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Between the sense of invulnerability and reality
9/10 crashes are due to...
Human error, not the car

29th May 2006.

Despite statistical evidence that travelling by rail, air or sea is far safer than by car, a new study covering more than 1,000 motorists across the UK shows that car drivers feel safer behind the wheel than in other modes of transport.

However, although they feel safer at the wheel, drivers are terrified when sitting as a passenger.

In a study compiled by Brake and Green Flag, drivers felt safer behind the wheel than as a passenger on a train, plane or ferry – despite actually being aware that these alternative modes of transport are much less likely to end in disaster than a car journey. Nine people die on roads every day in the UK. However most respondents ranked being a passenger in a car as one of the modes of transport that made them feel least safe.

The motorists were asked to rank six different modes of transport (driver in car, passenger in car, bus, train, plane, and ferry) in order according to how safe they made them feel.

Two thirds (66%) ranked driving a car among the top three modes of transport that made them feel safest, with more than half of these (more than 38% of total sample) saying driving made them feel the safest out of all modes listed.

By comparison, only one 1 in 6 motorists (16%) said they felt safest on a train and only 1 in 10 (10%) felt safest on a ferry. 1 in 4 (26%) felt safest in a plane.

Only 1 in 33 (3%) of respondents said they felt safest when a passenger in a car. Nearly two thirds of respondents (59%) ranked being a passenger in a car as one of the modes of transport that made them feel least safe.

Revealingly, the research also shows that motorists actually know road transport is more dangerous than travel by rail, air or sea, even though they feel safer on roads.

When motorists are asked how safe different travel modes actually are (not the way they feel), travelling by plane comes out top – with nearly half (43%) of respondents saying it is probably the safest form of transport, compared with only 19% of respondents who think travelling by car is safest.

Nigel Charlesworth, spokesperson for Green Flag Motoring Assistance said: “The perception of the dangers associated with motoring are clearly at odds with the facts and while many of us rely on car transport in our daily lives, there is an acute need to become a nation of safer drivers.”

Mary Williams OBE, chief executive of Brake, said: “Drivers clearly have a false sense of invulnerability when driving a car, which they actually know isn’t real. If people deceive themselves about the inherent dangers of driving this may explain incessant risk-taking on the road and the daily death toll. About nine out of ten crashes are due to driver error.”

She added: “Imagine a jet falling out of the sky over Britain every fortnight killing 130 people on board – there would be a national outcry and no-one would travel by plane. Yet despite the fact that this is the number of people killed on our roads every fortnight, we still feel safe in our cars and think it won’t happen to us and we won’t hurt anyone else by our actions. Every time we drive we should remember the nine people who, on average, were killed on our roads yesterday and drive with extreme caution and humility today and tomorrow and beyond.”

Facts indicate that car occupants are 27 times more likely to be killed per km travelled than air and rail passengers combined, and 13.5 times more likely than bus and coach passengers. (Department for Transport, Transport Trends). Motorbikers are 37 times more likely to be killed per mile travelled than car occupants and three times more likely than cyclists. Bikers make up only about 1% of traffic but account for 19% of deaths and serious injuries (Department for Transport Motorcycling Strategy 2005).

Far from suggesting to give up travelling by car and motorbike, as they have roles that other means of transport cannot fulfil as nicely or comfortably or practically, or not at all, facts just remind us that in most cases, the danger is not in the car or the bike, but in the human error, coming from risk-taking or careless drivers, riders, passengers and sometimes from pedestrians, not to mention the worst: driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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