Perhaps it is a symptom of the increasingly complicated nature of modern vehicles, but recent media reports have revealed a shocking lack of basic knowledge among UK motorists. While faults will be picked up by the MOT test and / or during regular servicing, the fact is that, in the event of a breakdown, an awful lot of drivers will be unable to help themselves get moving again. Although the country’s breakdown services are some of the best in the world, they still take time to get to stranded vehicles; this could put people at unnecessary risk, when, with a little knowledge, they could drive themselves out of danger.
A survey was carried out by a leading comparison site, which contacted 2,000 vehicle owners. Amazingly, three quarters of those motorists said they did not feel confident about carrying out what would once have been thought of as elementary tasks which any motorist could do. Top of this list was changing a wheel; if the figure of 2,000 respondents is representative of all UK motorists, this would mean that 11 million road users couldn’t get themselves off the hard shoulder by using the spare wheel in their boot. Having one of these, with a properly inflated, well treaded tyre, is part of the MOT test; it seems, however, that many drivers wouldn’t try to use theirs anyway.
Closely following fear of changing a wheel come; changing the oil, checking the brake fluid level, and testing depth of tyre tread. Again, any of these will fail a vehicle’s MOT test, and with good reason; engines overheat without enough oil, brakes might not perform well enough in emergencies, and worn tyres are dangerous at all times. Being wary of checking tyre treads seems particularly illogical, as this can be done using a 20 pence piece. It seems, however, that 13% of British drivers have never even tried to do this. The most worrying aspect of this, of course, is its implications for the roadworthiness of these vehicles.
Like much else in the 21st century, it seems that age plays a significant part when it comes to confidence around motor vehicles. The difference is quite stark; only 6% of respondents between 17 and 54 years old said they were happy to carry out all basic checks and tasks, while this jumps to 37% for motorists of 55 and upwards. Of course, by definition, the vast majority of this second group have been driving a lot longer than those in the first; however, this does not explain the gulf in confidence when it comes to tackling the most basic of tasks.
It is certainly true that modern motor vehicles are much more complicated than those of earlier generations. As well as computer based technology, design has evolved to maximize aerodynamic, road holding and other performance factors to a huge degree. In combination with “hacks” put on social media, this can lead to misunderstandings when people come across items in their car that they don’t understand. Thinks like water drainage holes in or around doors, for instance, have led some owners to plug them up, which can itself be dangerous.
In many ways, this age gap would seem to be the reverse of the widely held assumption that young people understand computers and the internet, while older people don’t, and are therefore afraid of them. If there is any truth to this scenario, it is at least in part because society as a whole has become dependent on these technologies, whether people like it or not. For a country with an ageing population, it is surely understandable that the future holds some real fears as this situation becomes ever more entrenched. These are matters, however, for politicians to deal with (or not) at national level.
In terms of vehicle maintenance, however, the situation is certainly reversed. The fact is that it is the responsibility of all owners to maintain their vehicle to a roadworthy standard. Failure to do so has serious consequences, in the here and now. Firstly, insurance policies are rendered invalid if owners allow their vehicles to become unroadworthy; and driving an uninsured car on public roads is against the law. Recent changes to that law mean that anyone caught driving an unroadworthy vehicle faces a £2,500 fine, as well as a three point penalty on their driving licence. Being afraid of one’s vehicle, therefore, can be costly for a whole range of reasons.