/ Motoring

Brand or safety: what’s driving car buyers?

Car sign

What’s most important to you when buying a car? Not safety according to a survey by the road safety charity Brake. Here’s Ed from Brake on why they’re calling on car buyers to put safety first.

Turn on your TV. Wait for the ad break. How many are for cars?

These days, it seems like every other ad. I guess this has been the case for a long time. But now, they somehow seem more insistent – chasing their share of the market in a society where owning your own car is no longer quite the mark of personal status it once was.

We are invited to ‘fall back in love with driving’. But how? What are the pull factors that guide our buying decisions?

Watching these ads gives us a hint. The traditionalist marketers go for power, performance; the cachet of a classic brand. Those more in tune with the zeitgeist go with connectivity, the ‘infotainment’ systems that keep us constantly in touch with the world.

And – encouragingly from Brake’s point of view – some lead on safety, from autonomous emergency braking, to speed limiters – a feature that might once have been seen as commercial suicide.

Brake’s survey says…

When Brake asked drivers what’s driving their decision making, safety features came a disappointing third, just under half citing it as one of their most important considerations.

It gets more interesting when we look at young drivers (aged 17-24). For them, safety scored only 37% – pipped to the post by brand on 39%.

What do we make of this? Is it unfair to suggest young drivers don’t care about safety? Perhaps it’s not just flashy marketing that draws in inexperienced car buyers. Perhaps they implicitly trust that the most well-known brands are the safest.

But are we right to trust car manufacturers to put safety first? Judging by the increasing proliferation of in-car ‘infotainment’ systems, giving access to social media and other functions unrelated to driving, we might be well advised to think twice.

Like hands-free kits, these systems are partly marketed as a safety feature – allowing us to stay connected while keeping our hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Our survey suggests some buyers find them a draw, young drivers especially – one in five 17-24 year olds said they want one. But, like hands-free kits, they could be just as dangerous as what they replace – it’s the cognitive distraction that’s the real killer.

At Brake, we’re asking car buyers to put safety first. You don’t have to be an expert. Make use of Euro NCAP ratings, which are shown in every Which? car review, and help you assess if your vehicle is protecting not just you and your passengers, but those around you too. And remember – a reputable brand is not automatically a byword for safety.

This is a guest post by Ed Morrow, campaigns and communications officer for Brake, the road safety charity. All opinions expressed here are Ed’s own and not necessarily those of Which?


Too much of the marketing of new car models is based around doing something else while you’re driving; it’s no longer about safely getting to a destination. And the destination is now a lifestyle, a concept, a state of mind – not a physical place. The look of the car, the modernistic Spanish locations where the adverts are filmed, the in-car experience, the admiration of passers-by, and the blatant status symbolism, all contribute to this image and push safety concerns into the ‘boring’ category. If any adverts actually show someone driving the car, there’s not much mirror observation going on, or steering, gear changing, and braking. It’s as if the car is independently controlled on auto-drive and the human ‘driver’ has been reduced to a mere occupant, not responsible for the other passengers, or for other road users, or for safety on the public highway. Who wants concentration when you can have distraction?


Absolutely agree with this. At Brake, we’re constantly trying to remind people that when their in their car, they’re operating a piece of heavy machinery in an unpredictable public environment – not relaxing in their living room.


Although we usually do so without any embarrassing grammatical errors…


Also, I think we all tend to assume that all cars are now very safe, as a result of EU and nanny state standards, regulations and legisation.


Many modern cars have disappointing levels of rearward visibility: small rear windows, stylish mirrors but with limited vision. For me it comes definitely to “function over form”. Firstly, I want a cabin that I am happy in (also in the dark), solid and adjustable seating, visible and understandable dials so that you are in control. That is a main safety issue to me. Complicated design, wrongly laid out controls are not good. Many a Renault and Fiat would not suit me for that reason. Secondly, it is about solidity and passive safety. Here most car makers have moved on with the times. Still, if you are in a Corsa and you do get hit by a high 4×4, then your risk of injury is clearly there…


Avoiding an accident is always better than using one to test the safety features engineered into a car.

Obviously the safety of Corsa drivers everywhere could be enhanced by banning high 4x4s…


Absolutely – ultimately, safety features on vehicles are a fall back measure. Any vehicle is only ever as safe as the driving behaviour of the person behind the wheel. Safety technology shouldn’t be viewed as a green light for complacency.


I’ve been looking at a head up display in a car; puts information like speed, basic direction information in your normal road view directly ahead in the windscreen so you don’t have to look down to see your speed or to the left to see the satnav. I would have thought this was a gimmick, but people who have used it would not be without it. Seems a good safety feature to me.