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Report on Motoring 2018: 1. What's on motorists' minds?

Blog post   •   Sep 21, 2018 09:00 BST

This year’s Report on Motoring has found that motorists’ most often cited concern is now the condition and maintenance of local roads.

The Report asks drivers to name the four motoring-related issues that concern them most from a list of the 20 most commonly raised, to produce a percentage that shows the level of overall ‘concern’ about each particular issue.

In 2018, 42% of motorists say the state of local roads is an issue of concern, and this proportion is significantly higher than the 33% recorded 12 months ago. The 42% figure translates to around 16m UK drivers who are dissatisfied with the state of the country’s local roads, and it represents the highest level of concern for any single issue at any point over the last four years.

2008 Flashback

In the 2008 Report on Motoring, 60% of drivers said they thought the increased cost of motoring was one of the biggest changes of the previous 20 years – although that year’s Report found that motoring-related expenses had actually fallen in real terms since 1988.

The second largest concern in 2018 is motorists’ use of handheld mobile phones: 38% say this is a concern, down slightly on last year’s 40%. The cost of fuel is the third-ranked concern, although this was mentioned by just 29% of motorists.

The fourth-ranked issue of total concern this year is the aggressive behaviour of other road users (28%), while drink-driving (27%) is ranked fifth – up from eighth place in 2017 (24%).

A quarter of motorists (25%) say that the cost of insurance is a concern, and a similar proportion feel that about people driving without tax or insurance, although in both cases this is a slightly lower percentage than 12 months ago.

Concern about congestion rose in 2016 but there has not been a further increase since then. In fact, there has been a small decrease – from 26% to 24% – in the percentage of motorists who say congestion or slower journey times is a concern, positioning this as the eighth-ranked concern.

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) indicate that traffic volumes increased in 2017 by 1.3%. However, motorists appear less phased by this and more worried about road conditions than the number of cars on the roads this year.

Concern about the environmental impact of motoring and the negative effects of diesel emissions on health have increased to some extent this year, but these issues remain well down the overall ranking of motorists’ priorities.

1988 Flashback

In 1988, the Report on Motoring asked drivers for their predictions of life on the road in the then-distant year of 2001:

85% expected all cars to be required to use unleaded petrol which 77% believed would only be sold in litres not gallons

56% expected cars to be banned from all town centres

53% thought London’s cars would only be able to travel at walking pace during rush hour 

1.1 The state of our roads

The state of the UK’s local roads, and in particular the hazards presented to road users by the apparently ever-increasing number of potholes, has been among the leading concerns cited by the motorists surveyed for the Report for several years.

In 2018, however, our research has identified a sharp rise in the proportion of drivers who say the condition and maintenance of such roads is a top concern: this is now 42% of all those questioned against just 33% in 2017 and 38% a year earlier.

It should be pointed out that these figures are a measure of relative concern – in some cases, falling concern about certain issues, for example the cost of motoring or handheld mobile phone use, will inevitably result in rising concern in other areas and vice versa.

However, as we highlight in Chapter 2, further data collected in this year’s survey confirms there has been a definite step change – very much for the worse – in motorists’ views on the state of our roads. Significantly for policymakers, this comes at a time when both official government statistics and this Report’s own findings (see Chapter 5) suggest road use in the UK is on the rise.

“I think there is a strong case to be made that the weather conditions experienced in many parts of the UK at the end of winter have had a significant impact on the condition of both local and major roads, and that this has been reflected in this year’s Report.”

MIKE QUINTON: Chief Executive, IAM RoadSmart

As well as highlighting motorists’ overall concerns, the Report on Motoring also asks respondents to identify their single ‘top concern’: this year, 17% of motorists say the condition and maintenance of local roads is their number-one issue. Again, this represents a significant increase on the 2017 figure (10%).

Concern about the condition and maintenance of Britain’s motorways and major A-roads (or so-called ‘strategic’ roads) remains far lower than for local roads. Just 2% (unchanged from 2017) of drivers cite this issue as their top concern, ranking it 14th on the list of top concerns.

Nevertheless, there is a significant increase in the percentage of drivers claiming that the surface condition of strategic roads is worse now than 12 months ago.

1998 Flashback

The RAC urged the Government to recognise the inevitability of people using their cars more and to ensure they invested sufficiently in the road infrastructure and road management to enable it to cope with the increase in demand.

1.2 The behaviour of other drivers

The issue that ranks second on the list of total concern this year is the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel: 38% of drivers say this is a current concern, although this is marginally down on the 40% in 2017, when it was motorists’ biggest overall concern.

When asked about the aggressive behaviour of other drivers, a total of 28% name this as one of their top concerns in 2018. This makes aggressive behaviour one of the most significant overall concerns, ranking fourth behind the state of local roads, handheld phone use and the cost of fuel.

In fifth place this year is drivers under the influence of drink: 27% say this is a major concern, which represents a small but statistically significant increase on the 24% in last year’s Report.

Drug-driving is less of a concern: 20% of motorists say this is one of the four most important issues, ranking it in 10th place overall. When combined, however, 38% of drivers say that either drink- or drug-driving – or both – are issues of significant concern, up from 34% in 2017.

There has been a fall in overall concern both about people driving without tax or insurance (25% from 29% in 2017) and drivers breaking traffic laws (22% against 25% in 2017). These issues rank seventh and ninth respectively this year.

We report further data about motorists’ views on the hazards outlined above, as well as attitudes to speeding and measures to tackle dangerous behaviour, in Chapter 3 of this Report.

1.3 The cost of motoring

The cost of fuel is the third biggest issue for motorists, with 29% citing it as one of their top-four concerns this year – this represents a slight increase on 2017’s 28%. Eight per cent of drivers say their petrol, diesel or electricity costs for their vehicle have fallen in the past year, up from 6% who took this view in 2017. Nonetheless, a majority (61%) say their fuel expenses have increased since last year; the same proportion as 12 months ago, while 27% report no change (down from 32% in 2017).

These figures are consistent both with the increase in vehicle miles reported by the DfT (traffic volumes increased in 2017 by 1.3%) and also the fact that forecourt prices have steadily increased over the past year. At the end of May 2017, for example, the average cost of a litre of unleaded was just over 116p, but 12 months later it was over 126p largely due to rising oil prices and a weakening pound against the dollar.

However, the timing of the survey for this year’s Report means that some of the fuel price increases seen in May 2018 will not be reflected in the figures set out in this section.

Total concern about the cost of insurance has fallen from 28% to 25% – a statistically significant decrease – over the past 12 months, and this issue now ranks sixth overall.

It should be noted the rate of insurance premium tax was raised to 12% in June 2017, the third increase in the tax in less than three years.

However, industry figures suggest typical comprehensive premiums have nonetheless declined during the period covered by this year’s Report (the 12 months to May 2018).

This trend may help to explain the fact that 10% of motorists report their premiums have fallen over the past year compared with 6% who said the same in 2017.

The proportion of motorists who say their car tax bill has increased (39%), stayed the same (51%) or fallen (6%) in the past 12 months has not changed when compared with the 2017 Report.

A similar picture emerges on car maintenance and repair costs: 45% say they have increased, the same proportion say they have remained the same and 3% report they have fallen.

This year’s data shows some differences between drivers of plug-in hybrid vehicles and the average: for example, they are, not surprisingly, far more likely to report that fuel costs have fallen. Almost two-thirds of plug-in hybrid drivers (63%) say their fuel expenditure is lower this year, a reflection of the fact that motorists who have switched from a conventionally fuelled vehicle since 2017 are likely to have seen their bills fall.

At the same time, a third (33%) of plug-in hybrid drivers say their insurance costs are lower than a year ago. Concern about the cost of parking has barely changed over the past 12 months: 16% say this is a top-four concern against 17% in 2017.

More than half of motorists (56%) say general parking charges have increased since last year (24% say they have stayed the same), while 16% report a rise in residents’ parking permits (16% no change and 59% said this charge does not apply to them). Many cash-strapped local authorities have increased parking charges to help balance the books and this is reflected in these figures.

The percentage of those saying their residents’ parking charges have risen is greater in London (29% vs 16% average) and this may have been influenced by some London boroughs introducing surcharges for diesel vehicle owners.

Finally, 23% of motorists say their expenditure on road tolls has risen over the past 12 months, while 21% say they have remained static (and 38% say this does not apply to them).

How motorists respond to this question is likely to depend on where they live. For those who, for example, regularly use the Dartford Crossing or the M6 Toll, the response will be heavily influenced by what has happened to the charges on these roads.