendly driving practices, but most of all it will have to be seen to be fair to all and transparent.

Taxing motorists – the facts:

  • UK motorists contribute around £45 billion a year to the Treasury
  • The Government spends a fraction of this on improving and building new roads
  • The Government and motoring industry is committed to increasing the number of low carbon vehicles which will which will accelerate the decline in  fuel duty revenues

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Cycle safety

The RAC believes that motorists and cyclists have a shared responsibility to respect and watch out for each other, as well as other road users, and to drive or cycle responsibly and within the law.

We know that many cyclists are also motorists so the key to good relationship between the two on the roads is consideration, patience and commonsense from both parties. Motorists and cyclists are equally subject to the laws of road as outlined in the Highway Code.

Motorists should always be conscious of cyclists, giving them plenty of space because of their vulnerability. Drivers of larger vehicles, in particular, should always be on the look-out for cyclists and take extra care whenever they encounter them. You should be doubly vigilant around younger riders and always remember the ‘Look Twice’ advice at junctions and when using mirrors before turning, changing lane or overtaking. Only overtake if there’s a safe opportunity to do so and do not drive too close to cyclists before overtaking. Think how you would want motorists to drive near you or your loved-ones when cycling.

Cyclists should ensure they are visible to motorists and other road users at all times by wearing bright-coloured clothing. In dark or low light conditions you should always wear reflective clothing and ensure you have effective, working lights.  Remember it is generally good advice to wear a cycle helmet. Always be mindful of the speed of other vehicles and consider using cycle lanes when available, and if appropriate.  It is also important to choose your routes carefully and to consider the experience of your fellow cyclists. For example, never ride more than two abreast as outlined in the Highway Code and be prepared to recognise that on many roads this is not a safe way to ride. In addition, you should always match your cycling style to the road condition, just as you should when driving.

At the RAC we recognise that there are as many different types of cyclists as there are motorists – in fact more. From competition or challenge cyclists to commuters and weekend leisure riders and families to BMX kids and mountain bikers – everyone has their own passion, level of experience and confidence.

The RAC is a supporter of the Department for Transport’s THINK CYCLIST campaign and its Bikeability scheme. We are also working with ROSPA to promote better road safety education for children from an earlier age.

Think Cyclist

RAC technical director David Bizley said: “The RAC welcomes any measure which helps improve safety for all road users and clearly with the growing interest in cycling there is a need for greater prominence of cycle safety. Many of our members are cyclists as well as drivers and we are keen to see greater awareness of the needs and risks presented by modern road use to, potentially, vulnerable cyclists.”


The RAC also believes that young children should be taught the basics of road and cycle safety at an early age.  The Department for Transport’s Bikeability scheme is a 'cycle proficiency' for the 21st Century! If you're thinking about getting on your bike, why not complete your Bikeability?

It's fun and gives you the skills and confidence to cycle in modern road conditions.

As well as promoting the THINK CYCLIST campaign within the company, the RAC also offers colleagues the opportunity to buy discounted bikes under the ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme.  The RAC has many enthusiastic cyclists who regularly take part in charity cycle rides.

The RAC provided patrol support for the Tour of Britain Cycle Challenge in September 2012.

Key facts:

  • 80% of cyclists hold a driving licence and 50% of RAC members are regular cyclists.
  • The RAC actively campaigns for additional Government investment in roads and road safety measures to benefit all road users. 
  • The RAC is also calling for more spending on public road safety campaigns to address key safety issues including: speeding; drink and drug driving; mobile phone and social media use at the wheel; child safety; and cycle safety.
  • The RAC’s Report on Motoring 2012 identified the behaviour of other motorists as one of the key issues for drivers.  28% of drivers aged under 45 admitted to regularly texting, accessing the internet and using social media at the wheel. The RAC has championed road safety messages advising of the dangers of using mobile phones and social media when driving and has called frequently for the Government to invest in a hard-hitting road safety campaign.
  • The RAC welcomes the significant investment and improvements made by cities like London and Bristol to the road network and urban infrastructure to promote and support cycling and better safety for cyclists.  We are now working with other cities, like Birmingham, to encourage the adoption of similar approaches.  
  • The high cost of motoring is dramatically changing our use of cars and our members are increasingly choosing to cycle and use other transport alternatives in an effort to save money, as well as improve their own health and fitness. 

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Speed limits


The RAC is not in favour of blanket 20mph speed limits, but there is evidence that 20mph limits are beneficial in accident hot spots, in busy urban areas and near schools. Our members broadly support these zones and accept more are needed.

We feel motorists should always drive within the limit but at a speed which is appropriate to where they are and for the road and weather conditions at the time.

In many 30mph zones it would be inappropriate to encourage motorists to drive at 20mph unless the conditions and the traffic levels warranted it.

Similarly there are rural roads which are deemed 60mph but warrant different speeds according to the road and weather conditions.


The RAC supports the trial of variable speed limits appropriate to individual road conditions. For example we are working with the Ministry of Transport in England to trial an 80mph speed limits on some sections of motorway.

The RAC believes the limit should be raised only on those stretches of motorway where their construction and usage patterns are such that the benefits to users would offset any detrimental safety or environmental impact.

RAC Report on Motoring 2012 findings

The RAC Report on Motoring 2012, which presented the results of a survey of over 1,000 motorists, revealed that while the majority of motorists still want a higher speed limit on motorways most drivers are happy with current limits on other roads. This, however, doesn't stop a sizeable minority speeding on them though, with 36% admitting to driving above the speed limit in a 20mph zones.

  • Identified that the majority of motorists are happy with current speed limits
  • Found 36% of 1,000 motorists surveyed admitted to speeding 20mph zones
  • 46% of motorists admitting to speeding in 30mph zones
  • 36% admitting to speeding in 20mph zones

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