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Footie fan motorists aren’t on the ball: sports fans’ attention to the road is worse than drink-drivers

2nd July 2010

Many sports fans could be putting their lives at risk during the summer of sporting events by listening to important matches and races on the radio while driving.

A new research study released today by Direct Line, commissioned with Transport Research Laboratory (TRL)*, reveals that motorists’ reaction times are 20 per cent slower when they are emotionally and mentally engaged in listening to sports commentary on the radio while behind the wheel.

If travelling at a speed of 70mph, this distraction would add six metres to a motorist’s stopping distance. To put this into context, this increase in distance travelled is 10 per cent further than the additional stopping distance when driving with a blood alcohol level at the UK legal limit (80mg/100ml)**.

During the testing, there were nearly 50 per cent more incidents of hard braking while motorists were listening to sports commentary on the radio, in comparison with driving without any distracting factors. This suggests that the motorists were not paying enough attention to the road and had to make late decisions to respond to the conditions and drivers on the road around them.

Worryingly, motorists do not perceive that listening to sports commentary on the radio is a distraction and believe that it has little or no impact on their driving competence. While motorists were found to realise that other distracting factors, such as stress and attending to arguing children, impaired their confidence and safety while driving, they did not feel that listening to sports commentary on the radio had an impact on their concentration, confidence or safety.

Andy Goldby, road safety expert at Direct Line, commented: “With several more World Cup matches and sporting fixtures due to be televised during people’s working and commuting hours this summer, many motorists may inadvertently pay too much attention to sports commentary on the radio rather than on the road ahead this summer. When you’re a sports fan and are both emotionally and mentally engaged in the outcome of the match, subconsciously more of your concentration is likely to be on the radio than on the road.”

“Without a doubt the safest way for drivers to listen to a match would be to stop and park in a safe place whilst the match takes place. However, we appreciate that this is not likely to be practical, so we hope that by drawing attention to the increased risk of distraction, drivers will pay more attention to the road and less attention to the game.”

Dr Nick Reed, Senior Human Factors Researcher, TRL, added: “Our research over the years has demonstrated that driver distraction has a serious effect on our ability to maintain safe control of a vehicle. This study shows that listening to sports commentary on the radio is engaging, drawing the driver’s attention and affecting their ability to respond. The World Cup is a huge event and many people will make every effort to follow matches one way or another. If that happens to be as the driver of a vehicle on public roads, it may be critically important to recognise that the driver’s primary responsibility remains safe control of the vehicle. At particularly tense times such as a penalty shootout, it may be safer to find a safe place to park and enjoy the action without risking an accident.”

Notes to editors

*Distracted and impaired driving - beyond mobile phone use and intoxication: an observational study’ was produced by TRL Limited for Direct Line, March 2010.


Participants were recruited from the TRL participant database to take part in the study. Eighteen participants (9 male; 9 female) aged between 25 and 45 years were recruited. The mean participant age in phase 1 was 33.8 yrs (Standard Deviation = 7.7 yrs).

Participants were asked to listen to an audio recording of the radio sports commentary of three consecutive horse races whilst driving. In advance of the drive, they were asked to choose a horse for each race and told that they were paid £1.50 for each horse that made it into the top five. Thus, if all three of their chosen horses would finish in the top five they would earn £4.50. This was done to maximise engagement with the sports commentary to recreate the scenario of a fan listening to a match involving the sports team they support.

**The mobile phone report: a report on the effects on using a mobile phone on road safety was produced by TRL Limited for Direct Line, 2002.

For further information, please contact:

Vicky Perry
Direct Line
Tel: 0208 313 5741

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides car, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

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Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting


TRL is the UK’s leading transport research laboratory. Commercially independent, it is recognised internationally for providing consultancy, research, advice and solutions to many transport issues.

For over 75 years, TRL has been involved with road safety research, and today encompasses a wide range of road safety activities, including vehicle and pedestrian safety, highway engineering, pavement assessment and design, accident investigation and driver behaviour. Visit