According to research, speeding or running a red light is less likely in a Skoda or Hyundai than in ‘performance driving’ models.
Was it the boy racer or the sports car that came first? Academics have advocated for further research into car marketing after a study of UK accident data revealed that drivers of specific brands are more likely to cause a crash than others.
A study of over 400,000 UK traffic accidents discovered that when “risky or aggressive manoeuvres” were involved in incidents, there was a statistically significant variation in driver culpability across different brands.
Dodgy driving was more likely to be a factor when a Subaru, Porsche, or BMW was involved than a Skoda or Hyundai, with alleged infringements like as speeding, jumping a red signal, overtaking on double white lines, or disobeying the modest pedestrian crossing.
In an article published in the Journal of Social Marketing, the researchers hypothesised that branding could be to blame after accounting for characteristics such as driver ages and route kinds.
“All things being equal,” said lead author Alan Tapp, professor of social marketing at the University of the West of England, “you’d expect the same proportion of aggressive manoeuvres across all types.”
However, there was a higher prevalence in Department of Transport crash data among models he generally defined as having “advertising and marketing that seems to celebrate performance driving, look at me, king-of-the-road stuff.”
Drivers of Subaru vehicles, once enthusiastically defined by Jeremy Clarkson in his Top Gear days as “a fire-breathing incarnation from the pixellated world of the PlayStation” whose slamming door “makes exactly the same sound as a recently shot pheasant hitting the ground,” were found to be involved in the most “injudicious action,” according to the paper.
“It’s chicken and egg – do aggressive drivers choose certain cars, or do brands make things worse?” Tapp remarked. “We know that some car manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year around the world promoting their vehicles with imagery that, in some cases, subtly implies a link between their vehicle and high performance driving.” We also know that the styling of particular models appears to appeal to drivers who seek to test the limits of performance.
“Of course, these manufacturers follow the laws and regulations that govern them, and we make no claim to the contrary.” But now that this information is available, should we be urging manufacturers and regulators to reconsider the ways in which modern marketing strategies may have a negative impact on road safety?”
“While manufacturers are introducing all kinds of innovative technology to improve safety,” said co-author Dan Campsall of road safety consultant Agilysis, “the operator is still a human being, and we are sending them mixed messages about what is expected of them when they are driving.”
According to Mark Borkowski, a branding expert, vehicle makers have long been “bewitching a consumer to invest into a lifestyle brand… There’s the Top Gear or Grand Tour idiom, as well as films like Fast and Furious or James Bond.”
“None of those experiences and imagery appear particularly real, but people – particularly men – may get into those cars and believe they’ve become those brands, even if they don’t have those Swiss mountain passes or the LA Motorway.” Nothing looks sillier than a super-sleek automobile tooting gently around the streets of Guildford and Gosport.”
“Safety at the wheel is of paramount importance to us,” a Porsche spokeswoman said, adding that every buyer was invited to its dedicated “Porsche Experience Centre” at Silverstone “to fully understand their car and to refine their driving skills on a course designed to replicate a British B-road.”
A Subaru UK spokeswoman stated that the brand’s range and focus have shifted since the data studied in the report, adding, “Our core pillars are safety, capability, and reliability.” The sporty line from our rallying days is no longer imported into the UK. Our SUVs are designed with families in mind, and we’re happy to boast a 5-star Euro NCAP certification across the board.”
“At BMW, nothing is more important than safety,” a representative said. This is also reflected in the way we market our automobiles in the UK, and we take great care to meet the high standards imposed by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
“Safety is the No. 1 priority for vehicle manufacturers, and all their marketing and advertising is governed by strict regulations, including the Advertising Codes, which contain strict prohibitions on the depiction of high speed and irresponsible driving,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
“As the authors admit, there are scientific limitations to this study, and its findings should be interpreted with caution, given the plethora of factors involved in driver behaviour and collisions.” Britain has some of Europe’s safest roads, and the automotive sector is determined to improve this record even further by investing in systems that safeguard passengers, pedestrians, and all other road users.”