Bad eating habits put motorists' lives at risk

Article date: 1 September 2006

  • Food choices cut concentration and alertness

Bad eating habits leave millions of motoristsfeeling sluggish at the wheel, posing a risk to their own and otherroad users’ safety, new research reveals.

RAC’s Food on the Move Study - a comprehensive studyof eating patterns amongst 1,000 road users combined withon-the-ground interviews at motorway service stations - highlightsa number of alarming and dangerous habits which place motorists atrisk:

  • More than one in 10 (12%) feel lethargic after eating at servicestations
  • One in five (22%) buy "treats for travelling" that affectconcentration
  • A third (34%) drive unsafe distances to avoid service stations,despite the availability of healthy options1
  • According to Government advice, planned breaks should leavemotorists refreshed. 84% leave service stations feelingunrefreshed.

Two thirds (66%) of motorists admit to eatingless healthily during long journeys. Good intentions are quicklyleft behind with more than one in ten (11%) considering junk foodto be a "key part" of being on the road. The same numbers actuallycrave such "fast food" whilst en route.

Sian Porter, registered dietician and consultant nutritionist whocarried out the research at service stations comments: “Foodwe eat has to be suited to activities we engage in. Few peoplewould eat a heavy meal before exercise and this same common sensemust apply to driving.”

Dangerously few motorists understand the detrimental effects ofpoor quality food on their driving, almost two thirds (64%)don’t consider the effects of foods they purchase on theirability behind the wheel.

Analysing the findings, Sian Porter has highlighted popular foodchoices which road users should avoid in order to stay alert andreduce their chances of having an accident:

  • Foods high in sugar – over half (55%) of motoristsenjoy sugary snacks when on the road. Initial rises in bloodsugar are quickly followed by a sudden drop however, leavingdrivers tired, hungry and unable to concentrate
  • Foods high in fat – such as fast food, are thenumber one choice for 41% of motorists. High in fat and sugar,such meals are more likely to be "dumped out" of the stomach,leaving drivers feeling dizzy and sick as the food passesthrough them quickly.

Motorists justify their poor food choices in avariety of ways. For 74%, convenience takes priority over healthieroptions. The simplest and quickest food options can have thebiggest impact on driving alertness however, and are oftenunsuitable for long-distance driving.

For almost a third (30%), "fast food" is the ideal way to keepkids’ bad behaviour at bay and as a "treat" for enduring longdistances in the car. However, high levels of fat and sugar in suchfood deliver short bursts of energy, which also fade quickly andcan lead to tears and tantrums.

The survey revealed that motorists need more encouragement to makehealthier choices whilst driving. The majority blame lack of choice(61%) and expense (66%) as the key barriers to healthyeating.

Yet, on-the-ground research carried out by Sian Porter as part ofthe study reveals that healthy choices at service way stations doexist but are often ignored by road users. More than half (54%) ofmotorway service stations visited featured a salad bar.

Sian Porter has produced the following tips to help motorists makethe best choices and maintain driving alertness.

  1. Make time for small, regular meals. Large, heavy meals can leaveyou feeling sluggish, sleepy and uncomfortable
  2. With sandwiches opt for bread with seeds or grains. Look forwholegrain, sourdough, rye or granary or a tortilla wrap andchoose a lean filling
  3. Have a piece of fruit / fruit salad / low fat yoghurt or choosea currant bun / fruit loaf instead of sweets or confectionary, aDanish or a doughnut
  4. Drink water or low fat milk. A small amount of caffeine can perkyou up but don’t overdo it as you can feel jittery andlack concentration
  5. Hurried meals, poor posture whilst eating, stress, anxiety andlong periods without food followed by a large heavy meal that isrich, fatty, spicy, or acidic can contribute to indigestion andshould be avoided.

Sian Porter continues: “Motorists mustrealise that foods high in sugar, fat and salt can quickly reducealertness. Choosing more carefully can significantly improvesafety.”

RAC Patrolman Steve England continued: “Food is like fuel forthe body, and just as a car can’t run properly on the wrongtype, the same rule applies to motorists. It can be hard for peoplewho are on the road a great deal to eat healthily all the time, butfrom personal experience I know what a difference the right choicecan make.”


RAC Press office contact:
Amanda Glover or JasmineAgbulos at Lexis PR on 0207 908 6462 or 0207 908 6570

Jon Day/Liz Kennett at RAC Press Office on 01603 688263

Notes to editors:
1Governmentadvice recommends planning journeys to include 15-minute breaksevery two hours.

RAC commissioned ICM to conduct research amongst 1,000 male andfemale drivers aged 18–65+ across the UK between 11-14 August2006.

RAC commissioned registered dietician Sian Porter to visit 11motorway service stations between London Gateway and Wooley Edge onthe M1 between 9-11 August 2006. She analysed and recorded thenumber and variety of different food outlets, the contents of menusand the availability of different meal options and conductedface-to-face interviews with 50 motorists over the two days.

About RAC
With around seven million members, RAC is oneof the UK's most progressive motoring organizations, providingservices for both private and business motorists. Whether it'sroadside assistance, windscreen repair and replacement, learning todrive, vehicle inspections and checks, legal and financial servicesor up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able tomeet motorists’ needs. RAC incorporates BSM, RAC AutoWindscreens, RAC Direct Insurance and HPI.

Aviva bought RAC last year. The acquisition brings together RAC'spowerful brand and customer base with the expertise and leadingposition in motor insurance of Norwich Union Insurance (part ofAviva). Norwich Union is the UK's largest insurer, insuring one inseven motor vehicles and with a market share of around 14 percent.

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