The pandemic has caused motorist anxiety and stress levels to rocks while also taking its toll on driver confidence, potentially bringing road safety implications.
One in five drivers and riders are more anxious about being on the road since lockdown, according to new figures from IAM RoadSmart.
Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 65% said they felt worried about offering someone, like a friend or colleague, a lift in their car or on their motorcycle, from fear of catching Covid-19.
And its research finds that more than four in five motorists felt they weren’t getting the mental health support they needed and admitted to ‘suffering in silence’.
Now, the road safety charity says it’s concerned that a second prolonged period off the road could trigger increased anxiety, stress levels and diminished confidence levels in day-to-day driving, presenting an even greater road safety risk.
The research reflects insight from a leading expert in driver and rider behaviour Professor Alex Stedmon. Stedmon is a cognitive psychologist who works as an independent transport consultant at Open Road Simulation and says that the skill of driving or riding is unlikely to have disappeared over lockdown, but that confidence and familiarity might.
Professor Stedmon said: “Simply put, the brain works on two levels. It has short-term or working memory, which has a small capacity and focusses on what you’re doing at that precise moment, and everything else is long-term memory, the place where we transfer the processes that make up our skills – such as driving.
“The mechanics of driving or riding aren’t going to evaporate over lockdown, but the confidence and familiarity of driving a car or riding a motorcycle might, which could lead to increased levels of anxiety.”
Further findings from the survey also reveal the different attitudes towards stress and anxiety levels in the UK regions.
The increased number of cyclists on the road is causing motorists in Scotland the most stress, with almost half (46%) of people admitting this, followed closely by 41% cent of people in the South East. And 39% of people in Northern Ireland have found more pedestrians on the roads and pavements the greatest source of stress and increased anxiety levels since the start of lockdown.
The standards of other people’s driving following a long break was of key concern to 54% of motorists in the West Midlands, followed closely by 44% of motorists in the South West who also had the same concerns.
Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards, said: “Confidence is a major factor in how we drive or ride, particularly for those who have been driving or riding less in recent months.
“A loss of confidence can increase anxiety which in turn puts us at greater risk of being involved in an incident on the road.”
Advice from IAM on maintain confidence and countering anxiety includes planning and preparation prior to journeys, staying focused on the road, avoiding distractions and sharing the road considerately with all other road users.
Gladman added: “Anyone who feels they have lost confidence or feels more anxious about taking to the roads will find a refresher of the basics now could help reduce stress and prepare them for whatever the future holds in terms of driving and riding. It could also improve wellbeing and mental health, something that is more important than ever in these uncertain times.”