Motorway Phobia

UK motorists drive 600 million miles to avoid motorways

Just how far will anxious drivers go to avoid joining the motorway?

Just how far will anxious drivers go to avoid joining the motorway? More than 600 million miles, if the last year is anything to go by.

During that time UK drivers used the AA's online Route Planner to devise more than 5 million routes specifically to steer clear of motorways. The routes, weaving under, over and alongside busy multi-lane roads, averaged over 125 miles each. Stretched end-to-end they would extend around the world 24,000 times.

Though motorways are statistically the UK's safest roads, they are a source of fear for millions of drivers including many who avoid them altogether. And, as families across Britain embark on another wave of holiday journeys, an AA/Populus survey* reveals that nearly one in 10 AA members (9%) believe they would benefit from refresher or confidence training on motorway driving.


AA Driving School's head of driver development, Mark Peacock, says:

"There is much evidence that motorways are our most feared and avoided roads, yet statistically they are safer than other roads. By steering clear of them drivers not only face a longer, slower journey, but are potentially putting themselves at greater risk on A-roads**.

"With help, many find they can quickly overcome their fears. Tailored motorway tuition with a fully-qualified instructor can help drivers build the skills and confidence to make our motorway network work for them."

Motorway 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.***
  • 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.****
  • Around 5 million routes a year generated by the AA's online Route Planner are for drivers who opt to plan their journey to deliberately avoid motorways.
  • 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.****
  • Driving too slowly, not merging safely when joining the motorway, and not observing safe following distances are the most commonly observed problems, according to AA Driving School instructors.

Overcoming motorway phobia

A 62-year-old London widow asked AA Driving School to help her tackle motorways. She had never driven on one in 22 years since passing her test as her late husband had always done the driving, and she was fast losing touch with friends who were a motorway-journey away. She started her lessons nervously, but speed was not her only worry – she insisted on doing her lessons in her own car lest her peers should see her in a driving school car. She has now successfully completed her training, regained her independence, and is literally on the road to restoring old friendships.

A taxi driver in Bolton refused all jobs involving motorway driving for 20 years after he witnessed a serious accident. 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.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


20 August 2010

* AA/Populus panel survey of 12,231 AA members, 7–14 December 2009

** The 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

*** AA/Populus panel survey of 13,905 drivers, 2–8 June 2009

**** Young drivers – where and when they are unsafe: analysis of road accidents in Great Britain 2000-2006 (IAM Motoring Trust, August 2008