Times are changing – for the worse


Increasing congestion and growing levels of rudeness and impatience by other road users mean that driving has never been more stressful, new RAC research has found.

The 2019 Report on Motoring found that a clear majority of drivers (66%) – the equivalent of around 26 million people – say driving is more stressful today than it was 10 years ago (or, for newer drivers, compared to when they passed their test). Yet only a tiny minority, 7%, believe that our roads were more challenging back in 2009, so what is leading to the increased stress?

Increasing traffic levels is the most common driver of stress, our survey reveals: of those who say driving is more stressful, 40% – representing more than 10 million motorists – blamed rising congestion.

Official figures support this finding: according to the Department for Transport, the total annual volume of vehicle traffic rose by 6.5% between March 2009 and March 2019 to its highest ever level.

Rudeness on our roads

But there is also a significant majority who believe that driving standards have deteriorated considerably over the course of the past decade. More than three-quarters of motorists (76%) – the equivalent of 30 million road users – say drivers are less patient today than 10 years ago, while a similar number (70%) say they are more confrontational.

They also appear to be less polite: 63% of motorists think drivers don’t thank each other as much as they did a decade ago, while 61% say they don’t allow other vehicles into traffic as frequently.

Higher traffic volumes are likely to have played some part in increasing impatience. It is possible that the situation has been made worse by a lack of new roads being built to cope with rising congestion, and/or a lack of feasible alternatives to taking the car for some journeys – and perhaps also because not enough money in general has been spent on improving our road network in the past 10 years.

Our research also suggests that drivers with greater levels of experience have a more jaundiced view of how motoring has changed over the years. Some 71% of motorists who have been driving for 10 years or more say that stress levels have increased in the past decade against just 53% of those with less than 10 years’ experience.

Newer drivers are also less likely to think that standards have slipped: only 65% say other road users are less patient today, compared with the 80% of more experienced drivers who take this view, for example.

The consequences of stress

The increase in the stress levels felt by millions of motorists has the potential to create significant danger for both themselves and other road users. Some 37% of drivers – equating to roughly 14 million people – say that being stressed as a result of other motorists’ actions or behaviour has led them to make mistakes while driving. Among less experienced drivers, the rate climbs to 50%. Meanwhile, just under a third of motorists (30%) say that stress has caused them to exceed the speed limit.

And worryingly, instances of road rage are also widely thought to be on the rise: 60% of drivers say they see more road-rage incidents today than 10 years ago – a topic we cover separately in more depth here.