Being a driver is no fun in 2011. The price of fuel remains on an upward path and potholes, continuous roadworks and other drivers' behaviour can make driving a chore rather than a pleasure.
But what does this mean in real terms? Have drivers abandoned their cars in favour of buses or bikes? Do they believe the 'war on motorists' has really been ended by the Coalition Government? Have their concerns about the state of their local roads and driving environment been alleviated?
The RAC Report on Motoring 2011 reveals the fight has gone out of drivers. They are resigned to the fact that nothing is going to change. The 'war on motorists' is said to have ended, but it has been replaced with a 'cold war'. The cost of motoring continues to rise far in excess of inflation. While before this made drivers angry, now they are focused on cutting costs and surviving until the economy improves.
More than ever before, the economic situation is creating a divide between people who live in urban areas and those living in rural areas. The Report uncovers a need for different solutions depending on where drivers live, with those living in rural areas much more reliant on their cars than urban dwellers.
These drivers face stark choices about how much they can actually afford to use their cars and the Report reveals they are cutting back more than their urban counterparts. For many, leisure and social trips are the first to be cut. When this happens people can be left with feelings of isolation - from friends and family, and abandonment by a Government which they feel is ignoring their plight.
The idea that drivers are primarily focused on issues that impact their daily lives, first explored in last year's Report, comes through strongly again in 2011. There is no appetite for grandiose national schemes which cost billions but benefit relatively few. Drivers want local roads (especially the roads they use regularly) improved and better preparations for extreme weather conditions. It appears they have given up trying to get their voices heard at a national level, but are still trying to influence their local environment.
Allied to this is the continued concern at other drivers' behaviour. Drink- and drug-driving, inappropriate use of mobile phones and other distractions are all contributing to a deterioration in the motoring experience. Drivers want to see better enforcement of the laws that already exist. They want those caught drink-driving to be subject to meaningful penalties and for a more visible police presence to catch the hard core of motorists that continue to speed excessively, text while driving or drive without insurance or a valid MOT. These are all issues which are being focused on by the Government as part of its newly launched Road Safety Strategy.
The environment has fallen even further down the list of priorities this year. Drivers are not against alternatives such as electric cars, but these have to cost the same or less to buy as existing options - there is no appetite to buy them just because they are green.
Technology is another area affecting drivers and this raises the question of whether in-car technology is helping people to drive better - or simply adding to the already myriad number of distractions.
Drivers have lowered their expectations from the Government in recent years. They know the cost of motoring is not going to fall any time soon and believe proposals such as the fuel stabiliser are unlikely to benefit them to any real extent. They recognise this Government does not have cash to throw around, which is why the demands they make do not require substantial investment.
Finally they want the Government to allow their local problems to be resolved through local solutions that don't assume a 'one size fits all' approach. Policy needs to take a greater account of the differing needs and priorities of those living in urban areas versus rural areas.
2.0 Who is the motorist?
Rural versus Urban