Are Spaniards the worst drivers in Europe?

A new study from the Spanish Royal Automobile Club has surveyed residents of 15 EU countries to find out which has the worst and best habits when it comes to road safety

Over 5% of Europeans say they almost always fall asleep on a long drive.
Over 5% of Europeans say they almost always fall asleep on a long drive.

While many people may believe Spanish drivers are less disciplined behind the wheel than other European road users, this turns out to be just another urban myth. The reality is somewhat different – the Spanish it turns out are far from the worst drivers on the road, according to the annual survey carried out by the Spanish Royal Automobile Club (RACE) in collaboration with the Association of Drinks and Refreshments and with the support of Spain’s DGT traffic authority.

As many as 43.5% of Europeans admit to driving after drinking alcohol

The survey focuses largely on fatigue at the wheel but includes other issues like driving under the influence, allowing for a fairly accurate profile of drivers of both sexes between the ages of 18 and 75, drawn from 3,368 online interviews from drivers 15 countries: Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Spain has dropped to eighth place regarding road fatalities, with 39 deaths for every million inhabitants, which ranks it below the European average of 51 per million.

Sweden has the lowest road fatality rate with 25 deaths per million residents, followed by Britain (27) and Denmark (32). At the other end of the spectrum, Romania tops the list with 99 fatalities for every million residents, followed by Bulgaria (89) and Croatia (80).

According to the survey, 90.1% of Europeans use the car regularly. Spaniards score above average in this respect with 91% regularly using the car, while 97% of Italians are frequent drivers. Regarding purpose, 78.9% of Europeans use their vehicle for leisure, while 11.6% use it for professional reasons, figures that are similar to those in Spain.

The Spanish make an average of 11.7 trips of over 200 kilometers a year – or more precisely, an average of 356 kilometers – meaning they cover 4,165 kilometers a year with respect to long journeys. The Swedes travel the furthest in their cars, covering an average of 5,159 kilometers on these kinds of trips. And although shared car platforms are gaining popularity, 64.4% of Europeans still use their own vehicles for travel – 72.8% in Spain – despite this being more expensive than other options.

Once on the road, Spanish drivers take a break on average two hours and seven minutes into the journey, putting them in fourth position while the Portuguese rank at the top, stopping after one hour and 45 minutes, and the Swiss and Austrians rank at the bottom, driving an average of two hours and 13 minutes on the road before resting. In Spain, the stops last between 10 and 15 minutes on 34% of occasions, which is less than the average in 11 of the surveyed countries, but behind Finland, Poland and Great Britain.

Finland is the country with the highest number of accidents caused by driver fatigue

Meanwhile, 5.2% of Europeans recognize that they almost always fall asleep on a long drive, a figure that drops to 2.3% in the case of Spain. Similarly concerning is the fact that 27% of Europeans admit that they don’t stop for a break at all for stretches of up to four hours behind the wheel.

Where Spaniards are out ahead is in planning ahead for a long journey – with 83% preparing for the trip, 78.6% getting a reasonable amount of rest before setting off, 64.7% aiming to drive when traffic is less intense and 29.5% sharing the driving. In all respects, they score above the European average.

Finland is country with the highest number of accidents caused by driver fatigue (24.7%), while Portugal has the lowest rate (4.9%), and Spain ranks eleventh with 10.8%. The profile in these kinds of accident is a male driver between 18 and 24, who drives only now and again, travels for work, has not had sufficient rest after more than four hours at the wheel and takes breaks lasting no longer than five minutes.

Alcohol consumption continues to be a serious problem for road safety. As many as 43.5% of Europeans admit to driving after drinking alcohol, with 22% always or almost always driving after consumption. In Spain, 14.4% always or almost always drive under the influence while this figure rises to 27.5% in Britain and 32.9% in France. The most responsible in this respect are Czechs drivers with only 6.3% regularly drink driving.

The RACE study winds up by listing some telltale signs that drivers should heed with regard to weariness at the wheel – cramps, a sensation of numbness in limbs, itchy eyes and blurred vision, dehydration and a sensation of drifting off.

English version by Heather Galloway.


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