Rescue me! Chivalry all but dead among British drivers

25 May 2016

  • 86 per cent wouldn’t stop to help someone broken down, but more than half feel no guilt
  • Key to being rescued lies in gender, location and appearance
  • Nearly three quarters would rescue a stranded woman but less than a quarter would help a man
  • One in six would be left deserted due to having no breakdown cover in place

Drivers without breakdown cover could be left stranded as new research reveals the days when fellow motorists stopped to lend a hand may be well and truly over. The slim chances of being rescued will often depend on a driver’s gender, the clothes they are wearing and the area in which they are driving, according to the poll by Nationwide FlexPlus current account1.

Watch Nationwide’s video here, featuring motoring expert Quentin Willson putting to the test whether motorists would stop to help a fellow driver at the side of the road.

With flat tyres, overheating engines and blown gaskets common features of the bank holiday rush, the poll of 2,000 motorists reveals 86 per cent of drivers refuse to assist someone. This is despite more than eight in ten (84%) saying that nobody stopped for them when they last broke down.

The research shows the biggest causes of breakdown are a flat battery (23%), engine failure (21%) and a flat tyre (15%). A further six per cent ran out of fuel and one in 20 (5%) reported a snapped clutch cable as the issue. However, one in six (16%) drivers have no cover in place whatsoever, leaving them entirely at the mercy of other motorists for help.

Despite nearly three quarters of drivers (73%) suffering breakdowns on busy roads, the research found more than half (51%) admitted to feeling no guilt when passing a stranded driver. Even for those with breakdown cover, nearly a third (30%) who had broken down in the past would have to rely on other drivers for help due to either having no access to a phone, no phone signal, low or no phone battery at the time. Of those who broke down, one in seven (15%) were stranded in bad weather or on a dark road (9%).

The main reasons for not stopping included people thinking they were unable to offer any help (54%), believing it wasn’t safe to stop (52%), fearing the stranded driver was an unsavoury character (33%), thinking it could be a trap (27%), assuming help was already on the way (22%), or simply driving too fast to stop (20%). However, the research revealed a number of key factors that could be the difference in being rescued or left by the roadside. These include gender, location and appearance:

Gender split: Women are three times more likely to be rescued from the side of the road, with nearly three quarters (72%) stating they would assist a female driver compared to less than a quarter (23%) who would stop for a man. But when it comes to stopping, men (46%) are twice as likely as women (23%) to assist.

There is also a clear difference between the genders when it comes to the reasons for not stopping. Many more women drive past a fellow motorist on the basis of thinking they couldn’t help. The stats also shows that women appear much more concerned with their safety than men, while men are far more likely to be driving past too fast to stop.

Reason for not stopping – gender differenceFemaleMale
I didn’t think I could help58%48%
It wasn’t safe to stop51%53%
I feel nervous in case they were an unsavoury character43%18%
It could be a trap33%19%
I assumed help was already on the way22%22%
I was driving past too fast16%25%

Regional split: The research shows people in the North West are the most obliging drivers - around one in four (24%) would stop and help someone who had broken down. Next highest is London (18%) followed by the East Midlands (17%). This compares to Wales (8%), East Anglia (also 8%) and Northern Ireland (4%) as being the areas where roadside assistance is least likely to be offered.

RegionUK %
North West45
East Midlands17
South West15
South East14
North East13
West Midlands13
Yorkshire and Humberside12
East Anglia8
Northern Ireland4

Appearance: The survey shows that first impressions count when it comes to being rescued, with motorists admitting to be more likely to help a smartly dressed person than someone who is dressed casually or scruffily. And while couples could expect some assistance, groups were the least likely to be offered help.

And despite a breakdown having the potential to affect any vehicle, drivers with new cars can expect short shrift from passing traffic, with people admitting they would be more likely to stop for someone in an old banger.

Faith was perhaps restored in the good nature of British drivers as the poll revealed just 12 per cent of people would rule out stopping for someone who looked in despair by the roadside.

Least likely to stop forUK (% who wouldn’t stop)
Someone who looked frustrated or in despair12
A smartly dressed person13
Someone in a clapped out car18
Someone in a new flashy car26
A casually/ scruffily dressed person28
A group of people50

Dan King, Nationwide’s Head of FlexPlus Current Accounts, said: “Unfortunately breaking down is a common and frustrating occurrence for British motorists, particularly during a busy bank holiday weekend when lots of people are on the road. With the research suggesting that we may not be able to rely solely on the goodwill of fellow motorists for help, it has never been more important to have a backup plan if assistance isn’t immediately at hand, whether that be ensuring your car is fully maintained for the journey, making sure your phone is working and the battery is fully charged or taking breakdown cover to give you extra peace of mind.”

Quentin Willson, Motoring Expert, said: “If there is one thing all motorists dread, it’s breaking down. In days gone by you might expect a cheerful chap in a Cortina to pull over and help to change your tyre, but according to Nationwide’s FlexPlus research, those days could be a thing of the past. If drivers find themselves broken down this bank holiday there are a few simple things they can do to protect themselves, such as moving their vehicle off the road, warning other road users by using their hazard lights and warning triangle, positioning their wheels away from the road, getting out of the car quickly to a safe place and phoning for assistance as soon as possible.”

Nationwide’s FlexPlus current account, which is ranked as the UK’s best packaged account2, offers a range of benefits including UK and European breakdown cover, worldwide family travel insurance, commission-free cash withdrawals abroad and worldwide family phone insurance, all for just £10 a month.

Notes to Editors

1One Poll research: total sample size was 2,000 UK car owners with full licence. The survey ran from 04/04/16 to 06/04/16.

2As awarded by Moneynet 2014, 2015 and 2016.

FlexPlus Key Information

Full information about FlexPlus current accounts.

Account Eligibility

  • FlexPlus is open to new and existing customers aged 18 years and over living in the UK
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Credit Interest

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  • UK and European Breakdown and Recovery Assistance
  • Worldwide Family Travel Insurance
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  • ID Theft Assistance
  • Worldwide Card Emergency Assistance

Exclusions and limitations apply to all FlexPlus insurances

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