What worries drivers

April 2015

It may be a status symbol or a means to an end, an office on four wheels or a family car – the car fulfils so many functions for us humans and is still a bestseller worldwide, despite fluctuating markets. Globally there were more than 70 million new car registrations last year alone, and the number is still rising. Yet, however great the enthusiasm for driving may be at times, the person behind the wheel does have one or two worries. Drivers’ concerns vary from country to country. At least in terms of numbers, the Brazilians are the world champions at worrying, and most frequently come top in the evaluation of individual aspects.

Above all, safety issues give people in Brazil cause for concern, with one in three drivers citing dangerous or aggressive driving behavior as a worry, and as many as one in two anxious about car thefts. And in the Brazilian eyes, danger is lurking even when the car is not moving, with one in four worried that their car could be damaged by other vehicles or people when parked by the roadside. In other countries, such as Germany or the US, drivers are much more relaxed about these issues. These are the latest findings of the GfK Connected Car Study, for which a total of 5,844 people in Germany, Brazil, Russia, China, the UK and the US were polled in November 2014 about their driving worries among other topics.  

Safety issues: US citizens dread breakdowns, and the Russians, accidents

While across all countries almost one in three are worried about their safety because of aggressive driving by other road users, in Russia this was only an issue for 22% of respondents, with the Germans, in particular, relatively unfazed about the risk of car theft. Only 16% of those polled said it was a worry, whereas in Brazil, there were three times as many (48%). Hence, the maximum range between the country values on this question was broadest at 32 points. The Americans are the least concerned about damage to a parked car (14%). They see problems more when they are on the road, namely in the form of breakdowns, which give 38% of Americans, and therefore more people than elsewhere, a headache. The Brazilians, on the other hand, are relaxed about this, with only 15% citing breakdowns as a challenge. Presumably, this is because at the end of the day, there are worse problems than a flat tire or an empty battery. Russian drivers, in particular, dread being involved in an accident where people might be injured, with one in two respondents saying that they are worried about this in light of the large number of accident victims recorded year after year.    


Car costs: Germans worry about fuel prices

As we know, stopping at the gas pump is not one of the highlights of the motoring experience. However, in recent months the Germans, at least, have reason to be happy: gas prices have dropped appreciably. What should have made itself felt in their wallets has evidently not quite sunk in to Germans’ heads yet, as 43% still worry about the cost of gas, oil and fuel - despite falling prices. In the car boom country of China, this is an issue for the fewest respondents (27%). Besides gas costs, US citizens also have maintenance and repair costs on their minds, with 38% citing this as a worry. In the south of the American continent people remain the most relaxed in this respect, with only one in four Brazilians placing maintenance and repair costs on their list of worries.

In fact, even those who are spared expensive repairs have to set aside a certain budget for their own car. People in the UK, in particular, see the cost of car insurance as a challenge, with 32%, by their own admission, having reason to worry in the face of the expensive policies. The Brits also mention parking fees the most frequently when it comes to worrying costs, and at least one in five are concerned about this. By comparison, in China, the price of parking does not even worry every seventh motorist.  


Infrastructure: Challenges  for China and Russia

Chinese respondents are as concerned about infrastructure and road conditions as they are relaxed about the subject of costs. In China, the annoying search for a parking space throws one in four off balance, while one in five is sometimes concerned about the difficult road layout. In neighboring Russia, an aspiring car nation, like China, they at least share the worry about the shortage of parking spaces, and this is a sticking point for 24% of Russian drivers. However, they regard the biggest challenge as the road itself and for 42% of Russians, being stuck in traffic is a topic that ranks as a worry. Seemingly, road planners have not quite managed to keep up with the rapidly growing volume of traffic in the country, leading to an almost 200 kilometer-long mega traffic jam between Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2012. 

A small consolation for Russians is that they, at any rate, appear to have fewer worries when it comes to speed cameras or speed limits. They are a nuisance for many of those polled in Germany, in particular, with 17% of Germans worrying about radar traps or speed limits. The Americans have the least difficulty with road conditions. No matter whether we are talking parking spaces, traffic jams or increasingly complex road layouts, US motorists are the least concerned about these topics.  

Demands on drivers: Americans feel unsafe at night

In addition to the issues of safety, costs and infrastructure, the demands on drivers and their abilities can also worry people from time to time. American respondents (23%) most frequently see night driving as a challenge, whereas Germans (13%) are least worried by this. The Brits are least likely to get into a sweat when driving in urban areas (4%), in sharp contrast to Germans, who find city driving the most stressful (14%), even though they evidently consider themselves particularly good drivers. They struggle the least with a lack of confidence in their own driving abilities (4%), and respondents in other countries surveyed also have scarcely any worries on this score. The difference between the country values is the smallest in this case and only amounts to five points.


Well-being in the car: lack of comfort concerns Brazilians

Seats with a massage function or a bed area on the back seat, flat screens and hi-tech communication systems – these are just a few points on the list of interior options for luxury cars such as Mayback and Co. Most of us can only dream about so much comfort, but the Brazilians, in particular, think that driving could be a little more comfortable. They see uncomfortable seats and lumbar supports (18%), along with irritating engine and ventilation noises (11%), most frequently as a challenge when driving. In China, on the other hand, car sickness is the main concern (13%), although here and in Russia, the UK and the US drivers are overall least concerned about issues related to well-being in a car. 

So, unadulterated driving pleasure does not always await whoever is behind the wheel, whether on the road in Europe, the US, Russia or South America. It remains to be seen how drivers‘ worries will develop in the future when there will be even more traffic on the already crowded roads. Maybe at least some of the most pressing challenges for drivers, for example, on the subject of safety, will be reduced through various initiatives. This could be better road layouts, traffic controls or bans on alcohol at the wheel, or with new automobile concepts. GfK Automotive tested 7 car concepts with global consumers, which is  available in  the “Connected Car“ study (Download GfK’s free connected car report or order the full global report with detailed insights across all markets).

Commentary by Frank Haertl, Global Lead Automotive at GfK:

"The automotive industry needs to find ways of making driving safer and more pleasant in future. It is important to take local conditions and the needs of consumers into account. Many technologies for increasing accident safety already exist, but are currently limited to premium products or top model series.

The automotive industry is, however, subject to strong predatory competition and is therefore under massive cost and innovation pressure. The needs-based and safety-related innovations should be included on all vehicles as soon as possible, so as to alleviate the worries and hardships of consumers. 

However, without cooperation between the motor industry and suppliers as well as governments and local authorities, there will be no significant improvements in infrastructure or safety in the highly populated areas of this world in the medium term."

Data source: GfK Automotive, Connected Cars Study 2014 (Download our free preview report or get the full insights in our global report, which is available to purchase now. It contains detailed market-by-market analysis and brand specific insight. For your definitive guide to the road ahead or any further information, contact us.

If you have any queries, please contact Frank Haertl, GfK SE. Contact person for queries about Compact: Claudia Gaspar (e-mail to hello@nim.org).