RAC

The way we use technology

Technology has transformed the car over the past 20 years. But how has that impacted on the way we drive and own our cars? Do we drive more safely or do all these new gadgets distract us as never before? As cars have become more complex do we really understand what goes on under the bonnet and do we even care?

Ian, motorist from Norfolk

Cars today are much safer than in 1988. Even the most basic models now have side impact bars, ABS and airbags as standard.

All this is evidence of the ever-higher safety standards to which car companies design and build modern cars. So much so that in the first 2008 RAC Report on Motoring, three in five motorists pointed to improved safety as the single biggest change in cars over the last 20 years.

The roads are unquestionably safer as well. According to Government statistics, since 1988 the number of deaths and serious injuries on Britain's roads has halved.

There is a big difference between cars and motoring being safer and safer drivers. Cars and motorists are safer through passive technologies such as ABS and airbags, as the reduction in road injuries and deaths illustrate, but not all technologies are making us safer drivers.

Those that require the driver to actively operate them, such as in-car entertainment and SatNavs make motorists less safe as their attention is diverted away from driving. Nearly half (46%) of motorists admit to being distracted by their in-car technology whilst driving and almost six out of 10 believe that too much reliance on in-car technology makes people less safe.

While mobile phones grab the headlines as the most distracting of the new technologies, over half of motorists actually rate their radio/CD player as the biggest cause of distraction while they drive, with climate controls, mobile phones, and SatNavs all in joint second at just over one in three.

Percentage of people who have been seriously distracted whilst driving by using in-car instruments and equipment.

Which of the following in-car instruments and equipment cause you to become seriously distracted when driving?

  • Radio/CD/DVD 54%
  • Heating/air-conditioning 35%
  • SatNav 34%
  • Mobile phone 32%

RAC calls for:

  • The focus of safety campaigns should be widened to include all of the in-car distractions, such as adjusting the radio or heating and air-conditioning controls. Motorists need better awareness of how to use in-car technology responsibly.

Over reliance on technology

Map reading skills may become redundant as we rely on SatNav to tell us which way to go and paper road atlases may become museum pieces.

We now have access to every conceivable type of map through in-car systems, the internet or mobile phones.

Our survey clearly shows that motorists believe we have become too reliant on in-car technology (57% agree) and that too much reliance on in-car technology makes motorists less safe drivers (59% agree). Almost half of us also think technology makes us take more risks when driving. This reliance on technology is leading us to lose skills, which while no longer essential, are still important.

The internet has made more information available to drivers before they depart - traffic information, mapping and weather forecasts. There is evidence that people may be supplementing or replacing road atlases with downloadable maps from the internet. The proportion of people who said that they had downloaded maps from the internet in the past six months, doubled from 16% in 2001, to 34%¹ in 2006.

We have become too reliant on in-car technology

Percentage of people who:

  • Agree 57%
  • Unsure 26%
  • Disagree 18%

RAC calls for:

  • Basic map reading skills should form part of the learning to drive process, and a motorist awareness campaign should be carried out to encourage motorists to plan their journey ahead. RAC recommends that motorists keep a road atlas/map in the car in case something happens mid-journey, which diverts them from their planned course.

Improved reliability

Road and infrastructure engineering