The DfT has published the annual THINK! road safety survey, and we feature the key findings in this special report.
The fieldwork was conducted by BMRB in October 2008, before the launch of the new THINK! seat belt and speed campaigns.
General findings The road safety issues that the public feel the government should address do not appear to be changing over time; the top three remain drink drive (70%), speeding (47%) and the use of mobile phone when driving (48%).
This time round fewer respondents mentioned drug driving (28% vs 33%) and child road awareness (16% vs 20%) compared with 2007.
Concerns over drink driving are reflected in the public’s tolerance of random breath testing, with 51% ‘agreeing completely’ that the police should be given the powers to stop any motorist at any time and breath test them (overall, 81% agree, 19% disagree).
The profile of drivers is changing. While in 2006, 55% of drivers had been driving for more than 20 years, this had increased to 62% in 2008.
Social acceptability The survey monitors the public in general, and drivers in particular, in terms of what behaviours they consider socially acceptable, what they consider dangerous and what they themselves admit to doing.
In order to get a sense of proportion the survey included non-road use behaviours in the list of options.
Shoplifting was considered to be unacceptable by 95% of respondents, followed by life-threatening driving behaviours such as driving after taking drugs (94%), not wearing a seatbelt in the front (92%) and using a mobile phone when driving (92%).
The only drink drive related statement was ‘driving after drinking two pints’ and on this measure only 68% consider this unacceptable.
The high level of social unacceptability given to drug driving contrasted with the relatively low level of importance given to it as an issue that respondents think the government should address. This suggests that the public do not see this behaviour as constituting a serious threat to road user safety at this time.
Driving at 40mph in a 30mph zone is now considered more acceptable than dropping litter
(66% v 70%).
In a 1995 NOP survey, 79% of respondents found this behaviour unacceptable. While care must be taken when comparing surveys conducted using different methodologies, this should strike a note of caution and may suggest that the ‘Lucky’ commercial is beginning to lose its impact after four years.
The THINK! team will be carefully monitoring the impact of the new speed campaign launched in February, with regard to attitudes to exceeding the 30mph limit.
Dangerous driving This is a key measure for the THINK! team - it considers respondents who do not ‘completely agree’ that behaviours are dangerous, as more likely to perform those behaviours and therefore a key target.
The survey shows that driving after taking a Class A drug is considered more dangerous than driving after cannabis (91% vs 82% of drivers ‘completely agree’).
81% of drivers ‘completely agree’ that it is dangerous to drive if you are unsure if you are over the legal alcohol limit. This increases to 87% ‘completely agreeing’ that it is dangerous to drive if you are over the legal limit. This is a return to the same level as 2006, following an increase to 94% in 2007.
The THINK! campaign that has been running since June 2007 has focused on the likelihood of getting caught drink driving and the immediate personal consequences, as this was found to be the message most likely to motivate young drivers to be cautions about drinking before driving.
This approach has been hugely successful in increasing the level of belief in the likelihood of getting caught by the police, and there is evidence of a reduction in the prevalence of this behaviour. However, the current strategy may be impacting on how dangerous drivers perceive the behaviour to be, and the THINK! team is planning to review this strategy in 2010.
Speeding remains an issue with only 36% of drivers ‘completely agreeing’ that driving over the speed limit is dangerous. Non-drivers are more inclined to believe that this is dangerous, with 56% ‘completely agreeing’.
Drivers are far more likely to agree that it is dangerous to drive too fast for the conditions (77%), suggesting that they may trust their own judgement to keep them safe rather that the legal speed limits.
Texting is seen as the most dangerous mobile phone related behaviour (84% of drivers, unchanged from 2007). 78% believe that it is dangerous to use the phone and drive without a hands free kit (25% with hands free).
Road user behaviour Using a self-completion laptop questionnaire to reassure respondents that their replies are anonymous, the survey asks people whether they themselves undertake dangerous driving behaviours.
This year the survey also asked them if they knew people who carried out dangerous behaviours, in order to get a better sense of the prevalence of these behaviours.
The survey found that 5% of drivers admit to driving when they know they are over the legal alcohol limit, and 31% say they know people who do it. Young people are most likely to say they have driven over the limit, or know people who do.
With regards to driving over the speed limit, the gap is narrowing between those who say they do it themselves and claiming to know others who do (71% vs 76%), which is probably a reflection of the lack of social stigma attached to this behaviour. This contrasts with driving in excess of 90mph when there is no traffic, with 38% admitting to doing it themselves, but 62% claiming to know others who do.
There is a decline in the number claiming to use a mobile phone without hands-free when driving - from 21% in 2006, to 16% in 2008. 12% of drivers claim to text when driving, and 25% to using the phone with hands free.
A quarter of respondents claim not always to wear a seat belt in the back of a car, and 10% of drivers (15% non drivers) do not always wear one in the front. The fieldwork was conducted before the new seat belt campaign was launched.
3% claim to drive sometimes without insurance
The THINK! brand Prompted awareness of the brand remains high at 81% overall, and 85% among drivers. There is little change in the brand image which remains strong, with 51% describing it as ‘helpful’, 46% ‘thought-provoking’ (down from 2006 when it was 51%), 27% ‘influential’ and 24% ‘caring’.
There are no serious negative characteristics associated with the brand (e.g. ‘boring’ 6%; ‘old fashioned’ 6%; ‘irrelevant’ 6%; ‘bossy’ 3%)