European drivers aware that inattentiveness kills but still unable to give up distractions at the wheel
The VINCI Autoroutes Foundation has released the results of its 2017 European Responsible Driving Barometer survey. Conducted by IPSOS on a sample of 12,429 European in 11 European Union countries, this vast survey provides a snapshot of European drivers’ behaviour. It identifies risky behaviour and best practices to help direct road safety messages in each country.
While the aim of the European Commission is to halve the number of road fatalities between 2010 and 2020, the number of deaths on European roads has only dropped by 19% in the past six years(1). In 2017, more than 1 out of every 2 Europeans (51%) feel that it will be difficult to make any significant further re- duction in the number of people killed on the road. Hope of seeing the number of deaths drop in the coming years has wors- ened in Spain (down 9 points) and Poland (down 8 points). Con- versely, confidence has risen in 2017 among Greeks (up 8 points), Italians (up 5 points) and Belgians (up 6 points); moreover, at 62%, the latter are the most optimistic among Europeans.
Inattentiveness is now seen by Europeans as the main cause of road accidents in general ahead of driving under the influ- ence of alcohol or drugs: 57% (up 5 points) of European and up to 75% of drivers in the Netherlands have identified this risk.
Yet, while driving, many Europeans still use their telephone or smartphone or adjust their GPS. Seemingly, drivers are inca- pable of doing without these everyday devices thereby increasing risky behaviour because of the distraction they cause(2). Nonethe- less, this behaviour does vary from country to country.
European driver behaviour:
80% of Europeans admit they have been afraid of another driver’s road rage, especially drivers in France and Slovakia (86%), but less so drivers in the Netherlands (65%).
Europeans are very critical of their compatriots: 83% use at least one negative adjective to describe others’ driving: “irresponsible” for 45% of Europeans (up to 65% of Poles), “stressed” for 36% (up to 63% of Swedes), “aggressive” for 33% (up to 42% of British), or even “dangerous” for 26% (up to 39% of French).
Conversely, they are less critical of their own driving as 97% of Europeans use at least one positive word to describe their driving. Europeans above all believe they are “cautious” (74% and up to 80% in Italy and Greece), “calm” (54% and up to 66% in the Netherlands) and even “courteous” (up to 48% of British driv- ers). Far fewer drivers lay blame at their own feet: only 14% of European and up to 18% of French drivers use a negative adjec- tive to describe their attitude. Still, 10% admit they are “stressed” when driving (up to 13% of French and British drivers), or even aggressive (3% and up to 5% in the United Kingdom). Just 1% says they are irresponsible or dangerous drivers.
54% of Europeans and up to 73% of Greeks but only 27% of Swedes admit they swear at other drivers. Also, 46% of Europeans admit they sometimes sound their horn excessively at a driver who annoys them (very prevalent in Spain with 60%), tailgate drivers who annoy them (31%) or overtake on the in- side lane on the motorway (31%). Even 15% say they get out of their vehicle to argue with another driver; a practice that is most widespread in Poland (26%) and Italy (25%).
The Swedish are perceived to be the most responsible drivers in Europeans’ eyes: 38% believe they are the most re- sponsible drivers in Europe. This perception is borne out by the country’s accident rate: (27 fatalities per million people com- pared with 50 for the European average(3). They are followed by the Germans, Dutch and the British in fourth place.
At the opposite end of the scale, the Italians are considered to be the least responsible drivers in Europe, a feeling shared by 27% of Europeans. They are followed by the Greeks (18%) and Poles (16%). The French tie for fourth position with the Spanish (8%). Moreover, these five countries rank themselves among the least responsible drivers.
Speeding: 89% of European drivers and up to 93% of Swedes admit they exceed the speed limit by a few kilometres, even though they believe speeding is one of the main causes of road (42%) and motorway (44%) fatalities.
Keeping a safe distance: 63% of European and even 76% of French drivers fail to stay a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead.
Indicating: 55% of European drivers forget to indicate when overtaking or turning. Non-compliance with this essential rule for ensuring good communication between drivers is particularly widespread in in France and Italy (60%).
Motorway driving: 54% of European drivers admit they stay in the centre lane even though the inside lane is free and more than one out of 10 (11%) use the emergency lane despite it be- ing exclusively reserved for emergency vehicles and emergency stopping.
Slowing down around worksites: 53% of European and up to 65% of Belgian drivers forget to slow down around worksites despite the potential risk for road workers.
Seat belts: 21% of European drivers still fail to buckle up when driving. Even if the French are the most likely to follow this rule, still one out of 10 fail to do so(4). The Greeks are the worst offend- ers where failure to use a seat belt is concerned (47%).
Drink driving: 11% of European drivers say they sometimes drive over the limit. This practice is most widespread in Greece (28%), Belgium (26%) and France (17%), but much less so in Sweden and Slovakia (3%), the United Kingdom and Poland (4%). This behaviour is confirmed by the results for the question about the number of drinks after which drivers decide not to get behind the wheel: 2 drinks on average for European drivers, but 2.8 for Greek, 2.7 for Belgian and 2.5 for French drivers compared with1.2 for Swedish, 1.3 for Polish and Slovak, and 1.5 for British drivers.
Drugs: 2% of European drivers admit to having driven after smoking cannabis; however this habit concerns 5.2% of men un- der 35 years-old.
38 % of European drivers identify drowsiness as one of the main causes of motorway fatalities, and 8% for road fatalities in general. In France, drowsiness is even quoted as the main cause of mo- torway fatalities (53%). This reflects the high level of awareness French drivers have about this issue since it is indeed the leading factor in motorway fatalities(5). Also, 25% of European and up to 33% of French drivers feel they may have dozed off for a few seconds while driving. 14% of the respondents admit they have drifted into the emergency lane or onto the hard shoulder during a moment of inatten- tiveness or when dozing off; this figures reaches 25% for French drivers. Yet, 41% of European and up to 51% of German drivers admit they have got behind the wheel because they had to even though they felt very tired.
While 71% of European drivers believe it is ill-advised to drive when tired, far too many still do (36%). They suffer from chronic sleep debt: 18% of Europeans sleep six hours or less on weeknights, whereas they sleep longer according to their bodies’ needs on weekends and when on holiday; and/or from an occasional lack of sleep, especially the night before setting off on a long car trip (81% go to bed later or get up earlier than usual, and 76% finish getting ready into the small hours the night before a departure. This lack of sleep is compounded by travel times that are still too long, as breaks are taken on average every 3 hours 14 minutes by European drivers, that is 8 minutes more than in 2016, and up to 4 hours 2 minutes for Poles, but 2 hours 46 minutes for Dutch drivers and 2 hours 48 minutes for French drivers. Only 26% of Europeans comply with the recommended two-hourly break.
Even though certain misconceptions about how to combat drowsiness persist (81% of European drivers think they can ward of fatigue by talking to a passenger, 61% by listening to music or the radio and 59% by opening the window), good reflexes during long journeys need to be recognized. For example:
60% (4% more than 2016) of European and up to 84% of Belgian drivers break long trips to take a nap
84% of European and up to 94% of Greek drivers schedule their departure time for long trips to take into account the time when their level of tiredness is at the lowest
73% (3% more than in 2016) of European and up to 79% of Swedish drivers swap drivers on long trips.