/ 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.

Dave says:
15 August 2015

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.