Drivers ignore elderly lady stranded at the roadside

  • In a dramatic experiment, 94 per cent of motorists drove past an elderly lady stranded in distress without offering help or assistance
  • Just three per cent of drivers stopped to help a man and toddler
  • A quarter of motorists (23 per cent) admit they wouldn’t stop to help a driver in distress, whose car had been involved in an accident

During a new social experiment1 by Direct Line Car Insurance, the majority of drivers (94 per cent) ignored an elderly lady at the roadside whose vehicle had been damaged after an accident, despite the distressed pensioner trying to attract the attention of passing motorists. The findings come as research2 reveals only nine per cent of drivers would always stop and help if they saw a motorist stranded at the side of the road after an accident, proving we can no longer rely on the ‘good nature’ of the British public.   

The roadside experiment was designed to examine whether members of the public would stop to assist stranded drivers in the event of an accident when their car is left undriveable, or if they would turn a blind eye to their fellow motorists and leave them stranded at the roadside.

The experiment was conducted on the A264, near Guildford in Surrey, with a damaged and undriveable car (see images attached) positioned just off the road, close to a layby, where it was safe for motorists to pull over and offer assistance. Actors were used to portray stranded drivers in distress, including an elderly woman and a middle aged man with a child. The actors were chosen specifically because Direct Line’s consumer research had found people said they were most likely to stop and help an elderly woman and least likely to offer assistance to a man with a child.

Despite a quarter (25 per cent) of motorists saying they would be most likely to stop for an elderly lady, the majority of drivers drove past the stranded pensioner in the experiment, even though she was clearly in distress at the side of the road and attempting to flag down passing vehicles for assistance. Members of the public were similarly unsympathetic to a man stranded by the roadside with his young son, as only three per cent of drivers stopped to offer them assistance, despite them being on the side of a busy road and trying to gain the attention of passers by.

However, research among consumers showed a quarter of motorists (23 per cent) admit they wouldn’t stop to help a driver in distress whose car had been involved in an accident3, with one in eight (12 per cent) feeling like they don’t have the skills to help and nine per cent making the assumption that everyone has a mobile phone and can get assistance on their own. One in twenty (six per cent) were concerned for their own safety and a further six per cent said they didn’t stop because there wasn’t a safe place to pull over.   

Psychologist Gladeana McMahon, said: "Altruism is an interesting psychological concept.  While we all like to convince ourselves we would put others first, act unselfishly and assist others, in a real life situation it is far less clear cut. This is because when faced with reality we have to weigh up all the factors and often have to do so very quickly. This leads us to focus on our own immediate needs rather than thinking about the other driver, questioning ourselves saying ‘do I have the skills to help?’

"However, for those selfless drivers who come to the assistance of others, there are established psychological and physiological benefits. They are likely to feel happier as a result and actually experience better health. It has also been proven that their altruism can be contagious, so much so that those drivers that are assisting others are more likely to take it forward and help other motorists in the future.”

Gus Park, Managing Director of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “Even though we all like to think we’d do the right thing and offer help to someone if they are stranded after an accident, there are multiple factors drivers need to consider before stopping to assist a fellow motorist. Drivers should find a safe place to stop, off the road and somewhere they won’t block the flow of traffic. They should also make sure it is safe before exiting their vehicle and take extra care when by the side of a busy road.”

The research shows Birmingham is home to the nation’s most compassionate and helpful drivers, with one in six motorists (16 per cent) saying they would always stop and help if they were driving and saw someone stranded at the side of the road after an accident. Drivers in Cardiff (15 per cent), Newcastle (14 per cent) and Glasgow (12 per cent) also demonstrate a greater willingness to help, compared to other UK cities such as Sheffield, where only one per cent of drivers said they would always stop to assist a stranded motorist. 

Table one:  Which City’s motorists would be most likely to stop and help a stranded driver?


Percentage of motorists that would always stop to help if they were driving and saw a motorist stranded at the side of the road by their vehicle


16 per cent


15 per cent


14 per cent


12 per cent


11 per cent


9 per cent


8 per cent


8 per cent


7 per cent


6 per cent


6 per cent


4 per cent


3 per cent


1 per cent

Source:  Direct Line Car Insurance

The research also showed a third of motorists (37 per cent) still have the ‘stranger-danger’ instilled in them as children and would refuse to accept a lift from a stranger if they were left stranded at the roadside after a car accident and a fifth (21 per cent) of drivers wouldn’t even accept assistance from someone they didn’t know.

To reduce the stress for customers and ensure they aren’t left stranded after an accident, Direct Line will arrange a taxi to make sure they get to their onward destination safely at no additional cost*. Customers can take advantage of the new cover if their car is undriveable as a result of a road traffic accident and requires immediate recovery.

Direct Line is the only insurer in the UK to offer this service to customers.  Onward Travel cover not only takes the customer to their chosen destination, but also transports any passengers, whether that’s noisy children or their furry friends. The insurer will also pay the reasonable cost of taking the customers’ undriveable vehicle to the nearest suitable repairer and returning the vehicle to the registered address once it has been fixed. 

Park contiues: “We are always looking for new ways to make life easier for our customers and provide a high performance service that protects them should the worst happen. The last thing people need if they have been involved in an accident is to be left stranded, feeling vulnerable or in an inconvenient location with no means to get to their destination. That’s why no matter where the customer is or where they are going, we will ensure a taxi gets them there safely*.” 

“When people are buying car insurance, they shouldn’t just think about price, but also about whether the product and service will meet their expectations if they end up in the unfortunate situation of making a claim.”

 - ENDS -

Notes to editors

1 A two hour road safety experiment took place on the A264,Guildford where actors posed as stranded drivers with a clearly undriveable car to test whether members of the public would stop to help them. During the experiment, 247 vehicles passed the actors with ten drivers stopping to provide assistance

2 Research conducted by Opinium amongst 2,006 UK adults between 3rd March and 7th March 2017,

3Drivers who have driven past a stranded motorist in the last two years.

*Terms and conditions

  • Onward Travel service offered with Comprehensive Cover, if you can't drive your car after an accident. Taxi booked to one destination within the UK. Underwritten by U K Insurance Limited.
  • The cover is available to all new and existing customers with a comprehensive policy at no additional cost.

For further information, please contact:

Antonia Green

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Tel: 0207 282 2967

Email: [email protected]

Claire Jarrett

Media Relations Executive

Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 832 411

Email: [email protected]

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 motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

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 0345 246 3761 or visiting