With more than 38 million motorists in Great Britain1 it is of vital importance that the country’s politicians, policymakers, transport authorities and motor industry take their views and concerns into account when planning for the future.
The 2016 RAC Report on Motoring covers a wide range of topics, from hardy perennials such as the price of fuel and the state of both local and major roads, to more contemporary issues like the dangers of smartphone use and motorists’ views on the introduction of driverless vehicles.
The Report is based on research conducted with a representative sample of more than 1,700 motorists around the UK.
As ever, it reveals drivers’ current attitudes and concerns while also painting a picture of how and why car owners’ views are evolving over time.
The key findings in the 2016 Report are as follows:
The poor condition of local roads is becoming an even bigger concern
When asked to identify their top concern, more motorists (14%) say the state and maintenance of local roads than any other matter. Local roads were also the most common top concern in 2015, but last year only 10% of respondents ranked this issue at number one.
The increase in dissatisfaction is not a surprise: while ministers have pledged extra funds both for filling potholes and preventative maintenance, the Government’s own analysis suggests there is a multi-billion-pound backlog of repairs that is likely to take many years to be addressed2.
There is strong support for Government funding to be ring-fenced for local road maintenance: 32% of motorists think this should be the UK’s top transport investment priority, while 80% think it should be a top-five priority. Indeed, almost half (45%) of drivers say they would be willing to pay higher levels of vehicle tax if the revenues were used to improve roads.
Motorists are becoming more worried about other drivers using their phones
Road safety is invariably a major concern in the Report on Motoring, but this year’s research has identified a further significant increase in the number of motorists who are worried about other drivers using handheld mobile phones to make calls or check messages and notifications.
More than two-fifths of those questioned (41%) said this was one of their biggest concerns, a sharp rise on the 34% recorded in 2015.
Worryingly, a significant minority of motorists (31%) admit to having used a handheld phone to make or receive calls while driving at some point in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, a fifth of drivers (20%) think it is safe to text or check social media while they are sitting in stationary traffic, despite this being against the law.
Falling fuel prices have reduced the financial pressures on motorists
Falls in petrol and diesel prices in 2015 and the early months of 2016 mean that most motorists now face lower vehicle running costs. Only 7% of drivers say fuel prices are their top concern this year, down from 10% 12 months ago.
However, the Report also found that there has been little change in overall expenditure on fuel, which suggests that many motorists are simply taking advantage of lower forecourt prices to use their cars more. Concern about the cost of insurance has increased and is now number one for 7% of motorists. Indeed, the cost of insurance is now a greater financial concern than the cost of fuel.
Drivers are being increasingly affected by congestion and slower journey times
A rise in road-traffic volumes over 2015 – itself a result of lower fuel prices and improved economic conditions – has resulted in more motorists complaining of higher congestion levels. Over a quarter (27%) of those questioned say congestion and longer journey times are a top-four concern in 2016, well up on the 18% recorded last year. These concerns are greatest among those living in the South East of England.
Seven in 10 motorists (71%) say that the time taken to complete local journeys is becoming harder to predict, while a very similar proportion (70%) say the same about trips on major roads. The availability of parking has also become a greater concern in 2016: 14% of motorists say this is one of their top four concerns this year, compared with 8% in 2015.
There is a growing trend for drivers to break the speed limits on country roads and in urban 20mph zones
The 2016 Report shows a worrying trend with more motorists admitting to exceeding speed limits on country roads and in the growing number of urban 20mph zones.
While the number of drivers who admit to speeding in general has not increased significantly over the past 12 months, the percentage of motorists who admit to speeding on country roads – which are where the majority of fatal accidents occur – has risen from 38% to 48% over the last five years.
The proportion who say they have broken the speed limit on 20mph roads has risen from 38% in 2011 to 46%.
As in previous years, there is still a strong majority of drivers (66%) who believe the 70mph motorway speed limit should be raised to 80mph at least.
A significant percentage of motorists have serious concerns about the air quality where they live
More than a third of motorists (34%) say they are worried about their local air quality, while 40% of drivers say they are more concerned about this issue now than 12 months ago. In terms of public policy, there appears to be strong support (from 66% of drivers) for action to cut vehicle pollution in the areas with the worst air quality, while 55% of motorists support the Clean Air Zones set to be introduced in a number of cities by the end of the decade.
Despite this, issues such as the environmental impact of motoring and pollution from diesel engines rank low on the list of drivers’ spontaneous concerns.
The UK’s bid to become a pioneer in the introduction of driverless vehicles may flounder unless more effective action is taken to communicate the benefits of this technology to the general public. Most motorists (76%) do not expect driverless cars to become available to the public before the end of the current decade, while only half (49%) expect autonomous vehicles to outnumber conventional models by 2070 – this is despite ministers’ current plans to turn the UK into a leader in driverless-car technology.
The Government’s success in this endeavour will be heavily influenced by its ability to convince motorists of the benefits of autonomous vehicles. At present, only a quarter of drivers (27%) believe such cars will lead to safer roads, while a similarly low percentage (28%) expect driverless cars to reduce congestion. Almost half (48%) of respondents say they are not looking forward to travelling in a driverless vehicle.