Subaru, Porsche, and BMW have the riskiest drivers – or not?

In a recent analysis of UK accident data conducted by the University of the West of England, academics have found car marketing to play a role in accident patterns. Subaru, Porsche, and BMW surface more often in accidents involving reckless driving. In Belgium, the statistics tell a different story.

English academics are raising the question of whether car brand marketing rules should be revised, as they exposed a connection between accident types and car brands. The study examined over 400 000 road accidents in the UK and unearthed a significant statistical variance in driver culpability when “risky or aggressive maneuvers” were involved.

Safe with Skoda and Hyundai

The researchers looked at “dodgy driving”, which encompasses speeding, neglecting red lights, overtaking double white lines, or misbehaving on pedestrian crossings. They found that Subaru, Porsche, and BMW drivers suffer more from this behavior. Drivers from Skoda or Hyundai were much less involved.

After adjusting for variables such as driver age and road types, researchers theorized that branding might be a contributing factor, specifically performance-oriented. The findings were published in the Journal of Social Marketing. To the Guardian, Alan Tapp, the lead author and a professor at the University of the West of England, remarks: “All things being equal, you’d expect the same proportion of aggressive maneuvers across all (car) types.”

Tight rules

Furthermore, Tapp notes the chicken-and-egg dilemma: “Do aggressive drivers choose certain cars, or do brands make things worse?” He highlighted that some car manufacturers invest substantial amounts globally in advertising, suggesting a connection between their brand and high-performance driving.

The UK governs tight publicity rules for car marketing, and Tapp acknowledges that the mentioned brands Subaru, Porsche, and BMW abide by those regulations: “We’re not suggesting otherwise.”

However, he questions whether the time has come to urge manufacturers and lawmakers to reconsider the impact of modern marketing techniques on road safety. The named auto brands all react by stating that safety is their highest priority, including for investment.

What about the driver?

In Belgium, no data on clear-cut accident types related to brands exist. But general statistics from the road safety body VIAS show that Porsche drivers are among the safest, with 2,1 accidents per 1 000 cars. Seat (6,2) and Smart (6,7) are the most accident-prone brands, with the latter pursuing an image of mobility instead of performance.

“There’s always a driver operating behind the wheel, which plays a crucial part in the vehicle’s safety,” says spokesman Stef Willems from VIAS. “Seat, for example, is a popular brand among youngsters, a driver group that lacks experience and inclines more toward reckless driving.”

But, as mentioned, the marketing imagery probably also influences the buyer types. It isn’t easy to imagine that Subaru’s rally connotation, a big thing over the Canal, persuades Belgian foresters in their choice of car. “Caution is needed when generalizing such results from foreign studies, as car and brand perception differs greatly from region to region,” concludes Willems.


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