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BMW, Subaru, and Porsche drivers ‘more likely to cause a crash,’ UK study finds

November 15, 2023

Academics have called for further research into the marketing of cars after analysis of U.K. accident data has suggested that drivers of certain brands are more likely than others to cause a crash, reports The Guardian.

A study of more than 400,000 road accidents in the United Kingdom has found that when “risky or aggressive maneuvers” played a part in collisions, there was a significant statistical difference in driver culpability across different brands.

Dodgy driving—covering such reported infringements as speeding, jumping a red light, overtaking on double white lines, or ignoring the humble pedestrian crossing —was more likely to be a factor when a Subaru, Porsche, or BMW was involved than when a Skoda or a Hyundai was the vehicle identified in the unfortunate incident .

Having factored in variables such as drivers’ ages and road types, the researchers hypothesized that branding could be to blame, in a paper published in the Journal of Social Marketing.

 Lead author Alan Tapp, professor of social marketing at the University of the West of England, said: “All things being equal, you’d expect the same proportion of aggressive maneuvers across all types.”

However, there was a higher prevalence in the Department for Transport collision data among makes he characterized broadly as those with “advertising and marketing that seems to celebrate performance driving, look at me, king-of-the-road stuff.”

Drivers of Subarus—once enthusiastically defined in his Top Gear days by Jeremy Clarkson 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 involved in proportionately the most “injudicious action”, the paper found.

“It’s chicken and egg—do aggressive drivers choose certain cars, or do brands make things worse?” said Tapp. “We know that some car makes spend hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide every year promoting their cars with imagery that, in some cases, subtly implies a connection between their make of car and high-performance driving. We also know that the design of some makes seems to appeal to drivers who may want to push the boundaries of performance.

“Of course, these manufacturers abide by the laws and regulations that govern them and we are not suggesting otherwise. But now that this data has come to light, should we be pressing the manufacturers and regulators to take another look at the way in which modern marketing techniques might have an adverse effect on road safety?”

Co-author Dan Campsall, of road safety consultancy Agilysis, said: “While manufacturers are introducing all kinds of innovative technology to improve safety, the operator is still a human being—and we are sending them mixed messages about what is expected of them when they are driving.”

A Porsche spokesperson said: “Safety at the wheel is of paramount importance to us,” 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 spokesperson said that the brand had changed its range and focus since the 2011-2015 data examined in the paper, adding: “Our core pillars are safety, capability, and reliability. We no longer import the sporty range from our rallying days to the UK. Our SUVs are very family-focused and we’re proud to have the 5-star Euro NCAP rating across the entire range.”

A BMW spokesperson said: “At BMW, nothing is more important than safety … This is also reflected in the way in which we market our cars in the U.K. and we spend a great deal of time and care in meeting the high standards set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

Research contact: @guardian