Charity appeals: pledge to drive safely and legally, as two thirds admit breaking traffic laws

9 October 2013

Brake, the road safety charity 

Overconfidence and complacency is leading to widespread illegal risk-taking on roads, warns Brake, the road safety charity, and Direct Line. Brake and Direct Line's research out today (9 October) shows while almost all drivers (99%) believe they are comparatively safe, two thirds (69%) admit putting others at risk by breaking traffic laws.

Brake and Direct Line are launching an appeal to drivers' better nature, urging them to sign Brake's Pledge to help prevent the devastating crashes that often result from risky law-breaking at the wheel.

Brake and Direct Line's survey of 1,000 drivers across the UK has found:

  • Nearly all drivers (99%) think they are at least as safe as the average driver. More than two thirds (69%) admit breaking traffic laws. A third (35%) say they break laws because they believe they can handle it, while another third (33%) admit it's down to not paying attention.
  • Only a small minority (1%) say they know they're taking risks, but do it anyway.

Every day, five people are killed and 63 are seriously injured on UK roads [1], causing appalling suffering to families and communities. The vast majority of crashes involve drivers' risk-taking [2], and could be easily prevented by drivers committing to following basic safe driving principles, such as staying well within speed limits, slowing right down for bends, brows, bad weather and in built-up areas, never using a phone at the wheel, and never driving on drink or drugs.

Brake is urging all drivers to help prevent needless and devastating crashes and casualties by making the Pledge – a personal commitment to stay safe and legal.

Brake is also calling on government to ensure there is a strong deterrent against law-breaking, and that drivers who repeatedly flout the law are taken off the road. Brake calls for greater priority and funding for specialist roads policing – a proven deterrent to risk-driving [3] – and action to tighten up our penalty points system so drivers who tot up 12 points or more can't escape a ban by pleading 'exceptional hardship'.

Read about Brake's Crackdown campaign.
Read the survey report.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "It is deeply concerning so many drivers break vital traffic laws, yet still believe they are safe. Anyone who thinks they can handle speeding, using a phone at the wheel or drink-driving is fooling themselves and taking an appalling chance with people's lives. The evidence is clear: if you break traffic laws you risk causing terrible harm to yourself and others. The first step to being a truly safe driver is to recognise that protecting people is your number one priority when you get behind the wheel – far more important than getting there a bit faster, or answering a call. Traffic laws exist to protect people from death and injury, and staying within them is a fundamental responsibility for everyone who drives. We are calling on drivers to make Brake's Pledge to always drive safely and legally, to help reduce the number of people needlessly killed and hurt on our roads."

Rob Miles, head of Motor at Direct Line, said: "Drivers continue to flout the rules of the road without realising the devastating impact their actions can have. Traffic laws are there for a reason and breaking them puts other road users and pedestrians' lives at risk. The biggest reason for road collisions is excessive speed, so rather than trying to beat the traffic and getting to your destination a couple of minutes earlier, we're urging motorists to slow down and have more consideration for other road users so that everyone arrives at their destination safely."

Every day, five people are killed and 63 are seriously injured on roads in the UK [4]. These casualties inflict terrible suffering [5], yet are completely avoidable. The vast majority are at least partly caused by drivers taking risks, such as speeding, or being distracted or impaired; more than 95% of fatal and serious crashes are down to human error [6].
As well as the appalling human suffering that results from crashes, they also have an enormous financial impact. In 2012, they cost the taxpayer £34.3 billion due to the burden on health and emergency services, criminal justice costs, insurance payouts, and human costs [7].

Traffic laws are there to prevent devastating crashes, and no driver is able to break traffic laws safely, no matter how much experience or skill they have. Basic physics means speeding drivers have less time to react to hazards and stop in an emergency, and will hit harder if they do crash. Drivers distracted by a phone call are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury [8], because of increased reaction times and poorer lane control. And if you've had even small amounts of alcohol, reaction times increase, and judgment and co-ordination are impaired.

Driving is an everyday activity for many people. This can lead to complacency and overconfidence behind the wheel, causing drivers to take dangerous risks, sometimes without a second thought. Yet the reality is that this risk-taking often results in crashes, sometimes with appalling consequences. That's why Brake is urging all drivers to pledge to be a careful and considerate driver and stick to traffic laws at all times: a socially responsible and potentially life-saving and commitment.

Read and make the Brake Pledge.

Calls for government action
Brake is calling on the government to prioritise and fund greater levels of specialist roads policing. Roads police play a vital role in keeping us safe on roads; their work is proven to save lives and prevent injuries and suffering, so more police means safer roads [9]. A strong deterrent sends the message that road crimes are incredibly dangerous and will be taken seriously.

Worryingly, there's been a year on year decline in specialist roads traffic police, with an overall cut in numbers across Great Britain between 2008 and 2012. While traffic police in Scotland increased by 4%, numbers were down by 31% in Wales, and 13% in England [10].

While the fixed penalty fine for driving offences, including speeding and mobile phone use, recently increased to £100 from £60 (plus three points), Brake remains concerned this does not provide enough of a deterrent given these crimes can and do lead to injury and death. Brake calls on the government to increase these fines to £500-£1,000, to reflect the potentially deadly consequences.

Brake is also urging action to tighten up our penalty points system, by ensuring that drivers who tot up 12 points are automatically disqualified. At present, many drivers are successfully pleading 'exceptional hardship' in court and keeping their licence, despite repeatedly flouting the law. There are around 8,000 drivers in Great Britain with 12 points or more who have been allowed to keep their licence [11].

Case study
Fenella Shelton, then age 21, had just left her home in Southampton on 3 November 2007 and was using a pelican crossing to get to the local common for a run when she was hit by a speeding driver. She was crossing the 30mph Avenue in central Southampton when she was hit by a car, leaving her with multiple serious injuries.

Fenella was left with an open multi-fragmented fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in one leg, which required nine surgeries and seven visits to hospital to repair. She also suffered a broken scapula, broken ribs, and injuries to her internal organs. She spent three years recovering from her injuries, and had to take a year out of medical school. The driver who hit her, Benjamin Vallis, pleaded guilty to driving without insurance, without a licence, and careless driving and received a £600 fine and a six month driving ban.

Fenella says: "I'm so angry I lost three years of my life to recovering from a crash because a driver just didn't think about his speed. People need to be more aware when they're driving, but too many don't consider the consequences. I'm lucky to be alive and to still have my leg, but others aren't so fortunate, and I wouldn't wish my injuries on anyone. Too many drivers think they can handle taking risks on roads, but the reality is that they can't; by speeding or breaking other traffic laws, you are risking causing horrendous injuries or even killing someone. It's just not worth the risk."

About the report
These survey results come from section one of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2013 – 2014 Fit to drive, released today (Wednesday 9 October). Read the report.

Full results
How do you think the safety of your driving compares with that of an average driver on the roads today?

  • 44% said safer than most
  • 55% said about average
  • 1% said more dangerous

Thinking about the behaviour of other drivers within the past 12 months, what is your impression of the standard of driving on the roads?

  • 5% said the roads are full of dangerous drivers and there are hardly any safe drivers
  • 36% said there is a mixture of safe and dangerous driving but more dangerous than safe
  • 58% said there is a mixture, but more safe than dangerous drivers
  • 1% said the roads are full of safe drivers and there are hardly any dangerous drivers

Which statement is most applicable to you?

  • 32% said I never break traffic laws
  • 33% said I break traffic laws sometimes, but only when I'm not paying attention
  • 35% said I break traffic laws sometimes, but only when I know I can do so safely
  • 1% said I break traffic laws frequently, and sometimes when I know it's taking a risk

Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.
Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.
Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.
Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting

End notes:
[1] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain main report 2012, Department for Transport, 2013 and Police Recorded Injury Road Traffic Collision Statistics 2012, Police Service for Northern Ireland, 2013
[2] Dimensions of aberrant driver behaviour, Rumar, K., 1995. Ergonomics, 41, pp.39-56.
[3] Traffic Law Enforcement across the EU: Tackling the Three Main Killers on Europe's Roads, European Transport Safety Council, 2011
[4] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain main report 2012, Department for Transport, 2013 and Police Recorded Injury Road Traffic Collision Statistics 2012, Police Service for Northern Ireland, 2013
[5] Review into the needs of families bereaved through homicide, Victims Commissioner, July 2011
[6] Dimensions of aberrant driver behaviour, Rumar, K., 1995. Ergonomics, 41, pp.39-56.
[7] Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2011 Annual Report, Department for Transport, 2012
[8] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005
[9] Traffic Law Enforcement across the EU: Tackling the Three Main Killers on Europe's Roads, European Transport Safety Council, 2011
[10] Research briefing: levels of traffic police2008-2012 in GB, Brake and, 2013
[11] Statistics released under Freedom of Information by the DVLA in April 2013