Beware the Christmas risk factor17 Dec 2007

Motorists could double their risk of a winter accident simply by driving home for Christmas, warns the RAC Foundation today (17). The Foundation’s analysis of official road safety figures shows that the risk of injury to road users is not equal throughout the UK, making it vital for motorists to prepare properly before heading off to visit friends and family.

The RAC Foundation’s analysis of DfT safety statistics for English regions* and local authorities** shows that road users in London are twice as likely to be involved in a serious accident than those in the South West or South East, while Worcestershire is the safest county for motoring.

The festive period is traditionally the most stressful time in the motoring calendar, with motorists trying to juggle the demands of winter weather, holiday congestion, and family tensions while carrying out long-distance driving between extended families, in-laws and friends. Dealing with unknown routes and an unfamiliar environment, whether urban conditions or rural roads, can leave little spare attention for safety checks, which can lead to catastrophe. Christmas risk factors include:-

  • Bad weather. Ice, snow, rain and wind all bring extra difficulties to driving while low winter sun can also be hazardous.
  • Darker nights and mornings. Collisions and accidents peak during the dark winter months when the hours of gloom are longer.
  • Stress and fatigue. Drivers are often exhausted by the planning and preparation they have put into organising the Festive celebrations or get distracted by the tasks they have to undertake.
  • Drink drivers. Even if they have wisely abstained from alcohol there may be other drivers on the road who haven’t.
  • Tension. Christmas is widely recognised by psychologists as being the most stressful time of the year. Family or work friction can lead drivers to make basic errors, take chances, miss hazards or speed.

The RAC Foundation has determined that the regions with the highest road safety risk** in 2006 were London; Yorkshire and Humber; and the North-West. Motorists in these regions faced a significantly higher risk of accident than road users in the South-East; the South-West and the West Midlands, the three safest regions, though Greater London has made great progress and cut local casualty rates by 44%.

The safest local authorities in 2006 were*;

1. Worcestershire
2. Hertfordshire
3. Warwickshire
4. Hampshire
5. Devon

The areas with the highest rate of killed and seriously injured road users for 2006 were*;

1. Greater London
2. East Sussex
3. Isle of Wight
4. Lancashire
5. North Yorkshire

Sheila Rainger, Head of Campaigns says, “Christmas is traditionally a time to visit friends and family, but motorists must expect the unexpected and be aware that not all parts of the UK are equal when it comes to road safety.

“Unfamiliar surroundings, wintry conditions and overdoses of Christmas indulgence can make for a hazardous and stressful journey. Many motorists will be tired after the pre-holiday rush at work, and driving with too many things on their mind, leading to increased speeds, inattention and poor hazard perception.

“Motorists can protect themselves by planning ahead. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to route planning and road conditions, and leaving extra time for journeys in order to allow for the unexpected is even more vital at this time of year.

“It goes without saying that, even at Christmas, no-one should be tempted to drink and drive. It is better not to drink at all if you know you will be driving than to take a chance on calculating your units.

“Drivers should be particularly vigilant about their driving style and remember that even if they themselves are good, focused drivers other road users may be struggling.”



* Figures in release taken from DfT Road Casualties English Local Authority Tables: 2006 released December 2007