Risky tailgating and speeding rife on UK motorways

Thursday 22 May 2014

Brake, the road safety charity

Six in 10 UK drivers own up to risky tailgating (57%) and a similar proportion break the limit by 10mph or more (60%) on motorways and 70mph dual carriageways, with men by far the worst offenders, a survey by Brake and Direct Line reveals.

Almost all drivers say they worry about other drivers tailgating on motorways: 95% are at least occasionally concerned about vehicles too close behind them; more than four in ten (44%) are concerned every, or most, times they drive on a motorway.

By driving too close to the vehicle in front and breaking the speed limit, drivers are leaving themselves far too little time to react in an emergency, risking devastating crashes. Crashes on 70mph roads are more than twice as likely to result in death as crashes on roads with lower speed limits [1]. In 2012 (most recent data available) there were 88 deaths and 654 serious injuries on UK motorways [2]. There have been approximately 1,400 deaths in the 10 years since Tracey and Steve Mohabir lost their two year old son Marcus in May 2014 [3][4]. See case study below.

Brake and Direct Line's survey reveals that in the past year:

  • Almost six in ten (57%) admit leaving less than a two-second gap between themselves and the vehicle in front, with almost three in ten (28%) doing so monthly or more. More men (61%) admit doing so than women (53%).
  • Six in ten (60%) admit breaking the 70mph speed limit by 10mph or more, with almost three in ten (28%) doing so monthly or more. Men are the worst offenders, with almost seven in ten (69%) doing 80mph or more, and more than a third (36%) doing so at least monthly, compared with just over half (53%) and two in ten (22%) women, respectively.

Read the full report (embargoed).

Brake urges all drivers to always keep at least a two-second gap between themselves and the vehicle in front, extending this to four seconds or more in wet weather or poor visibility – on all roads, not just motorways. Drivers should also keep within the posted speed limit at all times, including temporary and variable limits; not only will this reduce your chances of a horrific crash, but it will also reduce fuel consumption [5].

Brake recently supported Highway Agency proposals to roll out speed cameras on stretches of 'smart' motorways, and urges the government to extend the used of average speed cameras across the network.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "Almost all drivers are concerned about the danger posed by other people tailgating on motorways, and yet a shockingly high proportion admit driving too close and speeding themselves. There are no two ways about it: ignore the two-second rule or the speed limit on motorways and you're putting yourself and others at risk of a horrific crash. Traffic laws are not just for other people: all drivers can help make our motorways safer and prevent needless tragedies by committing to keep your distance and stay under speed limits, including temporary lower limits."

Rob Miles, director of motor trading at Direct Line, commented: "Driving too closely to the car in front of you is asking for trouble. Drive too closely at speed and motorists risk not only their own life but other road users' lives too. Whilst the UK's motorways have proportionately less crashes than other roads, speed is still the biggest killer of road users. We believe it is better to save lives than to save a few minutes of journey time".

Simon Sheldon-Wilson, traffic management director at the Highways Agency, said: "Safety is our top priority and we are committed to continuing to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. Congestion on the strategic road network is estimated to cost the economy £3 billion each year, 25 per cent of which is caused by incidents. That's why we remind drivers of the dangers of tailgating and support Brake's advice to keep a safe distance from the car in front and to adhere to fixed and variable speed limits."

Tweet us: @Brakecharity. Read the survey report.

Case study
Marcus Mohabir, 2, from Surrey, was one of eight people killed in a horrific crash on the A23 near Pycombe, Sussex, on May 16 2004 – 10 years ago this month. His dad, Steve Mohabir, was driving him back from a day trip to Brighton, along with Steve's friends Tom and Kate Beasley, when a black BMW travelling in the other direction crashed through the central reservation and hit their Land Rover head-on. Marcus, Mr and Mrs Beasley, and all five occupants of the BMW were killed. Steve was severely injured, suffering a crushed vertebra that left him unable to return to his job as a chef. Trapped in the wreckage, he held his dying son's hand as rescue teams battled to free them.

The coroner's inquest found the 19 year old driver of the BMW had been travelling well over the 70mph speed limit and tailgating other vehicles.

Tracey Mohabir, Marcus' mum, said: "In the ten years since the crash, Steve and I have tried to move on. But I still think constantly about the day we lost Marcus and our friends Toby and Kate. We have since had another child, Max, who has grown up without ever having known his brother; he often asks about him. I think about the other families a lot, and I feel incredibly sorry for all of them. The loss of life not only affects family but has a ripple effect on friends, colleagues and others who have to pick up the pieces."

"Many other families have lost loved ones on our motorways and dual carriageways since we lost Marcus, often as a result of people driving too fast and too close to other vehicles. Driving over the speed limit has become a habit for many people, and it's a habit we have to break to prevent yet more needless deaths and injuries."

Due to the way they are designed, and the fact there are fewer unexpected hazards, motorways have lower crash rates per mile travelled than other road types. However, when crashes do occur, often related to bad weather, queues, or debris on the road, the consequences are more likely to be fatal due to the high speed of traffic. Crashes on 70mph roads are more than twice as likely to result in death as crashes on roads with lower speed limits [6].

If you need to stop suddenly while driving at 70mph, you will travel 21 metres while you're thinking, before you even hit the brakes. And you'll travel that distance in less than a second. Your total stopping distance at this speed is 96m, or 21 car lengths [7].

Increases in speed on motorways, which some drivers may consider small, can make a massive difference in stopping distances and crash likelihood. At 80mph, stopping distances are 27% greater than at 70mph (122 metres compared to 96 metres). Research shows reducing the average speed on a road by just 1mph is likely to reduce the frequency of crashes by 5% [8].

In the USA, a study found that in states that raised limits from 65mph to 75mph death rates rose by 38% on these roads [9]. Germany, which has autobahns famous for their lack of speed limits, has a death rate on these roads that is 75% higher than comparable roads in the UK [10].

Higher speeds on motorways lead to increased fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Vehicles travelling at 80mph use 10-20% more fuel than those travelling at 70mph [11].

Brake's advice
It is vital to keep at least a two-second gap behind the vehicle in front – this is your braking space in a crisis. In wet weather or poor visibility, extend your gap to four seconds and never hang on to the lights of the vehicle in front. You will be too close for safety and not 'reading the road' for yourself. Dropping back helps you to spot hazards and drive more smoothly. The rule works at all speeds, not just on motorways.

Always keep within the posted speed limit – this is a limit, not a target. Travelling at up to 80mph on a motorway is unlikely to get you to your destination much faster [12], particularly on our congested motorway network where it will probably involve speeding up and slowing down repeatedly. However, it will increase your fuel consumption considerably and dramatically reduce your chances of avoiding a crash in an emergency – the small reward isn't worth the potential risk.

Calls for government action
Brake urges the government to nationally promote the importance of the two-second rule and keeping within posted speed limits on motorways, as well as extending the roll out of average speed cameras across the UK motorway network.

Brake also fully supports the rolling out of managed motorways incorporating variable speed limits and traffic monitoring and control, but without hard shoulder running.

About the report
These survey results come from Report 4, Section 3 of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012 – 2014 Fit to Drive, released today (Thursday 22 May 2014). The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Surveygoo. Read the report.

Full results
Q1: Within the past 12 months, how often have you driven at 80mph or faster on a 70mph motorway or dual carriageway?

  • 40% said never (male 31%, female 47%)
  • 32% said less than once a month (male 34%, female 31%)
  • 17% said about once a month (male 19%, female 15%)
  • 7% said about once a week (male 9%, female 5%)
  • 4% said several times a week or more (male 7%, female 2%)

Q2: Within the past 12 months on motorways, how often have you left less than a two-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front?

  • 43% said never (male 39%, female 47%)
  • 28% said less than once a month (male 32%, female 26%)
  • 11% said about once a month (male 11%, female 12%)
  • 7% said about once a week (male 8%, female 6%)
  • 10% said several times a week or more (male 10%, female 10%)

Q3: Within the past 12 months, have you ever felt concerned about drivers driving too close behind you on motorways?

  • 16% said yes, every time (male 17%, female 15%)
  • 28% said yes, most times (male 28%, female 27%)
  • 30% said yes, sometimes (male 27%, female 33%)
  • 21% said yes, occasionally (male 22%, female 21%)
  • 5% said no, never (male 6%, female 4%)

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, a Fleet Safety Forum, practitioner services, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

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 UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK 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 www.directline.com.

End notes
[1] New Directions in Speed Management: A Review of Policy, Department for Transport, 2000
[2] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2012: Annual Report, Department for Transport, 2013
[3] ibid
[4] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2011: Annual Report, Department for Transport, 2012
[5] Third Progress Report to Parliament, Committee on Climate Change, 2011
[6] New Directions in Speed Management: A Review of Policy, Department for Transport, 2000
[7] Stopping distances as contained in the Highway Code, Department for Transport, 2012
[8] New Directions in Speed Management: A Review of Policy, Department for Transport, 2000
[9] Relation of Speed and Speed Limits to Crashes, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2005
[10] Increasing the motorway speed limit, PACTS, 2004
[11] Third Progress Report to Parliament, Committee on Climate Change, 2011
[12] Increasing the motorway speed limit, PACTS, 2004