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Attitudes to road safety

London traffic
Researchers: Alun Humphrey
Published: February 2011


To examine people’s attitudes towards road safety.

To establish a high-quality baseline of data for 2010, with the scope to repeat the survey in future in order to measure trends over time if desired.


Many people’s perceptions out of line with statistics on road casualties

The evidence suggests that many people’s perceptions are out of line with official statistics on contributory factors to road casualties.

  • Only 5% of road casualties in 2009 involved someone driving while over the legal alcohol limit but 30% of people believe driving after drinking alcohol is the most common cause of road casualties.
  • The police report ‘failing to look properly’ is the most frequently recorded contributory factor to personal injury road accidents (38% of all accidents) but only 13% of survey respondents mentioned ‘road users not paying enough attention to the road’ as a factor.

People are inclined to feel levels of enforcement are too low

  • Around three-quarters feel enforcement is too low for driving while under the influence of illegal drugs (76%) and using a hand-held mobile while driving (75%).
  • 62% say that enforcement is too low for driving or riding carelessly and 51% for driving after one or two drinks.
  • However, only one-third (33%) believe enforcement of exceeding the speed limit is too low.

Many drivers who consider themselves law-abiding report risky behaviours

Overall, 88% feel they are law-abiding car drivers, but:

  • 89% of drivers reported they had been speeding on one or more occasion in the past 12 months;
  • over half (56%) had driven when tired;
  • more than a third (36%) had driven after drinking one or two alcoholic drinks.
  • one-sixth (15%) had driven when not wearing a seat belt.

In addition, while 7% of drivers admitted to having driven when they thought they were over the limit, 43% said they knew someone who had done this.

And in general, men were more likely than women to engage in ‘risky’ behaviours, as were younger drivers compared with to older drivers.


Questions asked as part of the NatCen Omnibus, conducted between February and April 2010, using a random selection of 1,538 householders from Royal Mail's Postcode Address File.


Read the report