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4.0 The law abiding driver

kill your speed signThe vast majority (90%) of drivers believe they are law abiding - but the reality could be somewhat different. Many admit to speeding or using their phones inappropriately. But does this contradiction arise because they believe the law is inappropriate? Motorway speed limits haven't changed since the 1960s though cars, the roads and traffic levels have changed beyond recognition. A majority of motorists appear to believe that 80mph may well be the new 70mph in terms of how fast a car can safely be driven on a motorway.

As evidenced earlier, motorists are concerned about other drivers' behaviour, particularly drink and drug driving and driving without tax or insurance. They are content with their own driving and will only change if forced through penalties or encouraged through incentives, but they expect other drivers to change their ways. This ties in with the increasing belief that motorists are unlikely to get caught if they break motoring laws and that there are not enough police on the roads to enforce traffic law. So just how law abiding are motorists?

4.1 Drink and Drugs

In 2009, the previous Government spent £5 million on anti-drink and drug driving campaigns. It also commissioned Sir Peter North to produce a report - The North Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law - into potential changes to these laws. The findings were expected as the 2010 RAC Report on Motoring went to press. But how well do motorists understand the current limit and do they agree with it?

law stat - drink drive limit

Drivers are evenly split with 41% claiming they know the drink drive limit and 42% unsure - 17% say they do not know the limit. But when this was tested, only 16% know that the limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. The fault however may lie with the terminology used to describe alcohol limits, as, when asked to quantify limits using measures such as pints of beer or glasses of wine, the vast majority took a conservative view as to how many could be consumed while remaining under the legal limit.

This year 87% of motorists backed a reduction in the drink-drive limit to below the current 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, a huge increase from 50% who were in favour last year: almost a quarter (23%) supported a limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and support for a zero drink drive limit increasing significantly, from just over a third (35%) last year to almost half (46%) this year. Least supportive of a total ban are the over 70s.

Britain, Ireland and Malta are the only European countries with a legal blood alcohol concentration limit higher than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml blood. An increasing number of countries including Sweden and Poland have set a 20mg limit and Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania are zero-tolerance.

Current penalties for drink or drug driving are a maximum £5,000 fine, an automatic disqualification and up to two years imprisonment. If someone is killed while the motorist is under the influence, an unlimited fine can be imposed, a minimum two year driving ban and up to 14 years in prison.

  • Almost two thirds of motorists claim never to have driven while over the alcohol limit, but a worrying 12% know they have broken the law in this way, with a further 11% unsure.
  • Six per cent of motorists know they've driven over the limit the next morning and 17% think they may have done.
  • Sixty four per cent say they have never driven with someone who was over the limit, down from 67% last year.
  • Twenty nine per cent have been a passenger with someone shortly after they had a drink and 13% the morning after a big night out.

There is better news on the drugs front - which could be an indication that Government campaigns are getting the message across.

  • Only 4% say they have driven under the influence of drugs - but this rises to 9% for company car drivers.
  • Only 9% of all motorists claim to have been in a car when the driver was under the influence of illegal drugs, though 18% of 17-24 year olds and 12% of 25-44 year olds admitted to doing so.

Some common medicines that you can buy over-the-counter from your pharmacy or supermarket have the potential to cause drowsiness. These include medicines that you might take for: Cough, Hayfever, Worm treatments, Analgesics, Anti-nausea treatments and Medicines for gastrointestinal upsets.RAC welcomes a reduction in the drink drive limit and calls for a timetable for the swift introduction of drugalysers.

4.2 Speeding

Speeding is the area where motorists are most likely to admit to breaking the law. Almost three quarters of drivers admit to breaking the speed limit on motorways, 57% on urban roads with a 30 mph speed limit, 45% on country roads with a 50 or 60 mph limit and 44% on roads in 20 mph urban zones. More worryingly 8% also said there were no deterrents that would stop them speeding. According to the Home Office, 1.46 million fixed penalty notices were issued for speeding by police in 2007.

This disregard of speed limits, particularly on motorways, may be fuelled by a belief that limits should be raised on certain types of roads.

  • Three fifths want 20 mph zones to be maintained, though 37% would like the limit to be raised to either 25 or 30 mph.
  • A quarter wants urban limits to be lifted above 30 mph, with 13% to 35 mph.
  • Thirteen per cent want the limit on country roads to be raised from either 50 or 60 mph, and one in 10 to 70 mph.
  • Three quarters want the limit on a motorway to be raised above 70 mph, and 52% to 80 mph. 12% of company car drivers would like to see the limit raised to 100 mph.

Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport - "The attitude to 20mph zones is in transition. Motorists are encountering these zones in their local areas, particularly around schools, and are seeing the benefits. It's down to familiarity. There is much more widespread support now."

It is interesting to note that the belief that speed limits are too low has been increasing significantly year on year - with, for example, only 69% supporting higher motorway limits last year.

4.3 Distraction

While drivers admit to frequently carrying out activities that have the potential to distract them when driving, (either while moving or sat at lights or stationary in a traffic jam), many do not consider themselves to be distracted.

  • Twenty-eight per cent of motorists use their phone without a hands free kit and half admitted to being distracted. People aged 25-44 were the worst offenders with 13% taking calls when driving and 26% while stationary. Some 46% of those receiving calls claim not to be distracted by this. Last year only 8% admitted to using a mobile without a hands free kit.
  • Thirty one per cent admit to texting while on the road - and 6% of them while actually driving, yet only 53% of this group felt this might distract them. Young drivers were most likely to do this with 14% texting while driving and 40% when temporarily stationary, yet 42% claimed never to be distracted by this activity. Last year 11% admitted breaking the law this way.

law - distractions

Latest statistics from the Department for Transport reveal that in 2009 drivers using mobile phones caused 31 fatal crashes, 70 crashes where one or more of the people involved were seriously injured and there were 534 casualties in total. In-car distraction was identified as having led to 65 deaths, 469 serious injuries and a total of 4,763 casualties.

RAC calls for focussed enforcement and stronger policing of existing laws on mobile phone usage.

4.4 Punishment

Most motorists believe they are law abiding, which is reflected in their desire for tougher punishments for those caught breaking the law and for more measures that force people to moderate their behaviour. For example:

  • Eighty-five per cent want harsher sentencing, within the current framework for those who seriously injure or kill someone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Three in five believe in 'two strikes and you're out', with a jail sentence if caught over the limit more than once.
  • Just over half (53%) support alco-locks, which automatically prevent the car from being driven by someone over the prescribed limit.
  • Almost half (49%) want a built in speed limiter in vehicles.
  • For 48%, a higher likelihood of getting caught would act as a deterrent to speeding.
  • Just over a quarter think on the spot fines should be introduced for speeding offences.
  • More random breath testing was supported by 64% of motorists.

5.0 The environment and the motorist

3.0 Motorists' concerns