With around 38 million motorists in Great Britain, the issues that are of the greatest concern to them must equally be of significance to Britain’s politicians, policymakers, transport authorities and motor industry.
This year’s RAC Report on Motoring paints a comprehensive picture of drivers’ views on topics they think are most important, such as the condition of the nation’s roads, fuel prices and the tax burden they face, as well as road safety and vehicle technology.
The report, which is based on quantitative research carried out with a representative sample of 1,555 British drivers, shows how concerns and attitudes are changing over time and also offers early insight into issues which may become more prominent in the future, such as driverless car technology.
The key findings in the 2015 report are as follows:
The poor condition of local roads is this year’s issue of greatest concern
Over the past few years, the RAC and other industry bodies have repeatedly warned that not enough money is being spent on the maintenance and improvement of local roads. It comes as little surprise, then, that half of motorists (50%) say the condition of roads in their area has deteriorated over the course of the past year. In 99% of cases, potholes and other problems with road surfaces are to blame.
For 10% of drivers the state of local roads is now their number one concern, while a further 20% list it as a top four issue. Motorists in Scotland and the South West of England report the worst conditions. Drivers’ spending priorities reflect these concerns: 30% say local road maintenance is their top priority for government transport investment, and indeed 45% of motorists say they would pay higher motoring taxes if the revenue raised was ring-fenced for road maintenance.
The cost of fuel is less of a problem this year
The cost of filling up is still a widespread concern, but it is not as much of an issue as in previous years thanks to falling pump prices – and perhaps also rising average wages – over the past 12 months. It remains to be seen, however, how long petrol and diesel prices can remain at their current level.
Almost half of motorists (46%) support the ongoing fuel duty freeze, but there is some backing (32%) for the idea of replacing part of the duty either with more widespread motorway tolls or with increases in general taxation. Surprisingly, a third of drivers (34%) still underestimate the amount of money taken by the Government in duty and VAT on every litre of fuel purchased at the pump.
There is increasing concern about other drivers being distracted by mobile phones
The dangers posed by other motorists using their mobile phones to talk, text or go online are a growing worry for many drivers. More than a third (34%) say this is one of their top four areas of concern this year, but rather than increased penalties, most drivers (79%) want to see more effective enforcement of existing laws. Almost two-thirds (62%) believe there are not enough traffic police on our roads – hardly surprising given the fall in officer numbers over the past five years.
There is still a surprising number of motorists (12%) who think that it is acceptable to take a short call with a hand-held mobile phone while driving, despite this being illegal since December 2003.
The cost and convenience of parking is a significant issue
Most motorists (74%) report that the cost of parking has increased in the past 12 months while almost two-thirds (63%) say that there has been a drop in the availability of local town centre or high street parking spaces. There is also still concern that most spaces are too small for modern vehicles – 73% think they are not big enough.
So far as the charges themselves are concerned, 66% of drivers believe private companies’ charges are unfair while 40% take the same view of local authority charges. And the vast majority (88%) think parking at hospitals should be free – this rises to 93% among the over- 65s. A majority of drivers (58%) think that new rules which give those parking in paid local authority spaces a ten-minute grace period will not have an effect on the number of fines issued.
More motorists are likely to break the speed limit
Perhaps as a reflection of falling fuel prices and therefore fewer people trying to drive in the most fuel-efficient way, more motorists admit they have broken the speed limit in 2015 than in 2014. Seven in ten drivers (70%) say they regularly or occasionally break the 70mph motorway limit, and there is support (65%) for this to be raised to 80mph – a step the Government is reportedly still considering trialling on some sections of motorway.
On other roads, drivers are less inclined to speed with the corresponding percentages admitting to exceeding the 30mph and 20mph limits both being 44%. As more local authorities introduce 20mph zones, there appears to be little resistance to this from drivers: 61% say 20mph limits are appropriate where they are currently in place.
Low running costs are the main reason why drivers choose environmentally friendly vehicles
Environmental concerns are low on the list of motorists’ priorities: only 2% rate them as their number one issue. But drivers will consider buying low-emission vehicles if they are cheaper to run in terms of fuel costs and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). Almost one in five (19%) say they will consider buying a hybrid or electric vehicle as their next car – but for half (47%) of this group this would be because of an expectation of lower running costs rather than because of environmental benefits.
Motorists recognise the benefits that new technologies bring but are unwilling to pay very much extra for these
There is a recognition of the benefits that driverless cars will have for disabled and elderly drivers though only a quarter (27%) think such vehicles will make road travel safer. Motorists recognise the benefits that new technologies such as automatic emergency braking, telematics and dashcams can have on safety and security but appear unwilling to pay very much extra for these over and above the basic cost of the car.
More motorists admit to drug-driving and more want stricter limits on drink-driving
Over the past 12 months, 6% of motorists say they have driven under the influence of drugs, whereas in 2014 the rate was just 2%. However, this may be because the introduction of new drug-driving legislation has increased awareness of the effects of the 12 prescription drugs specifically identified.
In December 2014, Scotland tightened up their drink-driving laws and reduced the blood alcohol limit to 50mg/100ml. 56% of motorists support a cut to 50mg/100ml or less across the rest of the UK.