Findings from 2020's comprehensive study of UK drivers' views

Speeding and in-car distractions


The number of UK drivers who admit to breaking the speed limit has fallen on most roads dramatically this year, new RAC research reveals. The 2020 Report on Motoring has found that the proportion of drivers who say they occasionally or frequently exceed the speed limit on roads other than the UK’s motorways has declined this year.

The Report also shows widespread support for the greater use of average-speed cameras to enforce the 70mph limit on UK’s motorway network, as well as for lower speed limits on some rural roads.

Meanwhile, there are concerns among older motorists in particular about the potential for complex in-car technology such as touch-screen controls to cause distractions while driving.

Putting the brakes on

On 60mph country roads and in urban 30mph areas, the proportions of drivers who admit to speeding at least occasionally have fallen to their lowest levels since at least 2010. A third of motorists (33%) say they exceed the 60mph limit at least from time to time, down from 38% in 2019, while 36% break the 30mph limit – down from 44% last year.

On roads with a 20mph limit compliance is also improving with nearly four in 10 (39%) admitting to speeding, down from 44% last year. Only on motorways has there been a very slight increase in reported speeding: 56% of drivers say they occasionally or frequently exceed the 70mph limit, up from 55% in 2019. This suggests the four-year trend of improving compliance on Britain’s fastest roads has now come to an end. [RD1] 

It is unclear why overall compliance with speed limits has improved this year, but this may be partly down to the reduction in the number of journeys carried out for the purposes of commuting – or for other business purposes – where drivers feel greater time pressure.

This year’s Report also asked drivers who admit to speeding to say how fast they have driven on different categories of roads and give their reasons for doing so. A third of those who say they have broken the limit on motorways (34%) say they have exceeded 80mph at times. When asked why they broke the speed limit on a motorway, most drivers (39%) say they were simply following the example set by other motorists, although a greater proportion this year (31%) say it was because they thought it was safe to travel faster than 70mph. The most common reason given for exceeding the 60mph limit on country roads is that there were no other cars or road users around – this was cited by 40% of speeders.

Meanwhile, 11% of limit-breakers have driven above 40mph in a 30mph zone while 10% have exceeded 30mph in a 20mph zone. In the case of the latter, 45% of those who speed at least occasionally say this is because they believe the limit is ‘inappropriate’ for the area or stretch of road in question.

Speed limit enforcement

Motorists have differing views on the most effective method for enforcing speed limits depending on the type of road. On faster roads such as motorways or those where the limit is above 40mph, drivers are more likely to favour average speed cameras[NL1] : 58% of motorists say they are more effective on motorways and 46% say the same of 40mph and 50mph roads. Indeed, most drivers (54%) think that average speed cameras should be extended across the UK’s motorway network rather than solely being employed at roadworks.

On lower speed roads, however, fixed-position speed cameras are seen as the most effective solution, backed by 43% of drivers. Overall, two-thirds (66%) of drivers say that cameras of whatever type are a more acceptable solution than the widely disliked speed humps.

Finally, there is widespread support for reducing the 60mph limit on some country roads: 61% are in favour of a lower limit on narrower stretches.

Safety technology and in-car distractions

Around half of drivers (51%) think that touch-screen control systems are more complex than traditional knobs and buttons – rising to 55% among drivers aged 45 and over. A similar number (50%) think touch-screens are more distracting.

Almost half of older drivers (47%) feel that in-car technology is ‘taking away from the driving experience’, while three in 10 (31%) of those under 45 also agree with this statement.

There is a similar age divide when it comes to relying on sat-nav technology: 70% of under-45s say they would find it difficult to reach unfamiliar destinations without it, compared with just under half (47%) of those in the older age group.

There is also widespread concern about the dangers posed by some vehicles’ headlights: 77% of drivers say some cars’ lights are now so bright they risk causing accidents, while 58% say they are regularly dazzled by oncoming headlights even when they are dipped.

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