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Don’t get driven to distraction

19 March 2009

The welcome spring sunshine of last week would have prompted many of us to think about taking the occasional day trip out into the countryside, and with the Easter holidays looming the numbers of us doing just that will multiply considerably, leading to the usual jams and frustration. But a note of warning, here, as motor insurance company, esure releases the results of research into what is perhaps the least appreciated cause of motoring accidents and near-accidents.

As planning for Mark Wallinger’s white horse dubbed ‘The Angel of the South’ gets underway, esure’s research reveals that an estimated four million (12 per cent) motorists have had an accident or near-miss because they were distracted by famous roadside landmarks. The research found that two thirds (66 per cent) of those surveyed admitted that, when driving, they are distracted by roadside landmarks and have often taken their eyes off the road to glance at these popular attractions. So, what are the prime culprits?

Apparently, Stonehenge in Wiltshire gets the most heads turning as it topped the poll as the most distracting landmark, with Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North coming a close second - particularly worrying as the latter is seen by an estimated 90,000 people every day. The ‘Top Ten’ ranking goes as follows: Stonehenge, Wiltshire (62 per cent); Angel of the North, Tyneside (60 per cent); the London Eye (40 per cent); Windsor Castle, Windsor (38 per cent); Celtic Chalk Figures, Dorset (36 per cent); Wembley Stadium, London (29 per cent); Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland (24 per cent); Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex (22 per cent); the Humber Bridge, Hull (20 per cent), and the Wallace Monument, Stirling, Scotland (13 per cent)

Over a quarter (28 per cent) of the motorists questioned admitted they have had to brake suddenly when driving past a landmark – which could easily have lead to a serious road incident. Over half (52 per cent) of the sample said they slowed down when driving past roadside landmarks to take in the view. A further 63 per cent – almost two thirds – confessed that their passengers had encouraged them to take their eyes off the road to look at a roadside landmark.

When confronted with these potential dangers by the researchers, motorists began to reveal a modicum of common sense. Almost half (47 per cent) of those polled said that national landmarks such as the proposed ‘Angel of the South’ should not be built next to busy roads because they compromise the concentration of motorists. Nearly half again (49 per cent) think that there should be road signs warning drivers to slow down due to upcoming roadside landmarks, while a further 47 per cent said that speed limits should be reduced in their vicinity. The greater majority (73 per cent) believed viewing areas should be introduced around all roadside landmarks to allow drivers to stop safely and take a leisurely view of the spectacle.

“Spotting famous landmarks has long been a fun part of road trips, but this can also lead drivers to distraction as they take their eyes away from the road, slow down or brake suddenly,” says esure’s head of risk and underwriting, Mike Pickard. “Motorists should keep their eyes on the road at all times – taking them off the road ahead even for a split second, could be dangerous. If motorists want to look at a landmark or take a quick photo, they should either pull into a lay-by when it is safe to do so or wait until they are not the ones in the driving seat.”

The esure research also flagged up some surprising regional and gender related variations in the poll results. For example, motorists in the North East, the region where the famous Angel of the North is sited, are most distracted by landmarks, with almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those polled admitting to taking their eyes off the road to quickly glance at roadside attractions. Some 15 per cent of motorists in Yorkshire admitted having had an accident or near miss when driving past a roadside landmark, while over one in ten (13 per cent) Scottish drivers admitted to the same.

Female motorists are more likely to be distracted by roadside landmarks, though by just a small margin; some 68 per cent say they are sometimes distracted enough to take their eyes away from the road compared to 63 per cent of male motorists. Calm down dear! This is esure’s survey conclusion – not mine! Ending on a positive note, female motorists appear to be more safety conscious, with 43 per cent going for the lower speed limits around landmarks compared with just 31 per cent of their male counterparts having the same view.

Les Hunt
Editor

Esure’s survey was carried out by the independent online research company FlyResearch who polled 1,000 UK based motorists, aged 18 and over, earlier this month.


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