Skills and familiarity may not have decreased, but anxiety levels may be on the up.

A new study by the UK’s largest independent road safety charity IAM RoadSmart has revealed that one-in-five motorists are more anxious about using the road since the start of the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year.

More than 80 percent of the 1000 people surveyed said that they were 'suffering in silence', and felt like they didn't get vital support needed to cope with anxiety during the lockdown. What's more 65 percent said they were worried about offering a friend or colleague a lift, through fear of contracting COVID-19.

The findings fell in-line with Professor Alex Stedmon, a leading expert in driver and rider behaviour, who said that while the ability to drive or ride will not have diminished during lockdown, confidence and familiarity may well have.

"Simply put, the brain works on two levels," Stedmon said. "It has short-term or working memory, which has a small capacity and focusses on what you’re doing at that precise moment, and everything else is long-term memory, the place where we transfer the processes that make up our skills – such as driving.

"The mechanics of driving or riding aren’t going to evaporate over lockdown, but the confidence and familiarity of driving a car or riding a motorcycle might, which could lead to increased levels of anxiety."

The study also found that attitudes towards stress and anxiety levels varied from region to region. An increase in cyclists caused Scottish drivers the most stress, with 46 percent admitting this, followed by 41 percent in the South East.

In Northern Ireland, 39 percent found an increase in pedestrians to be a source of increased anxiety, while in the West Midlands, 54 percent were most concerned about the standards of other people’s driving – 44 percent of motorists in the South West also had the same concerns.

Three quarters of motorists in Wales were most worried about catching COVID-19 from giving someone a lift, followed by 67 percent of respondents in London.

Driving stress warning

"Confidence is a major factor in how we drive or ride, particularly for those who have been driving or riding less in recent months," said Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards. "A loss of confidence can increase anxiety which in turn puts us at greater risk of being involved in an incident on the road.

"The good news is there are some simple things we can all do to make sure we maintain our confidence and minimise the risk of anxiety creeping in when we are driving or riding. As the foundation to all safer driving and riding, these reflect a common-sense approach that is easy to make part of your everyday driving and riding.

"Through planning and preparation before your journey, staying focused on the road and avoiding distractions and by sharing the road considerately with all other road users, being mindful of our limits and taking time to get the basics right, we can all stay sharp and keep safe.

"Anyone who feels they have lost confidence or feels more anxious about taking to the roads will find a refresher of the basics now could help reduce stress and prepare them for whatever the future holds in terms of driving and riding.

"It could also improve wellbeing and mental health, something that is more important than ever in these uncertain times. All in-car training adheres to government social distancing guidelines."