/ 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?

Phil says:
15 August 2015

So young drivers don’t worry as much about safety as they do about having a car that their mates will think is “cool”.

I would never have guessed.

Phil says:
15 August 2015

Some years ago what used to be Smiths Industries were experimenting with head up displays in cars. They’d fitted the HUD from a Harrier into a Ford Escort, it worked very well but you bought the HUD and got the car free…. These days HUDs in fighter aircraft are old fashioned, the information is displayed on a visor fitted to the pilots helmet, something that using the Google Glasses technology might be adaptable for cars. That way the driver would have the data in sight even if they weren’t looking directly at the road ahead.

SI had invented a device to disuade tailgating, two parallel lines were projected onto the windscreen which moved closer together as speed increased. As long as the vehicle in front fitted between the lines you were a safe distance behind them. One problem they found was that cars would get in the gap and you’d end up braking more and more to maintain that safe distance.

“One problem they found was that cars would get in the gap and you’d end up braking more and more to maintain that safe distance.”

That’s where some of the Harrier’s other kit, including the 30mm cannon and various rockets would come in handy!

DerekP, you highlight a more extreme form of aggression, but this seems to me to be a significant cause of accidents. You upset another driver and they want to get their own back, cutting you up driving in your boot, filling the gap in front when it is really too small as you say. Your particular solution could give you a problem in avoiding the resultant debris.

Can we ever change human nature to eliminate this irrational behaviour – irrational because you are just as likely to become a casualty in the resulting accident that you cause as the driver you wish to “teach a lesson”.

Maybe dash cameras could help – if the car carried a prominent notice warning others that their actions were being recorded. Perhaps front and rear ones should be standard equipment. I suspect like the phone warning – “your call may be recorded for security purposes” – it may prevent many people from acting inapproriately.


Of course, the correct response to having another car jump into ones “only a fool breaks the 2 second (or 4 second) rule” gap is just to slow down slightly and re-establish the gap.

Then repeat as required…

Driving a car promotes great feelings of isolation and invulnerability. You don’t get either of those on a motorcycle – and not having them probably helps many to learn to drive more safety and more considerately.

Talking of advertisement for cars even worse I find are interior scenes of drivers in films and on TV.

They are shown turning their heads towards their passengers when talking to them for long periods of time. When driving a long period is anything over a second. So much can change in front of the car in a very short time. The drivers should be shown concentrating on what is happening in front, behind and all around them not on the passengers.

Scenes showing correct driving technique would not have the dramatic impact perhaps and fill the gaps in the story-line so effectively. Most of these shots are done with the car mounted on a trailer so no driving is occurring at all, nevertheless the impression left on the viewer is not helpful to the cause of road safety. Documentary-type programmes are worse where the presenter is constantly turning their head away from the road to address a little camera fixed to the passenger-side window. In most cases there is no need for these clips to be done on the move or inside a vehicle even.

Robert C says:
15 August 2015

I have just bought a new(ish) car. It is a desirable brand, powerful etc etc. High on my list of priorities for the short list I drove were: safety rating, cruise control/speed limiter, emergency brake assist etc. It has them all and ABS was standard. The first thing I did was set up the bluetooth to disable the phone, as I do not use it when driving.

We need different cars for different uses (stop start in town, 1 person or a family, long journeys) so it is reasonable to advertise their strengths and uses. However it is a sad fact that people frequently do not want for pay for safety. In the 1980s I worked for a large company that supplied ABS and it was available on a well known small family car; our market research showed that people spent more money on a sun-roof and alloy wheels than on a safety feature (that cost a lot less).

Safety features (from passive, to active avoidance to crash worthiness) should not be options. Acceptable standards should be enforced by law and the public should be able to rely on that, but not choose to opt out. A classic misunderstanding is that many of the 4×4 complained about above are mistakenly bought be those wanting to protect their kids on the school run. A newer, small, car might be better.

As time goes on, more safety features are becoming standard equipment.

But any that are emerging, and thus potentially unproven and/or expensive, technologies should probably only be optional equipment.

I think ABS has been standard on all new UK cars for a while now.

Phil says:
16 August 2015

ABS has been mandatory on all new passenger vehicles since 2007.

It does seem curious that the most important technical aspect of the equation – the tyres – has received but scant note in this thread. Regardless of all other things the tyres are what is needed for steering and stopping.

Perhaps because I read the trade press and see the number of illegal tyres removed each year, and the difference that a few decimals of rubber depth makes in our wet and chilly climate I do find it depressing that it is ignored.

I should point out I do not own any shares in the tyre and asscociated industries so my interest is purely academic. However everything points to the fact of an increased minimum legal tyre depth AND mandating tyres that can deal with the UK’s temperature down to zero degrees would be easy fixes to implement.

Well Which? and BRAKE where do you stand on these matters.?

This may help explain some of the variables in the statistics:

” Understanding short term casualty trends; the impact of the weather – Page 2
There has been a long term downward trend in the number of people killed in reported road
accidents over the period 1979-2013. There are a number of factors which are likely to have
contributed to this trend such as technology advances, improved driver education and training and
improvements in post-accident care.
Chart 1: Number of people killed in reported road accidents, Great Britain: 1979-2013
The above factors help to explain long term trends, but weather patterns provide useful context to explain year-on-year changes in road casualty statistics. As the number of road casualties gets smaller, understanding the reasons behind year-on-year changes becomes more important. Over the past few years we have included sections on how weather patterns affected trends in road casualties in both annual and quarterly publications (see here). This chapter summarises the literature available on weather impacts on road accidents and casualties as well as discussing the main weather trends seen since 2010 and their likely impact on road casualties.”


Well said. Tyre importance is completely under-rated. I read somewhere that “summer tyres” are based upon operation at 25 deg C. So the stopping distance, wet performance etc that you see on the labels is defined at this temperature – if I understand this correctly, and I’m happy if anyone can correct me. IF this is the case …. how realistic is this for British driving. I’d love to see a graph of (for the same car/tyre combination) stopping distance versus temperature for realistic British temperatures, for summer and winter tyres respectively.

I think it wold make a huge amount of sense for Which? to comment, and if available show results, for the new tyres coming on to the EU market which are be flexible down to 0C.

It seems daft that the British public are even now agonising on winter and summer replacement tyres when there tyres designed for our weather patterns for sale now.

As a public service : )

The Multiseason is both M+S and 3PMSF marked and will be available across Europe in sizes for 13 to 16-inch rim diameters. The first nine dimensions will be introduced in July 2015, with 16 additional sizes to be launched in the coming year.

The new European All Season product designed for drivers living in urban areas searching for an innovative and alternative mobility solution.
CINTURATO™ ALL SEASON brings all the latest Pirelli premium technologies including Seal-Inside.

ATS Euromaster welcomed the launch of Michelin’s CrossClimate tyre range – calling the product a game-changer for UK fleets and coming that it is working to secure stocks across its centres for the official May 2015 launch.

Pitched as the first summer car tyres to be certified for winter use, ATS Euromaster says the tyres will be “ideally suited to the UK fleet sector, where unexpected weather changes and occasional snowfall can cause havoc for company car drivers – resulting in costly business interruption, reduced mobility, plus an increased risk of accidents.”

Incidentally in general ECO style tyres would seem to need a degree of caution ADAC reporting 2015:
” While the ECO Michelin Energy Saver+ could only manage 15th place due to a poor wet performance, it’s sister tyre, the Michelin Primacy 3, won the test by a large margin thanks to an excellent performance in the dry, wet, the best wear score and low rolling resistance.”

Just registered and quickly read through this thread. I signed up to BRAKE and fully support its aims and statements.
It seems, as previously posted, modern cars are all about image, not safety. Gimmicks, gimmicks and more gimmicks.
I have argued the safety case on many motoring forums. Often dismissed by, what it seems to me, arrogant individuals who believe they can drive safely at 90 mph with one hand on the steering wheel.
Eyesight is also close to my heart. Whilst I have generally good vision raised eye pressure, now corrected by SLT, has led to some glaucoma in my right eye with a very small area of retinal damage. I see my eye consultant twice a year, plus annual visit to optician.
Currently looking to update my car, Volvo C30 (not practical), I am looking with priorities of safety, comfort and reliability (no bigger than S40). Cars such as the second last generation A class W169 appeal. So many cars built recently have been warped (in my view) by too much gimmickry. I think it would be helpful to have, from WHICH, some form of data analysis so the elements can be balanced when deciding. Sorry its such a long post but did want to give final personal aspect. Anybody got a recommendation ?

Ricky says:
17 August 2015

What do you do if your car mileage has been misrepresented by a finance company ( Santander)? Then they have been untruthful when you’ve questioned them ( all in writing)

They have closed the doors on me!!! And want to take me to court!!!

Got to say, having used Which Car Reviews quite a bit this year when preparing to buy a new car, I am upon reflection disappointed to see how little attention was paid in the reviews to the availability and pricing of what I call “proactive safety features” – for example, pedestrian avoidance/braking, active cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot detection etc. While some of these are making their way into cars as standard features in some models, most are “optional extras”. In the Which reviews, sometimes you would mention an option or two that may be worth investing in, or a particular model which may have best resale value. I don’t see Which – or for that matter the motoring press – emphasising the need for such proactive safety features. Of course I would like to see these as standard in all cars, I am sure that will come, but in the meantime shouldn’t there be more push by Which and others to educate motorists on these kind of developments. I’ve been driving a car now with some of these kind of features now for around 6 months, and I’ve got to say I don’t want to drive a car without them in future!

It would also be good to have some expert view on the relative costs and benefits of all the available safety features.

Also, for example:

Some cars have very poor rear hind quarter blind spots but other have much inherently much better rear visibility – so some might benefit from blind spot detection much more than others.

Similarly, by the sound of it, lane departure warning might be of most benefit to those making lots of long motorway journeys.

Valid point Derek P. I’d be happier if some of the other drivers on the same road as me had these features, perhaps more than me having them! More seriously though, how, though, do you put a price on some of the benefits of these safety systems. Take for example the bin lorry crash in Glasgow. What is these vehicles had automated braking & pedestrian detection? Maybe some of the poor victims would still be alive today. I’m sure all of us at some point have pulled out, not properly checking behind us. We’ve been lucky because it no other car was on our flank.,

Hi Stephen / All,

Anyone who is working to a limited budget will have to think long and hard about whether or not to fork out more money for additional safety features.

That is why I think a modicum of legislation is a good idea – to ensure that all reasonably proven features must be fitted as standard equipment to new vehicles.

Because of economies of scale, fitting such kit as standard also helps to keep the cost down.

No human activity can be totally risk free. However, for most ordinary consumers, road travel will be one of the more risky activities that they need to undertake as part of normal life.

When formal cost-benefit analysis is applied to road safety improvements, I think each life saved is valued at a price of £1M. (In passing, lives saved on the railways are valued at about £10M – because we expect/demand rail to be a much safer mode of travel.)

So if a road improvement scheme will cost £1M and is expected to save more than 1 life in the future, there are grounds for saying it is a good investment.

In 2014, approximately 450 pedestrians died on the UK’s roads. If, for the sake of the argument, we assume there are 30 million car drivers in the UK, then the average risk that any given car driver will cause the accidental death of at least 1 pedestrian pedestrian each year will be roughly (450/30M) = (15/1M). In terms of “odds” this average risk is about 1 in 67000. If also follows that the averaged costed value of a significant safety improvement to each car would only be about £15 per year to its driver. From that it is probably reasonable to expect each car driver to consider spending up to about £100 per year as their fair share of the cost of safety improvements needed to achieve target zero.

Sorry if that was a longish answer – but you did ask…

I’m sure there is no doubt that the consequences of the recent bin lorry crash in Glasgow would have been lower if the lorry had been fitted with good collision avoidance technology. However, that particular case seems to have some other features that might also be pertinent to future safety improvements. These include the previous medical history of the driver – should he even have been at the wheel in first place?

Fair comments – although in the context of this thread – safety over cosmetic features – when you consider the cost of cosmetics most should be prepared to budget more than £100 for additional safety features.


I agree that it is good for safety conscious drivers to have access to a wider ranger of options, including more expensive ones.

I might also wonder whether any “unproven” safety features (or “gimmicks”) might also actually count as “cosmetic” rather than “genuinely functional”.

Many marketing sales staff will have be trained in the view that customers make expensive purchases like cars only after both “irrational and rational buy factors” have kicked it. That model recognises that none of us will every buy a new car unless our heart is in it (as well as our brain).

For cars, this kind of model goes on to suggest that, following an irrational decision to get a new car, we than build up the case for our new car by amassing all the rational factors that support our case.

So I think most car adverts will be designed to trigger irrational buy factors – but they made also provide titillating evidence of improved produce features.

(Right now, I notice Vauxhall seem to be very proud of the (optional?) bicycle rack on their Mokka. I’m sure the two hired ones I used last year did not have this feature. )

Personally, I’m pretty much a “white good car buyer”, so I don’t pay a lot of attention to cosmetic features on new cars. I must confess that, of all the work-hired cars that I’ve used in the last few years, the one that I would have most loved to take home and keep was a base-model Skoda Octavia.

The problem with the analysis of road deaths by Derek P its that it has taken a whole figure and attributed all to cars.

This may be useful to consider:
” More than three-quarters of collisions involving a pedestrian casualty (78%) have one or more contributory factor assigned to the pedestrian themselves. Of these factors, 3/5ths are due to the pedestrian failing to look properly.4″

4 RSGB – Extracted from The Stepping Out report prepared by PACTS and Road Safety Analysis and Pedestrian safety Factsheets prepared by Road Safety GB

So rather than looking at cars perhaps more could be done to educate pedestrians. I understand pedestrians with ear-phones on or using their mobile are an increasing danger to themselves.

I agree that we should educate pedestrians, but it is the responsibility of motorists to drive in a way that they are able to stop in time if a pedestrian or other road user does something foolish.

It may be impossible to avoid a pedestrian who steps off the pavement or darts out from between parked vehicles immediately in front of you, however carefully you drive. This is a penalty of not being able to separate footpaths from roads.

All road users need to be aware of, and helpful to, each other. I was driving home on a country road yesterday with a cycle club outing in front. Probably 50 cyclists who did not think to leave a couple of gaps; the result was that no cars could overtake for a couple of miles. Education for everyone in both awareness and consideration would help.
However it is difficult to know how to best protect the mentally frail and elderly pedestrians, and children, other than make sure they are accompanied.

. . . and not just to themselves. If a distracted pedestrian blunders into the road and, to avoid them, a driver swerves, brakes hard, or makes an emergency stop, the consequences for other road usres could be very serious.

I myself hae launched myself off a pavement into the wing of a moving car. One second earlier and this posting may never have been made.

I would have ruined some drivers life and all through my preoccupation with my thoughts.

Regrettably the rise of the mobile phone and the listening to music whilst walking has lead to an increase in dangerous pedestrians.

” A few years ago, people walking on a college campus while using a cell phone were asked whether they’d just seen “anything unusual.” Only 8 percent said yes. But Western Washington University researchers had indeed planted an unusual passerby: a unicycle-riding clown in a purple and yellow outfit.
In a new survey, Consumer Reports found that 85 percent of Americans had in the past six months seen someone use a mobile device to talk, text, e-mail, or use apps while walking in public. Of those who had witnessed such behavior, 52 percent felt that the pedestrians endangered themselves or others.
It’s clear that drivers aren’t the only people distracted by devices. Numbers are hard to pin down, but research using federal data as part of an Ohio State University graduate-student project estimated that 1,506 “nonmotorized” people—mostly pedestrians—were hurt nationwide in 2010 while distracted by cell phones, an increase of about 186 cases per year between 2004 and 2010. Reports for 2009 and 2010 show that most injuries occurred while the pedestrian was talking, followed by reaching for the phone, then texting. It’s no surprise that some cities are starting to crack down on distracted walkers.
What our survey said. Of Americans who saw at least one pedestrian using a phone, 42 percent saw someone bump into a person or object or walk in front of a moving bicycle; 34 percent saw someone step in front of a moving vehicle. “Everyone knows to look left and right,” says Ryan Stanton, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, “but when you’re texting, you forget the rules of survival.”
Stanton, also an emergency doctor, cites a patient who walked into a street sign (head laceration) and another who hit a fire hydrant (serious shin cut), plus “countless twisted ankles” in cell-phone users who have stepped off an unnoticed curb.
Northeasterners were more likely than others to have seen a pedestrian using a mobile device—92 percent had. Among Northeasterners who witnessed such behavior, 42 percent saw someone walk in front of a moving vehicle, compared with just 27 percent of Midwesterners. People over 55 were far more likely to consider the practice a hazard than those 18 to 34. But similar percentages of men and women called distracted walking dangerous.
Bottom line. If you must walk and talk or text, act like a driver and pull over into a quiet area. “At any point if you’re moving, you need to have your head up,” Stanton says. “If you need to text, just stop for 5 seconds, make your text, and that way you won’t worry about traffic, fire hydrants, and manhole covers. Whatever your hurry, it’s not worth ending up in the hospital.”
Need more evidence of risk? Researchers at Stony Brook University found that phone-using walkers had “significant reductions in gait velocity” and an “increase in lateral deviation.” In other words, they walked like snails and zigzagged toward their destination. That news was announced in January—a few months before a California man nearly walked and texted his way into the arms of a black bear.
What you saw

Pedestrian used mobile device in busy area

. . . and bumped into something

42% (of the 85%)
. . . or stepped in front of moving vehicle

34% (of the 85%)
From a nationally representative poll of 1,008 adults 18 and older conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. 2012 “

dieseltaylor, all I can say is I’m glad you were running slightly late 🙂 . I also wonder how many pedestrians suffer from uncorrected poor eyesight and put themselves, and others, at risk 😎 ? However, we can’t legislate for everything just in case. Some accidents must be accepted as inevitable.

A European consortium is developing a system to detect and avoid obstacles and pedestrians by braking and steering automatically if the driver does not respond in time. It will be interesting to see the results. I’m not sure what will happen if there is nowhere to go to avoid the collision. A driver would possibly be able to make the least-worst choice; whether the system could will be interesting.
An automatic system could be advantageous in that it would potentially eliminate the response time before a driver takes necessary action, so it might at least reduce the severity of an accident.

Dieseltaylor, the approach I used was deliberate to get a bounding estimate of the maximum potential benefits from safer cars.

I doubt there will be many pedestrian deaths caused by collisions between pedestrians or between pedestrians and cyclists…

Also, if you are a car driver, and you are involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian, being told that it was not entirely or wholly your fault, probably won’t make you feel much better about it.

So, a car deign that is safer under such circumstances should be safer not matter how the accident is caused.

What was surprising from my analysis was how low the estimated risk already was. This then lead to the indication that further cost-effective improvements to car designs may be hard to find. Looked at another way, that suggests that initiatives for target zero may need to focus on other areas, including “safer roads and pavements”. E.g. segregating roads and pavements should help to reduce pedestrian casualties. Further reductions of speed limits to 20 mph in more urban areas might also help.

I agree that we should keep motorists and pedestrians apart. There is considerable support for this, but not enough is being done. With the rise in cycling, we also need to invest in segregating cyclists from both pedestrians and motorists.

I have little doubt that tackling the problem of phone use in cars would reduce accidents. One simple measure would be to disable hands-free phones when the vehicle is moving.

From previous posts, it sounds like phone use by pedestrians is a problem too…

One simple measure would be active jamming to disable all phones operating in the proximity of my vehicle when it is is moving….

Maybe the best investment in safety equipment is to take an Institute of Advanced Motorists evaluation and/or a course. The driver is the first link in road safety. Car equipment is, of course, beneficial but should not be relied upon.

Malcolm – noting that other advanced driving courses are available too, I that your point has long been recognised,

In practice though, it can be very difficult for some members of the “I’m a good driver – the problem is all the idiots out there…” brigade to accept that good instruction can turn a good driver into a better one.

In my previous job I sometimes did quite a lot of business miles and did two different “defensive driver training” courses as a result. Both were useful and neither were run by the IAM.