Findings from 2022's comprehensive study of UK drivers' views

The dangers on our roads


The dangerous or illegal behaviour of other motorists remains a major concern for drivers, the 2022 Report on Motoring has found. The poor standard of other people’s driving, handheld mobile phone use at the wheel and aggression on the part of other road users are three of the most widespread concerns this year (as highlighted in What’s on motorists’ minds in 2022?).

But there are some encouraging signs: compliance with the law on handheld phone use appears to be improving, while admitted instances of drink-driving are below the pre-pandemic – and pre-lockdown – trend.

The number of drivers admitting to speeding on the country’s motorways and 60mph roads has risen this year, a change which may reflect the fact motorists have had greater freedom of movement over the past 12 months than during 2020 and the early months of 2021.

Meanwhile, drivers continue to express concern about the safety of smart motorways with most thinking the default ‘all lane running’ smart motorway configuration should be replaced with the dynamic hard shoulder configuration – food for thought for the Government.

Handheld mobile phones: Signs of improvement

This year, 26% of drivers say other motorists’ use of handheld mobile phones is one of their four biggest concerns. While it is still a serious problem, concern has dropped steadily since 2016 and 2017, when 41% and 40% of drivers respectively named mobile phone use a major issue.

So, what is behind this fall in concern? It is worth noting that findings published in the 2016 Report on Motoring, which revealed a shockingly high level of illegal handheld phone use among drivers, prompted extensive media coverage of the subject. This led ultimately to an increase in the penalties for illegal handheld phone use at the wheel in March 2017.

Since that period, the issue has inevitably faded from the public spotlight to a considerable extent. At the same time, there are signs that compliance with the law on motorists’ phone use is improving or that people are simply switching to hands-free Bluetooth devices. This year’s Report shows that 77% of drivers say they never make or receive calls on a handheld phone, the highest level in the past six years and well above the 69% recorded in 2016. Meanwhile, 91% of drivers never text, email or post on social media compared with only 80% in 2016, 86% never check notifications or messages (73% in 2016), and 94% never take photos or videos (85% in 2016).

Compliance with the law around handheld phone use is worse in younger age groups: 34% of under-25s and 30% of those aged between 25 and 44 admit to having made or received a voice call while driving compared with just 12% of those aged 65 and older. Similarly, 22% of under-25s and 23% of the 25-44 age group have checked text messages or other notifications as opposed to just 10% of drivers aged between 45 and 64, and 4% of 65-and-overs. In addition, nearly a fifth (17%) of under-25s admit to video calling while driving – a figure almost unchanged on 2020, which means this group are more than twice as likely to do this compared to the average UK driver. One in 10 (10%) under 25 also say they play games on their phones, compared to the UK average of just 2%.

However, there are signs that compliance among the under-25s has improved substantially over recent years: although the 34% who admit to making or receiving handheld voice calls in 2022 is alarmingly high, the rate was 42% in 2021 and 2020, and 51% in 2019.

There is widespread support among drivers for tougher enforcement of the law relating to handheld mobile phone use: 47% think the most effective way of curbing illegal use is the introduction of new camera technology to detect offenders, which is something the RAC has been recommending for several years, while 26% say more police officers on the road is the answer. Almost half of drivers (49%) believe the current penalty for handheld mobile phone use while driving of six points on the licence and a £200 fine is reasonable, although 36% say this is too lenient. Only 7% of drivers believe this sanction is too strict.

Overall drink-driving trend continues downwards

Concern about other motorists’ drink-driving has dropped sharply in the past three years: in 2022 only 14% say this is a top-four concern, down from 28% in 2019.

There has been a small increase in reported drink-driving this year: 7% of all drivers say they think they have driven while over the limit, either immediately after having a drink or on the morning after, compared with 6% in 2021 – although this is perhaps not unexpected given there have been no major lockdowns or restrictions on hospitality businesses in the UK over the past 12 months. Encouragingly, these figures are significantly below the pre-pandemic trend: between 2015 and 2019, the number of drivers who admitted to or thought they had driven while over the limit ranged from 16% to 20%.

However, it is a different story when looking at the 25-44 age group as more than one-in-10 (13%) think they have driven over the legal drink-drive limit – either shortly after drinking or the morning after – while 4% know they have been.

This year’s Report asked drivers for their views on policy measures that could be introduced to curb drink-driving. There is greatest support (54%) for an increase in the number of roadside breathalyser tests carried out by the police while 43% say offenders’ vehicles should be fitted with alcolocks – devices that require drivers to provide a breath sample below the legal alcohol limit in order to start their car. Interestingly, 32% of drivers think alcolocks should be fitted to all vehicles, not just those driven by people previously convicted of a drink-driving offence. Some 27% think all drivers should be required by law to carry their own breathalyser so they can check they are safe to drive – this rises to 39% among the under-25s.

Motorway speeding on the rise

There has been a rise in the number of drivers who admit speeding on the UK’s fastest roads in 2022: 60% say they have broken the 70mph motorway limit at least occasionally compared with 55% last year, while 48% have exceeded the limit on 60mph roads (up from 44% in 2021).

The proportion who speed on urban roads has changed very little in the past 12 months: 40% of drivers say they have exceeded the 30mph limit at least occasionally while 46% have broken the limit on 20mph roads.

The most common reason drivers give for exceeding the motorway 70mph limit is that they are travelling at the same speed as other motorists (42%). The same justification is used by 32% of those who break 60mph limits. Almost half of drivers who have exceeded the speed limit in 20mph zones say this is because they think the limit is inappropriate for that particular road.

Most drivers (69%) think motorists only adhere to 20mph limits when there is enforcement or physical traffic-calming measures in place, while 65% say that signs warning of speed cameras nearby help them stick to the limit.

Almost half of drivers (48%) believe some 60mph limits on unclassified rural roads should be reduced, while 52% say they would be opposed to additional 20mph limits being introduced in their local area.

Smart motorway design

Over recent years there has been a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the safety of smart motorways that have been introduced in England – in particular in the ‘all lane running’ (ALR) configuration, which sees the hard shoulder permanently converted to a running lane. Campaigners, including the RAC, have highlighted the potential danger involved in having no hard shoulder available for vehicles which break down or are involved in collisions. In May 2022, National Highways announced it was on track to upgrade nearly 100 safety cameras so they could automatically detect vehicles which ignore red-X lane-closed signs which are displayed when there is an incident in the lane ahead. The organisation is also rolling out radar technology to help identify stopped or broken-down vehicles on ALR smart motorways more quickly and effectively.

Nevertheless, the ALR configuration is deeply unpopular, the 2022 Report has found: 70% of drivers say they would like to see the Government proceed with the 'dynamic hard shoulder' configuration, where the hard shoulder is only used as a running lane during busy periods. Only 7% support the further roll-out of the ALR configuration.

Recent changes to the Highway Code

Finally, drivers were asked for their views on the new hierarchy of road users introduced in the latest edition of the Highway Code in January 2022: this has created a system which means those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others. As part of this change, for example, pedestrians have the right of way over vehicles when crossing at junctions. Almost half of drivers (49%) believe, however, that this will make pedestrians less safe while only 17% think the change will increase their safety.

In general drivers tend to believe that responsibility should be shared: 77% say that all road users have an equal responsibility to keep themselves safe.

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