20 surprising facts about UK drivers

Whether you’ve been away from the UK for two years or 20, there will have been plenty of changes on British roads. You won’t be surprised to hear that we’re still driving on the left unlike our continental cousins.

And the mini roundabouts are still as crazy as ever. But it’s the drivers themselves you probably need to keep an eye on.

To ease you back into UK driving life, we’ve put together this list of 20 surprising facts about UK drivers to leave you entertained and maybe even a bit bewildered.

Getting to know the UK roads and fellow drivers again is only one part of returning to life in the UK. Whether you’ve been backpacking through South America or campervanning across Europe, having the best expat car insurance in place is important in getting you back on the UK roads.

1.        A car sets the average UK motorist back £206,000 in their lifetime

You won’t be surprised to hear that owning a car can be expensive – but the amount is pretty eye-watering. From repairs, petrol and parking to insurance and tax... it all adds up over the years.
hile the average motorist will end up spending over £54,000 on fuel and £27,000 on repairs in that time, it isn’t all one way. You could look forward to finding a cool £145 in loose change lying around in your car. Bonus!

2.        UK drivers travel the equivalent of London to Sydney every year

The average motorist in the UK drives up to 10,000 miles per year. Adding up all those school runs, weekend food shops, day trips and commutes amounts to a distance equivalent to jetting (or driving) off to Sydney for a holiday down-under. No wonder we spend so much on petrol!

3.        The world's first speeding ticket was given to a UK driver travelling at 8mph

All the way back in 1896, the speed limit in Britain was a paltry 2mph! They even had to have a guy walking in front with a red flag to warn pedestrians of their approach. So, imagine the trouble caused when speed freak Walter Arnold hurtled through the streets of Paddock Wood in Kent at a phenomenal four times the speed limit!

But never fear. A high-speed pursuit ensued with a police constable on a bicycle chasing him for over 5 miles. Arnold was fined one shilling. Unfortunately, UK drivers have never learned their lesson with over 2 million speeding tickets issued every year!

A yellow speed camerra in-front of a tree
4.        UK drivers spend around four months of their lives waiting at traffic lights

Mathematical whizzes have estimated that if you drive for an average of 50 years, you’ll end up spending 122 days – or about four months – of your life tapping your fingers and waiting for the lights to change to green.

5.        Female UK drivers take longer to pass their driving test...

In the battle of the sexes there has always been stiff competition when it comes to driving. According to the latest data from the Department for Transport, 42.8% of women pass their test at the first attempt compared to 50% of men.

6.        ... But they’re much safer on the road

However, once women have successfully passed their test, they are much safer on the UK’s roads.

That’s according to researchers from the University of Westminster who studied a wealth of data from police injury statistics, road traffic data and the national travel survey and came to some shocking conclusions. For every mile driven, male car and van drivers were twice as likely to cause an accident than females.

Those numbers rose to four times for lorry drivers and more than 10 times for motorbike riders!

7.        There are over 30 million drivers in the UK

Latest government estimates show that there are now 32.9 million people who currently possess a full driving licence – that’s over 70% of the entire adult population. Of this number, 17.3 million are male and 15.6 million are female. That’s a huge increase compared to 1975 when there were only 19 million. So, if you’ve been out of the country for a few years, you might notice the roads are a lot busier than when you left!

9.        The UK driving test has got harder over time

Nowadays learner drivers have a fair few hurdles to jump before they can get their hands on a coveted full driving licence. Even before booking a driving test, learners must first pass a theory test. At the driving test itself, learners have to:
  • Take an eyesight test.
  • Answer two ‘show me, tell me’ questions.
  • Drive for 20 minutes following examiner instructions.
  • Demonstrate one of the following manoeuvres: Parallel parking, pulling up on the right, or bay parking.
  • Drive independently for 20 minutes using a sat nav or signage.
Phew! Who says young people today have it easy?
A young girl in the driver seat of a car with her dad holding learner plates

10.      Automatic licences are becoming more popular

Just as when you’re buying a new car, a big decision for learner drivers is to decide whether they want to learn in a manual or an automatic car.

Increasing numbers of learner drivers are now opting for automatic licences, in the hopes that not having to deal with gears will increase their chances of success. Indeed, the number of manual tests fell by 2.5% between 2007/08 to 2017/18, whereas the number of automatic tests rose by a huge 133%!

But if you’re thinking that it’s easier to learn and pass in an automatic car then think again. Data from the DVLA shows that in 2019-2020 the average pass rate for automatic driving tests was 39.5%, whereas manual driving tests had a pass rate of 45.9%!

11.      Junctions are the biggest roadblock for UK learner drivers

There are many factors that can lead to a learner driver failing their driving test - from speeding and road positioning to not using mirrors properly and ignoring traffic signs.

However, the biggest bump in the road for most are observations at junctions. In fact, according to the DVSA, this has been the number one reason for learners failing their test for the past 10 years!

Make sure you brush up on your observation skills before getting back on the UK roads.

12.      Nine million UK drivers don’t know when their next MOT is due

The MOT extension scheme introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic meant one less thing to worry about for many drivers during those testing times. However, it now means that millions of us are at risk of being fined because we don’t know when our next MOT is due.

According to a survey by Total UK an estimated nine million UK drivers are now confused about when they need to get their vehicle tested to ensure it’s up to scratch. So, if in doubt check your MOT expiry date today!

13.      1 in 4 UK drivers don’t know how to open their car bonnet

According to the same Total UK survey, 1 in 4 drivers don’t know how to open their car’s bonnet. But even if they did, 1 in 10 have never checked the oil level anyway.

Worryingly, 17% have driven their car knowing there was something wrong with it. Concerning statistics for anyone coming back to the UK roads for the first time in a while! Having expat car insurance at least means you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

14.      The most common car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta

When you’re hitting the UK roads you won’t be surprised to see the usual suspects on our roads.

Currently, the most common car you’ll see motoring around is the small but fun-filled Ford Fiesta, with 1.5 million cars, followed by the family friendly Ford Focus with 1.3 million. While the little Vauxhall Corsa with 1.1 million is third. Good to know if you’re thinking of buying a new motor on your return.
A blue Ford Fiesta on a track

15.      UK cars only spend 4% of their time being driven

For time and effort we put into taking care of our beloved motors we spend a surprisingly small amount of time behind the wheel.

Indeed, according to the RAC Foundation the average UK motor spends about 80% of its time parked at our homes, and about 16% of the time parked elsewhere. Leaving only 4% of the time for driving around. What a waste!

16.      UK drivers play it safe when it comes to colours

For a boring third year in a row, grey has kept its coveted top spot as the UK’s favourite new car colour in 2020.

Yet again, grey has beaten its monotone rivals black and white into second and third places respectively. A total of 397,197 new grey cars were sold in 2020, with over 60% of all new cars in 2020 painted in just these three colours. Making the UK roads more boring than ever!

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders if you’re looking for a more colourful journey then head to Leicestershire where 23.7% of the UK’s new pink cars can be found. Or the West Midlands which saw the most orange cars registered. But if you’re thinking of retaining resale value, perhaps grey is the way to go!

17.      UK drivers love their supercars

While you might not be blown away by the colourful nature of UK drivers’ car choices don’t let it fool you into believing that there isn’t some gorgeous eye candy on the UK roads.

Automotive marketplace Auto Trader has recently had some seriously sexy supercars looking for new owners.

These include a Ferrari 250 California Spyder for £9.9m right down to a Bugatti Veyron at a mere £1.8m. If you haven’t driven on UK roads for a while, perhaps something more sedate might be in order!

18.      If you’re looking for a new job then you’d better be able to drive

Recent analysis by the RAC Foundation has shown that on the government’s own Find a Job database almost 1 in 5 jobs state that having a car or licence is required.

There are a diverse range of roles including carer, professional driver, cleaner, chef, sales consultant, security guard, business development manager, gymnastics coach, electrician and even zoo worker.

So, even if you don’t need to drive as part of the job itself often a licence is required as a result over concerns about the reliability of public transport. Something to bear in mind if you’re looking for employment when you return to the UK, too.

19.      UK drivers are a long-lived bunch

The number of drivers over the age of 100 on the UK’s roads is going up every year. With the latest DVLA figures showing there are now 336 centenarians with a licence. While there are twice as many drivers in their 80s as those aged between 16 and 19 years. It must be something in the water!
An older person driving a car

20.      Watch out for those pesky railway bridges – particularly around Christmas time!

Every year Network Rail has a devil of a time dealing with the sheer numbers of vehicles hitting their long-suffering railway bridges. Data collected by the railway network operator shows that on average railway bridges are struck five times every day across the UK.

The Watling Street bridge on the A5 in Hinckley, Leicestershire lays claim to the most-bashed bridge title after being struck an incredible 25 times last year. While the second most-struck bridge, the Bromford Road bridge in Dudley, West Midlands suffered 24 hits.

Apparently, there’s a particular annual spike that occurs every year around the time of Black Friday and Christmas as people rush to shops and road deliveries peak.

Find expat car insurance at Insurance Factory

It can be bewildering when you return to the UK after a time abroad. But be assured that the experienced team of insurance specialists at Insurance Factory are still here to help to ease you back into UK life.

We’ve been arranging tailored insurance policies for over 20 years now, providing UK drivers with a wealth of knowledge and access to our expert underwriters.

As well as offering flexible payment solutions and a bespoke policy suited to your individual requirements and budget, we have over 700 reviews and a Trustpilot score of 4.8. So, you know your policy is in the most capable hands.

Get a quote for expat car insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.