/ 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?

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…

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.

Having thought a bit more about this, I’m not sure there’s much need for car HUDs.

Any good driver should be able to judge whether or not their speed is appropriate by looking at what else is going on around them, backed up by an occasional glance at the satnav (for an accurate speed check) or the speedo (for an inflated one).

In this regard, an appropriate speed must allow for traffic and road conditions and should not just be based on whatever the speed limit is.

If a driver spends too much time looking at instrument readings, that might be to the detriment of their attention to road and traffic conditions.

Currently looking to purchase a vehicle that my small mobility scooter can be driven into as my wife complains she always has the heavy ends!

RICA is a useful charity that researches for disability users. It does scooters and also car boot sizes so you can see if the breakdown would fit.

Obviously a subject of interest to all. The ENCAP ratings are useful and the UK has very low rates of death on the road, especially if motorcyclists are excluded. I am not being heartless just this is on car buying decisions so for a car buyer the equation is an unlikely eventuality versus an image or price consideration that is much more immediate.

The UK is a country with one of the lowest road traffic deaths in the world with the lowest being Norway on 3 people per 100,000 as opposed to the UK 3.5.

Looking at the BRAKE site I was a little miffed as there are only 6 articles with the expression winter and tyres however there is an extensive emotional story of A car crash in winter leading to two deaths. It might have been helpful at some point to mention the details of the longer stopping distances and the acknowledged fact that summer tyres go rigid in sub 7C weather.

Whilst it publishes survey material showing people are clueless as to how much stopping distances increase in cold weather it would seem mightily unfair to not specify what sort of tyre you are talking about in the survey you carry out.

Overall I am disappointed. It needs to really get its act together on this subject.

Two other areas of great concern which BRAKE could highlight are the distractions now being built into cars AND the research that shows how long even finished phone calls can have on quality of driving.

Obviously building in dangers is a concern. Layout of equipment has hit new lows with AFAIR Ford putting, unbelievably, a kill engine switch next to a touch screen. Criminal stupidity.

” Ford has issued a recall for its Lincoln MKC SUVs, because drivers trying to operate the gearshift are shutting the car down by mistake. As computers invade the world of motor vehicles, and car-makers replace the old ignition key assembly with a start button, it seems they’re having to relearn the basics of interface design.

In the case of the Ford recall, the salient detail is: “don’t put the ‘gearshift sports-mode button’ next to the start-stop button”.

As CNN reports, the car-maker also put the start-stop button next to the touchscreen that controls radio, bluetooth and navigation, which means a driver trying to operate any of these while watching the road might bring the SUV to a screaming halt. A very serious side-effect of a driver inadvertently shutting down the engine is that it would also render the air-bags inoperable. USA Today says the recall was issued on December 31.

The fix, Ford says, will be to change the button’s location, and to change the powertrain software, presumably so it’s smart enough not to shut the engine off if the car’s in motion.”

The Register January 2015

A problem for BRAKE perhaps is that it is recycling data that for the discerning reader is suspect.

The stopping distance of 315ft quoted compares badly with tests for my car model which shows it can stop in 155ft from 70mph. I assume that they also factor in a surprise elemen for reactions,. but even if they did not, it is still around 33% [100ft] less than the figures quoted. This does of course mean any vehicle behind me may well take more distance . Perhaps as part of driver education real stopping distances would make people understand better the dynamics involved.

Whilst it is helpful to tell drivers that road conditions , tyres etc have an effect for those people who feel statements need backing up there is a dearth of information about these matters.

Returning to winter tyres I know of a fatality where the query to the Police Traffic Officer was, and always is ” Were the tyres road legal?”. He told me the correct question in this case was were the tyres suitable – which manifestly they were not.

Ed Morrow , if you read the past few years on Which? Conversations I think you will find every possible argument and supporting data has been presented and people disagree strongly with Which?’s position – though it has become less dogmatic.

This year at least two tyre majors have introduced tyres that retain the flexibility down to temperatures of 0C as opposed to the common summer tyres fitted to UK cars which harden off at 7C. When summer tyres harden off they do not offer the grippability or the water-shedding attributes they have above 7C.

It would seem to me that given the average temperatures for the UK and the length of the year where sub 7C temperatures are encountered BRAKE could usefully get behind the concept that the new tyres are sensible all year round tyres for our climate and will reduce accidents.

Perhaps it also should lobby for suitability of tyre in fatal accidents be addressed so Courts/Inquests are more useful in establishing causes for accidents.

However good brakes and tyres are in modern vehicles, we cannot do much about human reaction times, and those are increased by distractions.

Many cars are fitted with parking sensors and I wonder if longer range sensors could be used to discourage drivers from tailgating other drivers, particularly on motorways and dual carriageways.

You can get active cruise control to keep you a reasonable distance from the vehicle in front, and lane control to stop you inadvertently wandering. I’m not sure if your clever car should be able to automatically accelerate away from a tailgater – that would conflict with not getting too close to the vehicle ahead.
Some things come down to driver skill, and improving awareness and perception of hazards and how to deal with them. Maybe helpful devices impede learning these skills? I’m all for safety aids, but also we need to learn how to deal with unexpected situations safely.

I tried cruise control in the US and didn’t like it. It was on a long straight road, your feet are just placed beneath you somewhere and you suddenly need to do something with them but they aren’t in the right place to respond.

You probably get used to it, but I just didn’t feel in control of the car.

Malcolm – What I had in mind was something to alert a driver that they were too close to the car in front, which would obviously vary with speed. If there is someone following too close behind me there may be little I can do about it.

wavechange, BMW “driving assistant” seems to do this by giving visual and audible alerts when too close to the vehicle in front, whilst active cruise control also changes speed to maintain distance without the driver needing to do anything. Seems to work at high and low speeds.

Thanks Malcolm. That seems just what is needed because it’s not nice being tailgated. However, the amount of automation in cars does worry me, especially if it’s not reliable.

Take self-cancelling indicators, which often fail to cancel or cancel before they should. Every driver should be aware of the problem but it’s still with us and you still see people driving long distances with their indicators on.


If I remember correctly, when I last did defensive driver training (in my previous job) we were advised that, when being tailgated, we should gradually slow down and increase the gap to the vehicle in front. I think the point was to allow more room for any required unplanned decelerations and thus reduce the risk of being “rear-ended”.

A former traffic cop of my acquaintance also once told me that he had heard that automatic cars actually offered greater protection against such accidents. The offered explanation was that, with reduced engine breaking, the driver must make greater use of the brakes, and so also the brake lights, when slowing down. Hence following traffic gets more warning.

There is now plenty of evidence that mobile phone use – including hands-free phones – is a major contributor to accidents. I would have a lot of respect for any car manufacturer that discouraged use of phones in cars, including making hands-free connections inoperative when the vehicle was moving.

This part of the Brake site is excellent.

I have copied them below for ease of reference : ). And also so my following remarks can be seen against all the potential distractions.

It also highlights the lack of resistance to these potentially dangerous technologies being increasingly made part of the experience. Whether any consumer group at EU or local level feels it wise to potentially antagonise subscribers by campaigning for more restrictions on use is moot.

One can imagine a lot of measures may only result in the slightest percentage fall in fatalities and injuries. We also have the Volvo effect where the safer and more cocooned you are from the elements/outside world the faster you drive.

” How dangerous is distraction?

A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22% of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction. It also showed that drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times more likely to crash [1]. Other studies have found that more complex secondary tasks, like talking on a mobile phone or texting, increase crash risk even more.

Many drivers allow themselves to be distracted because they believe they are in control, and do not believe distraction poses a significant risk [2]. However, research shows drivers are not able to correctly estimate how distracted they are [3] and 98% are not able to divide their attention without a significant deterioration in driving performance [4].

Unfortunately, driving while distracted is a common risk many drivers take. Brake and Direct Line research has found many drivers put themselves and others in danger by talking on a phone, texting or using social media [5], eating, drinking, or grooming [6].

Take action: Make the Brake Pledge to never take or make calls or texts when driving, turn off phones or put them out of sight and on silent, and stay focused on the road.
What makes using a mobile phone at the wheel so dangerous?

In the United States, deaths caused by distracted driving have been increasing and researchers put this down to increases in drivers using mobile phones and other smart technology [7]. Drivers speaking on phones are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury, whether on a hands-free or hand-held phone [8]. Their crash risk remains higher than normal for up to 10 minutes after the call has ended [9]. Drivers using phones have slower reaction times and difficulty controlling speed and lane position [10]. They also brake more sharply in response to hazards, increasing the risk of rear-end crashes [11].

Some drivers mistakenly believe that talking on a hands-free kit at the wheel is safe, because hands-free use is still legal in the UK and many other countries [12]. Research shows hands-free calls cause almost the same level of risk as hand-held [13], as the call itself is the main distraction, not holding the phone. Brain scanning has confirmed that speaking on a hands-free phone makes you less alert and less visually attentive [14].

Some people dispute the risks of hands-free phone use, claiming that talking on a phone is no different to talking to a passenger. However, research has found that while drivers on phones have much longer reaction times and poor speed control, drivers with chatty passengers perform nearly as safely as drivers with silent passengers [15]. This is partly because conversations with passengers come to a natural pause when approaching hazards, as the passenger can see when the driver needs to concentrate [16].

Laws that only ban hand-held phones are therefore less effective in reducing crashes, because many drivers simply switch to hands-free phones, so are still distracted [17]. A Brake and Direct Line survey found that following the UK’s introduction of a ban on using hand-held phones at the wheel in 2003, between 2006 and 2014, the proportion of UK drivers using hand-held mobile phones dropped from 36% to 13%, but those using hands-free rose from 22% to 32% [18].
The effect of talking on a phone while driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain amounts of alcohol. Driver reaction times are 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood (the current UK limit), and nearly 50% slower than driving under normal conditions [19].

Reading and writing messages while driving – such as texting, emailing or social networking – is even more distracting than talking on a phone, as it takes your mind, hands and eyes off the road. Texting drivers have 35% slower reaction times and poor lane control [20]. One large-scale study found texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention [21].
Reaching for a mobile phone can be an irresistible temptation for some, despite knowledge of the risks. In the UK, experts have warned of increasing levels of smartphone addiction by users who are unable to go without checking their phone for short periods or through the night [22]. Even the sound of a mobile phone ringing has been found to cause distraction and increase crash risk [23]. That’s why Brake advises drivers to turn their phones off or put them on silent and put them out of reach, ideally in the boot, to remove the temptation.

Take action: Support Brake’s drive smart campaign to ban hands-free mobile phone use at the wheel and increase penalties for drivers who use phones at the wheel.

What else distracts drivers?
Mobile phones are far from the only distraction risk for drivers. Distraction can be caused by anything that draws the driver’s attention away from the road through sight, sound, thought or physical action [24]. Some key risks are listed below.

Eating and drinking
Research has found that drivers who eat and drink at the wheel are twice as likely to crash [25], and this risk may be even higher for messy or hot foods, or food that you have to unwrap yourself [26]. Eating and drinking while driving diverts attention away from the driving task, increasing reaction times by up to 44%, and causes physical distraction, as at least one hand is off the wheel while holding food or drink [27].

Several studies [28] have found smoking while driving increases crash risk. A study [29] of distraction-related crashes in the USA from 1995-99 found smoking was a source of distraction in 12,780 crashes. Finding and lighting a cigarette causes a mental and physical distraction. Once lit, smoke from the cigarette may impair the driver’s vision, and a lit cigarette falling into the driver’s lap or onto a seat could cause further distraction.

Music players and radios
Listening to loud music has been found to slow drivers’ reaction times, and encourages aggressive driving [30]. It can also prevent drivers hearing what is going on around them. Adjusting the controls of radios or music players can also be very dangerous. Several studies into driver distraction have found that operating a stereo while driving leads to slower reaction times and more errors such as lane departure [31].

Sat navs
There is some evidence that using a sat nav can increase driver speed and reduce observation [32]. However, research has also found that voice-based in-vehicle navigation is safer than using a visual display or paper map, as it allows the driver to navigate without looking away from the road [33]. Brake advises drivers to set sat navs before setting off, never adjust them while driving, and to remain alert and not rely on the sat nav to notify you of problems ahead.

In-vehicle technology
Many modern vehicles come equipped with technology aimed at making the driver safer or more comfortable. However, some in-vehicle technology can provide a dangerous distraction.
Voice-operated controls to allow the driver to complete tasks such as operating radio or music control, are intended to reduce distraction by removing the need for the driver to look away from the road. However, research has found that these devices harm drivers’ ability to concentrate [34], and some speech-to-text systems can be even more distracting than a phone call [35].

Devices such as cruise control, aimed at reducing the driver’s workload, can also have the unintended side-effect of making drivers less attentive and more susceptible to fatigue [36], and can cause slower reaction times [37].

Some vehicles now come equipped with entertainment and communications technology that enables drivers to carry out tasks, or access information or entertainment, completely unrelated to driving, such as checking social media. Research showing the dangers of accessing information or engaging in communications via mobile phones (see above) suggests that using such technology at the wheel would pose a significant danger. Brake is therefore strongly opposed to such technology being fitted in vehicles, due to the dangerous temptation it may pose to drivers.
Learn more: Read our advice for drivers on avoiding distractions.

[1] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[2] Driver distraction, RoSPA, 2007
[3] Assessing the awareness of performance decrements in distracted drivers, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, 2008
[4] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010
[5] Driven to distraction: mobile phones, Brake and Direct Line, 2014
[6] Driven to distraction: eating, drinking and grooming at the wheel, Brake and Direct Line, 2014
[7] Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008, University of North Texas, 2010″

How about a nice Faraday cage to keep out all those harmful mobile phone (e./m.) “radiations”?

…and active jamming so no-one close to you could be either making or receiving calls too…

I suppose the latter would be illegal 🙁

“hands-free kits present just as much of a risk as handheld phones at the wheel,” I doubt this is true – having a hand held phone clamped to your ear leaving only one hand to control the car is more hazardous in my view.
I wonder how the hazard of having a normal conversation through a hands-free phone compares with a similar conversation with passengers? Or with misbehaving children. Or for that matter listening to talk on the radio. It comes down to common sense perhaps – not conversing either way when the driving situation requires it..But sitting in traffic, or on a clear road, for example conversation may be quite safe. Common sense means not making or answering calls, or chatting, if it’s an inappropriate time.

I’m convinced of this from my own experience, Ed. The fact that hands-free phones are legal in the UK is sending the wrong message in my view. Poor lane discipline on motorways often seems to be associated with phone use.

I have been retired for a long time but recollect that driving with ones boss in the passenger seat (not the wife/husband/partner) could be quite a distraction if they chose to talk busneess.

Most safety features protect the occupants of the vehicle. Car body design has been improved to help a little those outside the car who may be hit, particularly bu a frontal impact on a pedestrian or cyclist. Could an outside air-bag be used to cushion that blow and perhaps help prevent them being tossed around?

In reply to Ed and head-up displays they are currently used for essential information in “minimal” form. No indication they would be able to display text messages – it would be illegal I suspect (hope). Unfortunately we depend on drivers’ common sense, don’t we? Whether they are the type to be distracted by chatting to passengers, unwrapping and eating a bar of chocolate, using their mobile (still see many doing it), resetting the satnav, even reading a map. Whatever gadgets you strip out of the car I think is less of an issue than relying on drivers to be sensible. I don’t know a way to educate them until they’ve learned the consequences the hard way.

Displaying text messages on a head-up display has already been done, Malcolm: http://www.engadget.com/2014/08/05/navdy/

I would not be surprised if car manufacturers market this as a safety feature, like hands-free phones.

wavechange, I was concerned with manufacturers’ original equipment which I hope will only display basic necessary information. Unfortunately you can’t stop people producing accessories that may be less responsible. I wonder how English law would treat displaying text messages?

Accessories are certainly a problem but I’m genuinely concerned that the manufacturers will add non-essential information, even the ability to display text messages.

The road traffic acts focus on driver behaviour and criminalise careless and dangerous driving. The law would probably not be able to keep up with the constant stream of new distractions so it is right that the emphasis is on the safe and responsible performance of the driver. The lack of enforcement is worrying however.

While this Conversation has concentrated on distractions while driving a car, we should also be concerned about the conduct of some LGV drivers. It is usually difficult to see what is going on high up in the cab but the police now deploy rigs that give them level vision and the number of offences is alarming. Obviously the potential for serious harm or a fatality if a heavy vehicle is involved in a collision or goes out of control is greatly increased.

All new cars are pretty safe now a days, certainly compared to cars of years gone by. So rather than “brand” or “safety” I would say the main factors are fuel economy, reliability and practicality.
Having said that there are still a few badge snobs around with more money than sense, and a few at the other end of the spectrum who buy really cheap models from around the world which tend to be unreliable, and very often turn out to be false economy.

Good all round visibility is no 1 for me.

While Climate control is wonderful and I hardly ever change any settings, having to look down to the satnav screen when changing heating, radio etc is not good.

With enforcement of speed limits being in the news recently, the lack of a large “accurate” speed display visible with minimal eye movement is totally lacking on most cars.

There are a number of psychological factors involved when choosing a new car. For example why have BMW drivers earned the reputation they have and why do young whippersnappers often drive “like a hoon”? It’s quite complex but very enlightening so if you have the courage, log onto :
the guardian.com – Neuroscience – Bad driving: what are we thinking? Chris Chambers – 19th August 2013.

When I saw a title for “Vision Zero” on the Brake website, I was disappointed to see it only mentioned health screening for eyesight and impairing medical conditions.

When I needed specs for driving, I got no advice from the optician as to what was suitable and ended up with specs that gave me letter-box vision and I couldn’t see anything on the dashboard in front of me. After a couple of days feeling like a dangerous driver, I went back to the optician and got them changed to bi-focal specs with much bigger lenses for all-round vision and a section on the bottom so I could see the dashboard. They might not look that cool, but at least I can see properly now. I also got my sunglasses changed so they were suitable for driving.

People also drive wearing vari-focals. I tried some on once and these are also unsuitable for driving when you have to keep moving your head to focus on something.

I wonder how many drivers have unsuitable specs and can’t see properly? Surely opticians should be advising people on suitable eyewear for driving?

Hi Ed,
You don’t automatically think of eyesight when you see the title Sharpen Up.

Although the article states the importance of regular testing, no mention is made of suitable specs that give you all-round vision as well as dashboard vision. These things didn’t occur to me as a driver buying specs for the first time and the optician (Specsavers!) gave me no advice either.

Campaigning for opticians to advise and supply suitable specs for driving would go a long way to improving road safety.

I agree that opticians should check that the specs they prescribe will be suitable for driving which includes looking at the instruments as well as near and far vision. With all the impressive equipment they have in their examination rooms I am surprised that there isn’t a simulator to represent the driving experience.

I have varifocal lenses in my glasses and I have never had any problems of the kind described by Alfa. Mine give me a very good field of vision without having to move my head to see closer objects. The transition from longer distance to near view is virtually imperceptible.

Wearing sunglasses during driving seems to raise conflicting opinions. Personally I avoid using them as much as possible but conditions in December and January sometimes make them essential and far safer than not wearing them. In the summer time when the sun is high in the sky there is less need for them and the sun visors can be positioned to protect against glare. It is obvious that a high percentage of drivers [and more women than men I would say] prefer to wear sunglasses when driving when the sun is out. There is no doubt good prescription sunglasses can make for much more comfortable driving in certain lights and ease the momentary blinding effect of transition from shade to bright sunlight [or the sudden loss of vision in the opposite transition] but they can delay the recognition of detail as the definition of contrasts is reduced [the observation of other vehicles’ indicators is a good example of this]. At higher speeds a lot of ground can be covered in a short time so if vision is impaired by light conditions then speed must be reduced to suit.

The best photochromic lenses probably react quickly enough to provide suitable glare protection in strong light and a clear view in normal conditions. People who do not require vision correction can presumably have a pair made up with plain photochromic lenses [although I suspect that nobody who enters an optometrist’s parlour emerges without a prescription!].

Contact lenses possibly give the best field of vision – certainly compared to horn-rimmed specs with wide side arms.
What I find distracting (and I have good vision night and day) are daytime running lights. Many cause loss of clarity near the vehicle and on some reduce the visibility of indicators. For most of the time they are totally unnecessary – if you can’t see a vehicle without its lights on in normal daylight you shouldn’t venture near a road. In my humble opinion they should be photocell activated to only come on when the ambient light drops to a certain level. Incidentally I did calculate that the extra fuel they use in the UK would provide enough energy for a small town of 300 000. So much for EU energy targets?

The vari-focals I tried on had a very narrow distance view and the owner of these specs would have had to move their head to see what was at the side of the road i.e. if you needed to keep an eye on the child at the side of the road who would have been a blur and still see what was ahead of you. She said she didn’t have a problem driving in them, but they didn’t seem very safe to me.

I think they have to be very precisely specified for each eye of each individual according to the characteristics of their vision so the varifocal lenses are not interchangeable even if the eyesight of two people appears similar.

I have regular eye tests don’t need glasses or contact lenses for driving. Some years ago I tried reading glasses and then varifocals for reading small print, though rarely use them. I did experiment with the varifocals to see how I would cope with wearing them when driving, when the time comes that they are needed. I’m not sure how I would cope, but people obviously do.

Malcolm – I share your view on daytime running lights, mainly because we have some vehicles with them and some without. The ones that really need these lights are motorcyclists cyclists, and the latter rarely use lights during the day. With the move to LED lights, the extra energy consumption of having DRLs is becoming less.

Apparently we lose 3% of peripheral vision each decade however I have yet to find any confirmation of this actual figure in any reputable journal.

I remember from the last century that the Met found that when they checked police drivers who had multiple accidents many of these had poor peripheral vision. Reduced peripheral vision is more likely as you age and I suspect that the UK is relaxed on this aspect of driving.

Perhaps also of interest to the older members is this piece:

” 5. Processing of time-varying targets
Many older adults have deficits in visually processing temporal information, which can hamper the visual performance of everyday tasks. For example, slowed visual processing speed in older adults increases their risk for motor vehicle collision involvement even in the absence of impaired visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and visual field sensitivity (Cross et al., 2009, Owsley et al., 1998 and Rubin et al., 2007), increases the time it takes them to complete visual tasks of everyday living such as finding an item on a shelf or reading a prescription bottle (Ball et al., 2002, Edwards et al., 2002 and Owsley, McGwin et al., 2001), and is associated with problems with ambulatory mobility (Owsley & McGwin, 2004). Older drivers with elevated thresholds in a coherent motion task had difficulties with detecting signs and hazards on the road, took longer to drive a route, and had worse performance evaluations as assessed by raters specialized in on-road assessment (Wood, 2002 and Wood et al., 2008). Those older adults who reported more difficulty with certain driving maneuvers were also more likely to have impaired performance on speed discrimination, and estimates of the direction of heading and time to collision (Raghuram & Lakshminarayanan, 2006). In this section, we review what we have learned in the past 25 years about how aging impacts temporal sensitivity and motion perception, and in the next section, we address aging and slowed visual processing speed.”

I presume that is standard practice to test peripheral vision in eye tests. I remember it from my last eye test. Here is some information: https://www.gov.uk/current-medical-guidelines-dvla-guidance-for-professionals-vision-chapter-appendix

I know a couple of people who have given up driving because of poor peripheral vision, though I have no idea if this was voluntary or their licence was revoked.

A peripheral vision check is. I believe, part of a standard eye test – certainly when I have one. You fixate on the centre of a dark screen and say when small lit dots appear in different places in your field of view. It requires concentration but detects if your vision is deteriorating at wider angles.

Referring to Diesel’s references a few boxes above – virtually writing-off the older generation because of eyesight degeneration – the good thing is that generally older drivers are aware of their limitations and drive more carefully [there are some dishonourable exceptions however]. Moreover, they tend to stick to roads they know, they tend not to travel at peak times if they can avoid it, they seldom drive in the dark, and they tend to not have modern distractions on the go while they are driving. I heard recently that a lady driving instructor is still giving tuition at the age of 95 and when her pupils are examined they are found to be satisfactory; her learners do alright too.


I have worn nothing but varifocals for the last 10 years or so and find they work well for driving.

I have recently been issued with varifocal safety specs, for my occasional visits to industrial facilities; the optician told me it would be illegal to drive in them. I presume that would be because the side protection will interfere with both peripheral and ambient vision.

Mind you, as a motorcyclist (actually currently a lapsed, “armchair only” motorcyclist) I have probably developed much better observational skills than the average “cager”.

Malcolm / Wavechange

Motorcycle running lights in the form of daytime headlights are compulsory in very many EU countries. Hence modern EU market bikes come with the lights hardwired on and, even in the UK, there is no means of switching them off.

As a “control freak”, I prefer older bikes that come with on/off switches, so I can choose when I use the lights.


You either love them or hate them. I have been wearing them for 16 yrs and wouldn’t wear anything else. BUT IMO it does depend on how well they are fitted by the optician. When I got my first pair I was told to wear them for a week & then go back to the optician if I had any problems. I did go back as I felt that they needed to be about 1ml higher “up my nose”, all it took was a very quick adjustment to the arms & I was well sorted.

My father on the other hand got told that he “had the wrong sort of eyes” when he couldn’t get on with them & ended up with bi-focals!

Light, clip-on polarizing sunglasses which can be raised away from the lens when not required, are readily available, cheaper than prescription sunglasses, and for me provide a better solution.

I was rather shaken by this:
“Vision Zero refers to Brake’s overall campaigning ambition for zero road deaths, which we believe should underpin all road safety strategies.”

Rather a lunatic mission statement in my view. One can lose respect easily where somebody aims for the impossible. Of course if money is no object and we are prepared to be silly … however those intent on suicide are going to mess those figures.

From Brake’s website: “Yet these devastating and costly casualties are preventable, and so we should not accept any number. Brake believes we should strive towards a vision of zero road deaths and serious injuries. This is the only humane aim.” Put in this context, I don’t see it as unreasonable.

Motor accidents can affect lives even if they are not serious. It’s nearly 40 years since I had a motor accident. I had to have an operation, was off work for three months, and ever since have had difficulty walking downhill or going down stairs. Compensation from the insurance company of the careless driver did nothing to help. Other victims of motor accidents have sustained much worse injuries.

Maybe Brake should be aiming to largely eliminate deaths and serious injuries but I don’t believe it would be right to set a target number of deaths and injuries that is regarded as acceptable.

Zero road deaths is not an impossible dream. It is worth noting that the much derided Nation Rail system has not had a passenger fatality as a result of operation of the railway in eight years and is the safest in Europe [I do not know the position on Northern Ireland Railways]. Obviously it is much more difficult to achieve the same record on the roads where the number of individually controlled moving objects is far greater, where the maintenance of infrastructure is inconsistent, and where individual steering and speed adjustment are required to maintain separation. Nevertheless, in my lifetime the death rate on the roads has come down from roughly ten a day [with far less vehicle miles and lower weights in transit] to the present level which is, I believe, about one third of that number. Relentless attention to safety engineering on both the road and in the vehicle will continue to bear down on the death rate; the major obstacle remains driver behaviour. Yes, there will still be accidents on the roads but an increasing number will be survivable. The commonest road fatalities in my part of the country are at night, one vehicle only involved, and collision with an immoveable object – usually a tree. A high percentage have a drink or drugs causation.

Ed, you say “Deaths in other transport modes, such as air and rail, are certainly not accepted as inevitable.”. But they continue to happen. Mechanical things will always fail, natural elements will intervene, human error will never be eliminated. Fine to have an objective, but we cannot pretend that zero deaths is achievable. Some may be motivated to do better to prevent deaths when presented with such a target and I would not dispute that may play a part. But I, personally, feel that with what is inevitable – we don’t have unlimited funds or resources – in practice we must accept some deaths and serious injuries will occur in all walks of life, including transport.

Ed, maybe we are at cross purposes. I have read other comments including John’s who points out a reduced but still unfortunate number of road deaths, and reduced accidents but more are survivable. Of course that is good and we must work hard to improve it, including advancing speedier medical intervention. But if you tell me we will reach a stage when we will never have another death on the roads, or in any other form of transport, then I will consider you unrealistic. If you, and others, campaign to continually improve safety in achievable ways to minimise death and serious injury then I’m totally in agreement.

Lets look at this logically.

I can speak to my neighbours about driver safety and if no accidents or fatalities occur I have won.
I can speak to 250,000 people and I may win.
I can speak to all of Sweden and possibly get a result for a year.
However simple mathematics and experience will tell you that 0 for 60 million is a difficult ask.

Looking at the WHO data for 2010 the UK actually suffers less motorised fatalities than Sweden per 100,000. The pedestrian fatalities rate is much higher in the UK being 22% compared to 12% in Sweden.

I am a great fan of serious pedestrianisation, and cycle priority roads which I think can have a bigger immediate effects on road fatalities than looking at Car safety. However in my wildest dreams I would never expect to see a zero result for road fatalities in the UK..

I mentioned previously the number of collisions between single vehicles and immoveable objects like trees. These are nearly always fatal, despite crumple zones and airbags. Even crashing into the side of a house, which happens surprisingly frequently, rarely leads to death – life-changing injuries perhaps, but even these major incidents are usually survivable nowadays.

However, there is not much hope of survival in any sort of head-on collision between two vehicles at speed so there is a continuing need for physical separation of the opposing traffic flows [dual carriageways with central barrier]. Better winter maintenance of highways is also a priority and more effective road lighting can also improve safety by enhancing visibility.

Once all the vehicle and highway risks have been reduced so far as reasonably practical and safety improvements carried out in order to increase survivability there will still be the human factor to deal with and that will be the biggest challenge.

Perhaps the zero road deaths ambition is going to prove impossible to achieve for many years without qualification. After all there are many deaths on the railways that are not caused by the operation of the railways: e.g. misuse of level crossings. suicides, trips and falls, and electrocution by trespass. So maybe some deaths on the road could sensibly be recategorised. I think we need to look also at deaths on the hard shoulder – these should just not happen and inattention or distraction are usually the causes.

For the curious I idly picked two countries San Marino, and Sao Tome and Principe, and both showed zero traffic fatalities for 2010. Shows how we can learn from other countries : )

It has often crossed my mind that if you suggested these days a national transport system with heavy vehicles travelling in opposite directions at a closing speed of 120 mph, lateral separation 2 m, on a surface that can be slippery, with inexperienced drivers…….. you would be laughed out of court. And Health and Safety would not permit it. Yet that is exactly what we have got. It amazes me how well it works.

It is politically correct of Brake to have a vision of zero road deaths and injuries, but nonsensical. We will always have accidents so there is no point in having an unattainable target. Many targets are unachievable anyway, but look good for the proponents. I remember years ago there was a move to fix lamp posts on frangible mounts so that if hit they reduced the severity of the impact to the vehicle by detaching. Then it was realised the lamp post flying through the air could impact on the queue at the bus stop.

Much better to come up with costed safety ideas, try them and monitor them and if they proved affordable and effective, implement them.

I think the key point of “target zero” initiatives is to maintain a strong focus on reducing risks and protecting people.

As regards road transport deaths, safer vehicles, safer roads and safer drivers can all play a part.

What concerns me most about car safety is the MOT failure rate. Thankfully, plans to have a two yearly test were shelved but now we have the proposal to delay the first test to four years, despite one in five cars failing its first test. I appreciate that not every failure is serious but it is clear that some drivers do little to take care of their vehicles. Bear in mind that many have their vehicles serviced before the MOT is done, and some faults are likely to noticed and corrected before the MOT.

Clearly there is some scope to decrease safety-related failures of vehicles. LED lighting as original equipment is more durable than filament bulbs, though I do have some concerns about the potential of rear lights to dazzle other road users. I would very much like tyres to come with bright yellow tread wear indicators so that it was evident to the driver and everyone else that urgent action is required.

Trying to get back on topic, are there any makes and models of cars that help cut down the number of unsafe vehicles on our roads.

You might think low speed limits would improve things, but it doesn’t necessarily seems so as this report on Jersey indicates:
The reference to boy racers is relevant – how can you stop them as a cause of accidents to themselves and others?


Maybe it is time to restrict the cc of vehicles that young drivers can drive. Whilst the vehicle will not be “cool” a 1,000 cc car for the under 21s might help. I would suggest that many “boy racers” are driving high cc vehicles that have no MOT, tax or insurance – they can’t afford the insurance!

Is it not time that the police had a crack down – scrapping cars that did not have M T & I?

Carole, good idea – a bit like restricting motor bike engine size. The trouble might be even small engine cars are powerful these days. It’s also the way they drive – attitude and inexperience.

With learner motorcycles not only the cc but the horsepower is restricted too.

A better way of restricting learners would be to force everyone to spend a year or two on only underpowered motorbikes before they are allowed anywhere near any sort of car.

The influence of speed on accidents has been discussed by motorists ad nauseam but no-one can deny the effect of speed on the severity of an impact – kinetic energy is proportional to the square of speed.

I suspect that computerised driver monitoring may be the way forward, especially for those paying high insurance premiums because of their age or for other reasons: http://www.which.co.uk/money/insurance/guides/black-box-car-insurance/black-box-car-insurance-how-it-works/

“The probable cause of a highly publicized June 2014 fatal crash with a limousine carrying comedian Tracy Morgan was the truck driver’s fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The Walmart driver who triggered the multi-vehicle pileup near Cranbury, New Jersey, was awake for more than 28 hours prior to the crash.”

Browsing through the recent Which? Car Guide, there is no section devoted to car safety, though I assume that is a factor in recommendation of models. Perhaps with new safety features appearing, as Ed mentions in his introduction, safety deserves its own section in future issues.

How many fatalities are caused by potholes? I believe there were 4 fatalities recorded in Scotland in one year with many more injuries, the majority to cyclists and motorcyclists. Does Brake have any data on the exact figures? It is an increasing problem on minor roads where I live.

On rural roads in our area the edges of the road surface have been broken away by large vehicles and agricultural tractors trying to pass at speed so that they mount the verge or bank at the side leaving debris behind due to the scouring action of the big tyres. This makes it quite hazardous for cars and especially motor and pedal cycles and scooters. The broken edges sometimes spread across the carriageway. Repairs are carried out by patching but they do not last long. As large vehicles veer further to the left they often bring down tree branches. The drivers are usually unaware of the destruction they are causing. These hazards might not be the cause of many actual deaths but they certainly make driving on these roads quite dangerous, especially at night. The cost of installing kerbs and drainage gullies along all these rural roads would be astronomical and the exercise would probably be futile.

This is a considerable problem with some country roads. Rather than slow down and pass with care, vehicles often veer off the road onto grass verges at speed and gradually break off the edge of the tarmac, soon producing large potholes. I’m no expert but would suggest that the integrity of the tarmac could be maintained with a concrete kerb, the top of which is level with the road surface. This would still allow vehicles to veer off the road if too wide to pass. White lines are an important safety feature, not only showing the edge of the road but helping to reveal damaged sections.

Perhaps there is a technological solution that would allow drivers to report problems such as potholes without fiddling with their mobile phones.

There is a fairly good description of car safety features online at http://www.which.co.uk/cars/choosing-a-car/car-features/the-best-car-safety-features/
Whilst this focuses on the driver and occupant safety, as well as more controlability when things get out of hand – it does touch on the safety of other road users; for example quick bonnet release snesor that allows the bonnet to lift a little very quickly to increase the amount of space between where the pedestrian might impact and the “hard parts of the engine”.
Presumably cars in the guide have generally a good Euro NCAP rating, but Which? do point out those that are deficient – the Dacia Duster as an example with a 3 star crash test rating. I wonder why the EU doesn’t prohibit the sale of cars that fall below a certain safety standard.