Hazard Perceptions: Is Britain afraid of the road?

We challenged 1,500 people across Britain to compare their chances of dying in a road accident to six other likely and unlikely events. Only 0.5% got it right.

Hazard Perceptions: Is Britain afraid of the road?

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2016 Results & Report

As part of our content series on luck and probability, we challenged 1,500 people across Britain to compare their chances of dying in a road accident to six other likely and unlikely events. Only 0.5% got it right.

Read our full in-depth report below or skip to our summary infographic.

There is a one in 36,000 chance that you will die in a road accident in Britain this year.

Do those odds seem high? You’d have to be very unlucky to be the one - until you remember that we live in a country of approximately 64 million people.

36,000/1 actually equates to: 1,775 deaths per year, 148 deaths per month, 34 deaths per week, 5 deaths per day. Maybe not so unlikely after all.

We asked 1,500 people across England, Scotland and Wales to compare their chances of dying in a road accident to the likelihood of six other events.

The task was to select the four that they thought were more likely than 36,000/1 (correct answers in bold).

  1. Dying in a skydiving accident
  2. Being born with six fingers or toes
  3. Living to 100
  4. Getting a royal flush in poker
  5. Getting a hole in one
  6. Being declared a saint

We chose a road accident as our control event as we felt it was something people could easily relate to, from either direct or indirect experience. So imagine our surprise when 99.5% people people answered incorrectly - just five people out of our entire sample judged the probability right.

Below is a breakdown of the most insightful results from our survey. Help to spread awareness of Britain’s probability problem using the sharing buttons on each image.

Britons underestimate chances of living to 100

78.9% of Britons underestimate the odds of living to 100

  • Odds of living to 100: 3/1 (newborn girl), 4/1 (newborn boy)
  • Up to 12,000 times more likely than dying in a road accident

Living to the grand old age of 100 is an extremely likely occurrence for babies born in 2016. A newborn girl has a one in three (33.7%) chance of becoming a centenarian, with a newborn boy’s chances slightly behind at 26%.

Predictions released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2011, estimate that there will be over half a million people aged 100 or over in the UK by the year 2066.Yet despite the optimism of the statistics,

78.9% of Britons surveyed did not select living to 100 as a more likely event than dying in a road accident (1,183 vs 1,500).

With this in mind, is the country prepared for the inevitable increase in older drivers and what effect could this have on road accident rates?

Road safety charity, Brake, says that although there is no evidence that indicates a specific age at which all drivers become unable to drive safely, ageing ultimately brings about a general deterioration in health, physical ability and cognitive performance, all of which can affect driving.

The number of drivers aged 70 or older in the UK increased by 38% in the period between 2002 to 2013.

% of people who didn’t select living to 100 as more likely, per country

Scotland - 83.6% (418/500)
Wales - 77.4% (387/500)
England - 75.6% (378/500)

Britons overestimate chances of road accidents

37% of Brits overestimate their chances of dying in a road accident

  • 559 people (37.3%) selected none of the six other events as more likely than dying in a road accident
  • Four of the other events were actually far more likely
    (Living to 100 - 3/1, Being born with six fingers or toes - 500/1, Getting a hole in one - 12,500/1, Getting a royal flush - 30,939/1)

Over a third of people surveyed across Britain perceived dying in a road accident as the most likely event on the list, despite it being the third least likely of all.

This suggests that a large proportion of the country overestimates the dangers of the road - almost half of those in Scotland. So why might this be and how could it affect their behaviour?

Common influences on a person’s perception of probability can include:

- Your first-hand experience of an event (or lack of)
- Your exposure to media reports on similar events
- The recency and your awareness of a similar event
- Your quality of life, mental state and outlook (optimistic vs pessimistic)
- Your lifestyle, hobbies and parental status

It would not be unreasonable to believe that any or all of the above influenced the perception of road risk for our 37%, so we explored further...

% of people who selected no events as more likely, per country

Scotland - 43.4% (217/500)
Wales - 36.6% (183/500)
England - 31.8% (159/500)

Older people view roads as more dangerous than young

Younger people most accurately judge road accident risk

Half of those aged 55-64 believed that dying in a road accident was the most likely of all events listed, compared to just 30% of those aged 18-24.

But, it is important to remember that although a lower percentage of younger people overestimated the risk, it does not necessarily mean they underestimated it by default.

Instead, it is more accurate to suggest that their own perception of road accident risk is more realistic.

We asked Professor David Hand, Senior Research Investigator at Imperial College, London, to explain why this might be:

“Older people are more risk-averse due to the fact they have more invested in life, such as property, children, family and wealth. Being risk-averse can cause you to exaggerate the probabilities of dangerous things.

“There is also the current experience vs recency effect. If you have recently been exposed to some phenomenon, you’ll likely have a better understanding of it. Dying in a road accident is something that younger people might be able to relate to better as they might be on the road more often.

"Older people may travel less frequently and therefore may be more fearful of road deaths as a result.”

Read our full interview with Professor David Hand here.

Did you know? Drivers aged 16-19 are a third more likely to die in a road accident than drivers aged 40-49.

% of people who selected no events as more likely, per age group

55-64 - 50%
65+ - 42%
45-54 - 40%
35-44 - 37.1%
25-34 - 35.3%
18-24 - 29.9%

Scottish people are the most pessimistic in Britain

Scottish people are the most pessimistic about road safety in Britain

  • Fewer Scottish people correctly selected only the four more likely events than those in England and Wales
  • The fatality rate of road accident casualties in Scotland is 95.6% higher than the Great British average (1.78% vs 0.91%)

Our survey revealed a clear pessimism from Scotland regarding road safety compared to the rest of Britain.

Scottish people were also the worst at selecting the exact four more likely events than dying in a road accident correctly. Only ONE person out of 500 people achieved this, compared to two in Wales and five in England.

We studied data from the 2014 reported road casualties report, released by the Department for Transport in September 2015, to determine the possible reasons for the Scottish attitude to road safety.

Due to the different sizes of Britain’s component countries, we felt that the best measure of road safety for this cause would be the casualty to fatality rate of each. This provides the percentage of road casualties that were ultimately fatal (no. deaths / no. casualties * 100).

Across Great Britain in 2014, there were a total of 194,477 road accident casualties, resulting in 1,775 deaths and a casualty to fatality rate of 0.91%.

Independently, Scotland had 11,240 road accidents, resulting in 200 deaths and a 1.25% casualty to fatality rate. That is 95.6% higher than the British average, 48.8% higher than Wales and a massive 111.9% higher than England.

Statistically, you are more likely to die as a road accident casualty in Scotland than anywhere else in Great Britain. Perhaps their pessimism is justified.

Casualty to fatality rate of road accidents, per country, in 2014
(casualties / fatalities)

Scotland - 1.78% (11,240 / 200)
Wales - 1.25% (8,208 / 103)
England - 0.84% (175,029 / 1,472)
GB - 0.91% (194,477 / 1,775)

Chance of becoming a saint compared to risk of car crash

One in 17 Britons believe they are more likely to be declared a saint than die in a road accident

  • 5.7% of those surveyed selected being declared a saint as a more likely event (6.1% men, 5.1% women)
  • The odds of being declared a saint are actually 555 times longer

Being declared a saint was actually the least likely of all the events listed in our survey by quite some distance, with odds of 20 million to one (20,000,000/1).

Still, 5.7% of those surveyed (86 out of 1,500) selected ‘becoming a saint’ as more likely than dying in a road accident. That equates to one in every 17.4 people.

If they were right, there would be at least 1,777 saints living in Britain today (population of Britain / odds of dying in road accident). To put that into perspective, Pope John Paul II canonised just 482 saints, throughout his entire twenty-six-year reign.

So what does this say about road safety? The Office of National Statistics estimates that there are over 35 million UK driving licence holders. Our survey suggests that almost two million of them (1,995,000) underestimate the risk of road accidents by approximately 555 times.

% of people who selected becoming a saint as more likely, per country

Wales - 6% (30/500)
England - 5.6% (28/500)
Scotland - 5.6% (28/500)

The odds of skydiving compared to car

Jumping to conclusions about skydiving

  • 8.3% of Britons believe skydiving to be more dangerous than travelling by road
  • Skydiving is actually 2.8 times safer with odds of dying standing at 100,000/1

It may sound wrong, but jumping out of a plane with nothing but a parachute is significantly safer than getting in your car and driving to work.

The reasons for this may include the vigorous safety checks and procedures undertaken by qualified professionals before every jump. When was the last time you had a mechanic check your car?

Our survey also revealed that younger people appear to view skydiving as more dangerous than older people, with 4.6% more people aged 18-34 (11.1%) selecting dying in a skydiving accident as a more likely event than those aged 35-54 (6.5%).

The odds of dying in a skydiving accident compared to other extreme sports

BASE Jumping - 2,300/1
Skydiving - 100,000/1
Bungee Jumping - 500,000/1
Rock Climbing - 320,000/1
Snowboarding - 2,198,000/1

Road work

The need to improve road safety education

Our survey has revealed a complete failure of Britain to accurately judge the probability of dying in a road accident in relation to other more and less likely events.

While some positive takeaways from our results indicate a general respect for the road and an accurate understanding of the dangers by less experienced young people, it would be wise to re-evaluate the need for more regular road education beyond the initial driving test process.

We asked Professor David Hand whether he thought schoolchildren are being sufficiently educated in probability?

“No, I don’t think they are. Getting people to have a gut feeling for chance can be done much better than it is at the moment. People aren’t getting enough maths education in general.

“Numeracy and quantitative skills are essential and influence many decisions in adult life. And they are becoming more and more important in the modern world. A sound grasp of chance and probability is increasingly important.”

The Department for Transport will release road accident data for 2015 on 30 June, 2016. Will the upward trend in fatalities continue? Check back here to find out.

It’s time to stop leaving road safety to chance.

Summary of Odds

- Living to 100 - 3/1 (for a newborn girl) [3] [4]
- Being born with an extra digit - 500/1 [5] [6]
- Scoring a hole-in-one - 12,500/1 [7] [8]
- Being dealt a Royal Flush in Poker - 30,939/1 [9] [10]
- Dying in a road accident - 36,000/1 [11]
- Dying in a skydiving accident - 100,000/1 [12] [13]
- Being declared a saint - 20,000,000/1 [14] [15]

Interested in luck and probability?

Our road safety awareness survey is just one part of our wider content series on luck and probability.

A link to our full road safety infographic featuring all the information from this article can be found alongside other features below.

View our Hazard Perceptions summary [Infographic]
- See what else our survey said in Britain at Odds [Infographic]
- Read our full interview with Professor David Hand


  1. ^ "Young Drivers - The Hard Facts". brake.org.uk. October 2014.
  2. ^ "Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2014 (Pg. 126-130)". UK Department of Transport. Sept 2015.
  3. ^ "How likely are you to live to 100?". The Guardian. August 2011.
  4. ^ "10 Surprising Clues You'll Live to 100". Caring.com.
  5. ^ "What Causes Polydactyly?". Bright Hub. August 2009.
  6. ^ "11 things more likely to happen than winning the Powerball jackpot". NBC News. November 2012.
  7. ^ "Want to know your odds for a hole-in-one?". Golf Digest. November 2013.
  8. ^ "What Are the Odds of Making a Hole-In-One?". Golf.about.com. June 2015.
  9. ^ "The odds of being dealt a royal flush". MindSports. December 2014.
  10. ^ "Beating the odds in poker". Bicyclecards.com.
  11. Number of UK road fatalities 2014 divided by Total population of the UK 2014
  12. ^ "What are the odds of dying while skydiving?". Asktheodds.com.
  13. ^ "How skydiving works". HowStuffWorks
  14. ^ "The odds are against you". Forbes. January 2016.
  15. ^ "What are the odds?". WCPO Cincinnati. March 2012.

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