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The RAC says “Drivers need help” – and they’re right!

Roger Geffen's picture
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The RAC has just published a survey of motorists’ views, and it makes for interesting reading.
83% of drivers admit speeding regularly, yet 92% say they are law-abiding
Speed camera

Their 2012 report on motoring includes some pretty candid admissions from drivers:

  • 83% of respondents admit to breaking speed limits regularly.
  • 46% say they exceed 30mph limits, and 37% go over 50 or 60mph limits (although the report doesn’t make clear whether they admit to committing these offences “regularly”).
  • 61% admit to speeding on motorways (and among company car drivers this rises to 87%), while 38% of drivers saying they do so on most motorway journeys.
  • 21% of drivers say they have held a mobile phone while driving or stationary at lights. This rises to 28% among 17-44 year olds, compared with just 9% among those aged 70 or over.
  • 11% of drivers admit to having accessed social media or emails while driving, rising to 19% among 17-24 years olds.

Yet 92% of drivers believe they are law-abiding!

And the contradictions go further. 51% of drivers would support a driving ban of at least a year for excessive speeding, with 17% supporting 5-year bans and 7% supporting life-time bans.

Support among drivers for bans on those convicted of drug-driving and drink-driving is a lot higher still. In both cases, a ban is supported by 95% of drivers – with 55% supporting life-time bans for drug-driving and 56% for drink-driving.

Interestingly, 64% of urban drivers, and 57% of rural drivers, want more visible roads policing - something that CTC has campaigned for, for many years.

It is of course tempting to contrast the RAC’s findings with the IAM’s 'poll' last week, which found that  “57% of cyclists jump red lights”. Only later did IAM admit that this figure was actually the proportion of cyclists who said they had jumped red lights “at least once”, and that only 2% did so regularly.  And that’s before we begin to point out the obvious pitfalls of an entirely unrepresentative online poll – anyone could take part in it, whereas the RAC survey at least used a demographically representative sample of the population.

Last week, the IAM’s press release received wholly uncritical coverage in the Mail and the Evening Standard (although at least the Times and the Guardian dug beneath the surface).  This week, the Evening Standard and the Sun both highlight the rise of drink-driving, drug-driving and use of social media in their coverage of the RAC report, yet funnily enough they both omit any mention of the prevalence of speeding.

Most speeding drivers want to quit the habit. And they know that they’d find this much easier if the Government was telling everyone else to do likewise."

Roger Geffen - CTC Campaigns and Policy Director

Still, the really interesting difference is in the conclusions drawn by the RAC. Now, it's not as if everything the RAC says in this report makes good sense. For instance, they insist that “[Motorists] have got to the point where they can no longer cut down on the number of  trips they make in their cars” – despite reporting that just 69% of urban dwellers, and 85% of rural dwellers, would find it very difficult to adjust their lifestyle to being without a car.  I'll grant that the majority are saying they would find it hard to cut down. But significant minorities in both cases are saying that they could do so. And in any case, there is a rather bigger difference between people’s ability to cut down on owning a car, and reducing one’s use of it.

The RAC’s commentary on road safety and policing, however, is much more thoughtful. They support the calls from drivers for more investment in driver awareness campaigns and backed tougher roads policing. Both have suffered reduced investment in recent years, with Ministers’ statements about “ending the war on the motorist” being particularly unhelpful.

Before the ban on smoking in pubs and clubs came in, most smokers already supported it. They wanted the Government to tell them to give up. They also knew it was difficult to do so on their own, when others around them were continuing to smoke, and the laws of the land accepted this.

Maybe speeding is pretty similar. Most drivers break the speed limit, yet many would prefer to live in a world where they didn’t feel under pressure to do so, because of the amount of speeding going on all around them, and the lack of any sanctions for doing so.

Roads Minister Mike Penning seems to believe that drivers want to be free to do as they please, without laws or police officers “waging war” on them. 

The RAC’s survey clearly shows that isn’t the case at all. Yes, there is a minority who insist on their right to speed on public streets, just like there was a minority who still insisted on their right to smoke in public social environments. But most speeding drivers want to quit the habit. And they know that they’d find this much easier if the Government was telling everyone else to do likewise.

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