A portrait of motoring Britain

AA-Populus five-year study reveals fear and loathing, and sheer joy, of UK motoring

Some of the UK’s most reluctant drivers do the lowest mileages but fear road charging the most - their motoring finances being the most likely to be on a knife-edge. They prefer to stay off the road in bad weather, dislike motorways, loathe night driving and like speed cameras.

However, if you come across them, they are amongst the most likely to lose their temper with you and flash their lights. They comprise 16% of the motoring population.

Such is the enigmatic nature of the UK motorist, revealed in five years’ analysis of AA members’ motoring loves and hates by leading market researcher Populus.

  • Cash-strapped low-mileage drivers on short fuses
  • High-mileage drivers – slaves to their cars or loving the open road
  • Cost of motoring and fear of road charging unites them all

The study, A Portrait of Motoring Britain, covers a spectrum of six types of motorist, from the motoring for joy and drive to survive groups through to the rogues and the ‘cars are a necessary evil’ types.

From the AA-Populus monthly surveys, each canvassing the views of typically 20,000 AA members of all ages, sexes, regions and socio-economic backgrounds, Populus has identified the following types of driver:

  • Driving to Live – averaging 10,800 miles a year, 100% driving most days, represents 18% of sample
  • Motorheads – averaging 10,500 miles a year, 99% driving most days, represents 21% of sample
  • More than Motoring – averaging 6,700 miles a year, 25% driving most days, represents 18% of sample
  • Rogue Drivers – averaging 8,700 miles a year, 82% driving most days, represents 13% of sample
  • Way of Life – averaging 9,600 miles a year, 99% driving most days, represents 14% of sample
  • Reluctant Drivers – averaging 6,800 miles a year, 72% driving most days, represents 16% of sample

A portrait of motoring Britain

Download report (pdf)

High mileage

The high-mileage drivers - 'driving to live' and 'Motorheads' - representing 39% of the AA-Populus panel, are both brothers of the road yet poles apart. Covering at least 10,000 miles a year, they love the open road or work has made them a slave to it.

They live in fear of motoring costs, strongly oppose road charging and are almost completely comfortable on the motorway and driving at night. Bad weather isn’t really a problem.

But, those whose work is dependent on the car ('Driving to live') are under pressure. They are by far the most prone to losing their tempers (47%) while the joy-of-driving ‘motorheads’ are amongst the most chilled (15%). Using alternative transport is barely a consideration for drivers on a work schedule (8%), while 22% of the motorheads say ‘give it a go’.

Low mileage

In contrast, the low-mileage ‘more than motoring’ group, representing 18% of AA members, is resentful of having to drive but recognises the need for a car.

Where there is an alternative to the car, there is a 46% chance that these drivers will make the switch. On the one hand, they are most supportive of speed cameras (65%), on the other, their opposition to privatised roads is not far off from other groups (64%).

Petrolheads, Mr Toads and green drivers are terms that fail to recognise the diversity and contradictions that make up the tribes within the motoring population

Edmund King, the AA’s president

Diversity and contradictions

“Petrolheads, Mr Toads and green drivers are terms that fail to recognise the diversity and contradictions that make up the tribes within the motoring population,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.

“Five years of AA-Populus surveys, involving around 20,000 AA members a month and around 1.2 million views given over the period in Europe’s biggest motorists’ opinion panel , have revealed the strains on drivers and how they react. Those under pressure have lower tolerance of others and kick back against restrictions that make their motoring harder.

“They are, however, more resilient to weather surprises, more comfortable with driving environments that others shy away from and know better how to look after their vehicles. When you ask them, despite all the pressures, at least three-quarters of them still enjoy getting behind the wheel.

“Across the spectrum of drivers, there are two concerns that unite them: fear of the rising cost of motoring and the threat of road charging. At least three in every 10 struggle to continue driving because of the cost of motoring – which probably explains why at least 64% in all groups oppose pay-as-you-go on privatised roads.”