• IAM RoadSmart study finds that one-in-five drivers and riders are more anxious about being on the road since lockdown
• More than four-in-five motorists felt they weren’t getting the mental health support they needed and admitted to ‘suffering in silence’
• Almost two thirds of people are worried about giving someone a lift from the fear of catching COVID-19
• Further periods off the road, such as a local lockdown or a second national lockdown, could have road safety implications, warns the road safety charity
One-in-five drivers and riders are more anxious about being on the road since the start of lockdown, a study by IAM RoadSmart has discovered.
With local lockdowns becoming increasingly common and the ever-present risk of a further national lockdown over the coming months, the UK’s largest independent road safety charity is concerned that increased anxiety, stress levels and diminished confidence levels in day-to-day driving could be triggered by a second prolonged period off the road, which could have road safety implications.
More than eight-in-10 motorists surveyed admitted to ‘suffering in silence’ after feeling they weren’t getting the support they needed to deal with feelings of anxiety brought on by the lockdown. This figure may rise in the event of further lockdowns, presenting an even greater road safety risk after a second spell of limited travelling.
Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 65 per cent felt worried about offering someone, like a friend or colleague, a lift in their car or on their motorcycle, from fear of catching COVID-19.
The anxiety findings reflect insight from a leading expert in driver and rider behaviour Professor Alex Stedmon, a cognitive psychologist who works as an independent transport consultant at Open Road Simulation Ltd. His expertise has highlighted how the skill of driving or riding is unlikely to have disappeared over lockdown, but that confidence and familiarity might.
Professor Stedmon said: “Simply put, the brain works on two levels. It has short-term or working memory, which has a small capacity and focusses on what you’re doing at that precise moment, and everything else is long-term memory, the place where we transfer the processes that make up our skills – such as driving.
“The mechanics of driving or riding aren’t going to evaporate over lockdown, but the confidence and familiarity of driving a car or riding a motorcycle might, which could lead to increased levels of anxiety.”
Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving and Riding Standards, said: “Confidence is a major factor in how we drive or ride, particularly for those who have been driving or riding less in recent months.
“A loss of confidence can increase anxiety which in turn puts us at greater risk of being involved in an incident on the road.
“The good news is there are some simple things we can all do to make sure we maintain our confidence and minimise the risk of anxiety creeping in when we are driving or riding. As the foundation to all safer driving and riding, these reflect a common-sense approach that is easy to make part of your everyday driving and riding.
“Through planning and preparation before your journey, staying focused on the road and avoiding distractions and by sharing the road considerately with all other road users, being mindful of our limits and taking time to get the basics right, we can all stay sharp and keep safe.”
Further findings from the survey also reveal the different attitudes towards stress and anxiety levels in the UK regions.
The increased number of cyclists on the road is causing motorists in Scotland the most stress, with almost half (46 per cent) of people admitting this, followed closely by 41 per cent of people in the South East.
While 39 per cent of people in Northern Ireland have found more pedestrians on the roads and pavements the greatest source of stress and increased anxiety levels since the start of lockdown.
In the West Midlands, 54 per cent of motorists were most concerned about the standards of other people’s driving following a long break off the roads throughout lockdown, followed closely by 44 per cent of motorists in the South West who also had the same concerns.
In Wales, 75 per cent of motorists, and in London 67 per cent of motorists, were most worried about catching COVID-19 from giving someone a lift in their car or on their bike.
IAM RoadSmart offers a range of driver and rider assessments and skills refreshers as well as Advanced Driver and Rider courses.
Richard added: “Anyone who feels they have lost confidence or feels more anxious about taking to the roads will find a refresher of the basics now could help reduce stress and prepare them for whatever the future holds in terms of driving and riding. It could also improve wellbeing and mental health, something that is more important than ever in these uncertain times. All in-car training adheres to government social distancing guidelines.”