North East Connected

Are we there yet? UK drivers’ safety at risk abroad as majority are prepared for marathon drives without a stop

With this weekend and next due to be the busiest all summer for drivers heading south through France for the holidays,* new figures from RAC European Breakdown** reveal just how long motorists are prepared to drive without a break – risking their safety and that of their passengers and other road users in the process.

Incredibly, more than a quarter of UK drivers (28%) who have taken their own transport to the Continent admit to driving non-stop for five hours or more, with the figure leaping to a colossal 58% who say they’ve driven for four hours or more without a break. Within the EU, even people who drive for a living are not permitted by law to drive for any more than four-and-half hours before stopping.

In contrast, just one-in-10 drivers who have driven abroad from the UK (9.3%) say they have stuck to driving two hours or less before stopping and taking a rest, as recommended by the Highway Code. While drivers are not bound by it outside the UK, Rule 91 of the Code states that a break of at least 15 minutes should be taken every two hours – with regular breaks essential in keeping a driver focused, alert and, above all, safe on the road.

Driving on empty? The longest motorists are prepared to go without taking a break 

Time spent driving on the Continent without a break % of drivers 
1 hour or less 0.5%
2 hours of less – as recommended in the Highway Code 9.3%
3 hours more more 90.1%
4 hours or more – commercial drivers can’t drive for 
more than 4½ hours in the EU without a break
5 hours or more 28.2%
6 hours or more 16.7%
7 hours or more 9.7%
8 hours or more 7.5%

RAC Europe spokesman Rod Dennis said:

“This Saturday is declared a ‘Black Saturday’ or ‘un Samedi noir’ in France, and for good reason – widespread queues are expected as millions of holidaymakers head south and west in search of the sun, with a good number of these starting their journeys this side of the Channel.

“With long traffic jams inevitable, it’s vitally important UK drivers plan, but also pace their journeys. Worryingly, these new figures show just how few of us are prepared to do that. Perhaps it’s a desire to get to our holiday destinations as quickly as possible that means we continue to drive on, or maybe we’re not leaving ourselves enough time to reach the French ferry terminals on our journeys home – but whatever the reason, driving for so long in one go means we’re severely increasing the risk of causing a collision.

“Despite the ease at which modern vehicles allow us to clock up the miles (or kilometres) in relative comfort, it’s still the case that driving is an extremely demanding task – all the more so if you are getting used to foreign roads, and foreign drivers. So taking a proper break is essential – it doesn’t need to be a long one, but having a rest (even a short nap) and drinking two cups of caffeinated coffee as recommended in the Highway Code can keep you safe and alert.”

UK government data indicates that Brits take around 7m holiday trips into the Continent via ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel every year.***

Driving abroad this summer? Tips for staying alert

The RAC provides the best level of European breakdown cover available on the market, with its Comprehensive Plus product.**** It is the only product that covers all the costs to bring a broken-down vehicle back to the UK (as long as it’s not beyond economical repair) and gives drivers more to spend on a hire car and accommodation that any other provider.

The RAC has published a checklist for drivers on what they need to know before taking their own vehicle over the Channel this summer. A range of country-specific driving guides is also available.

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