Car buyers opt for safety before acceleration: Drivers reject idea of motorway tolls

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The Independent Online
GONE are the days when motorists sought speed and acceleration when choosing a new car. According to the annual Lex survey published yesterday, car buyers are more interested in mundane matters such as safety and security.

The survey of 1,720 drivers showed that while 41 per cent looked for security and 37 per cent safety, only 6 per cent were interested in the top speed and 14 per cent in acceleration. Even environmental concerns featured prominently, with 27 per cent expressing an interest. The survey points out these worries 'are as yet not sufficiently strong to induce people to switch from car travel to other modes of transport, but could nevertheless influence the type of car that people would prefer to purchase'.

The researchers also discovered that car drivers were perennial lawbreakers. While 61 per cent admitted to speeding on normal roads and 47 per cent on motorways in the past year, only 5 per cent said they had been caught. Only 32 per cent admitted to having parked illegally, while one-fifth drove without a seat belt. More worryingly, one in 25 admitted drink driving, which, if the survey is accurate, suggests as many as one million people did so in the past year. However, motorists approve of heavy punishments for drink-drivers, with 45 per cent saying there should be mandatory prison sentences for those caught.

Roadside speed cameras have led to one-third of drivers going more slowly in general, while another 29 per cent only slowed down for the cameras and 39 per cent ignored them entirely.

Although teenagers are, in general, fairly complimentary about their parents, with 96 per cent saying they are fairly or very good, some of their individual comments are less flattering. When asked about their parents' annoying driving habits, the most frequent response was 'they argue which way to go'. Other complaints included: 'Mother brakes too heavily' and 'Dad sometimes steers with his knees'.

The idea of motorway tolls goes down like a lead balloon. While 90 per cent accept that congestion is a major problem, 58 per cent of respondents said they would be unwilling to pay even small tolls to travel on motorways and 37 per cent were even opposed to tolls for longer journeys.

The researchers conclude that even a 1.25p per mile toll, the amount currently being mooted by the transport ministers, would deter 37 per cent of motorists from using motorways, and 64 per cent would go on other roads if the price were 3.75p. The authors conclude that any tolls would clear motorways of excess traffic, 'evoking memories of the M1 when it was opened in 1960'.

1994 Lex report on motoring, The consumer view; Lex service plc; pounds 295.

(Graph omitted)