Fear of Motorways

5 million believe they lack skills needed for motorway driving

vehicles on a quiet motorway

24 July 2009

'M-Phobia' condemns lost generation of Britons to life in the slow lane

Fear of motorways and a lack of driving skills have created a 'lost generation' of drivers who avoid M-roads at all costs, new research by AA Driving School reveals.

One in seven motorists – nearly 5 million in total – say they lack vital skills for motorway driving, rising to one in five among drivers who have passed their test within the last five years, according to an AA Driving School survey1.

The study comes as instructors report that a phenomenon dubbed 'M-phobia' is driving thousands onto more dangerous A-roads2, hurting small businesses, and in some cases producing whole families of motorway avoiders.

Some drivers fear motorways so much they spend decades, or even generations, avoiding them, according to feedback from a panel of AA driving instructors.

Learner drivers in the UK are not allowed to drive on motorways, are not tested on practical motorway skills, and do not have to take motorway lessons once licensed.

AA Driving School believes this means many new drivers lack confidence and skills specific to motorways. Driving too slowly and not observing safe following distances or merging safely when joining the motorway are the problems most commonly seen by instructors.

To help prepare drivers of all ages for life in the fast lane, AA Driving School is launching new tailored motorway driving courses. Director Simon Douglas says:

"The evidence suggests motorways are Britain's most feared roads, with a lost generation of drivers avoiding them completely. Yet, statistically, they are our safest roads. Tailored motorway tuition with a qualified instructor can help drivers beat M-phobia – and build the skills and confidence to drive safely while enjoying the convenience of our motorway network."

Example cases

Cases of M-phobia encountered by AA Driving School instructors include:

  • A taxi driver who had refused all jobs involving motorway driving since witnessing a motorway accident 20 years ago. He booked a motorway lesson and, after starting out at 45mph with a queue of traffic behind, gradually gained the confidence to travel at a suitable speed. Now he gladly accepts motorway jobs, his takings have increased, and he is so delighted he has referred three other drivers to his instructor for lessons.
  • A second-generation motorway avoider who had never been on an M-road, even as a passenger, as her mother shunned them at all costs. On her first motorway outing, she had just managed to get into lane 2 when a Police car with full lights and sirens approached from behind. She immediately crossed back into lane 1, then onto the hard shoulder to stop – apparently thinking the Police were after her for driving too fast.
  • A terrified young pupil who hesitated when joining the M6 from a slip road. When a driver in lane 1 slowed and flashed to let her in she panicked, slowed to their speed and ended up 'sandwiched' driving beside them on the hard shoulder.
  • A widow whose late husband had always done the motorway driving asked AA Driving School to help her back onto M-roads after an absence of 30 years. She was losing touch with friends as she couldn't bring herself to travel to them by motorway. But speed was not her only worry – she insisted on doing her lesson in her own car for fear that her peers would see her in a driving school car.

Fact file

  • Young drivers and women are by far the least confident on motorways, according to AA/Populus research. Only 44 per cent of those aged 18-24 and 44 per cent of women said they were confident driving on motorways. The figures were 65 per cent and 70 per cent respectively for drivers aged 55-64 and male drivers.3
  • Research suggests that in their first year of driving nearly 20 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women avoid motorways altogether. By the third year after passing the test, 11 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women did no motorway driving.4
  • Though motorways are statistically Britain's safest roads, new drivers are over-represented among accidents, with drivers aged 17-24 involved in more than a quarter of motorway accidents involving death or injury.4
  • AA Driving School's new motorway driving course is designed to give drivers the knowledge, skills and confidence to drive on motorways safely at all times and in all conditions. Pupils will be provided with a motorway driving guide and workbook with home study activities, followed by at least two hours of practical training. At the end of the course, drivers will take away an agreed action plan to encourage them to continue to improve their skills.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


28 July 2009

1Research undertaken for AA Driving School with 72 Point on 7-8 May 2009. 2,000 respondents were questioned.
2The 2009 EuroRAP survey found that 60 per cent of A-roads failed to rate as safe, and rated single-carriageway A-roads as Britain’s most dangerous roads.
3AA/Populus panel survey of 13,905 drivers, 2 – 8 June 2009.
4Young drivers – where and when they are unsafe: analysis of road accidents in Great Britain 2000-2006 (IAM Motoring Trust, August 2008).