Calling all traffic and driving nerds — here are the random UK stats you need!

Who doesn’t love random statistics about driving and traffic in the UK? Just about everyone, obviously!

And don’t forget, driving statistics are also incredibly useful. A few well-placed driving stats can help you:

  • win that all-important argument with a complete stranger on social media
  • send your kids into a frenzy of eye rolling
  • shut down a conversation with an annoying neighbour.

With that in mind, we’ve trawled various authoritative sites for the facts and figures on UK driving. Just memorise these, and you’ll be well on your way to driving nerd superstardom!

Getting trippy

Let’s start off with the basics on trips. The overview from the 2019 National Travel Survey is the latest at the time of writing, and a true nerdy goldmine.

It tells us that the average person in the UK makes 953 trips per year, or 18 trips a week. That breaks down as follows:

  • 580 trips by car (77% of total distance covered)
  • 250 walking trips (3% of total distance covered)
  • 50 bus trips (4% of total distance covered)
  • 21 surface rail trips (10% of total distance covered)
  • 16 cycling trips (1% of total distance covered)

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the distances covered add up to 95%. The other 5% presumably includes all the other types of transport, from scooters to camels.

Of course, there are some huge regional difference in this. Londoners depend massively on buses to get about; out in the sticks, they’re only slightly more common than unicorns.

Driving forward

Now let’s focus on driving stats.

It’s no surprise that UK travel is dominated by cars. The average UK citizen now travels 5,009 miles per year. Because cars are often carrying more than one person, the average mileage for cars is higher, at around 7,400 miles per year.

That’s actually down from 9,200 miles per year in 2002, not because we’re driving any less, but because we now own more cars (so the mileage gets spread around between vehicles more).

If you’ve followed any of the arguments over ‘range anxiety’ for electric cars, you’ll already know that the average UK car journey is pretty short. However, we were suprised to learn just how short it really is: just 8.4 miles per trip.

To put it another way, the excellent RAC Foundation report (another trove of info) has this to say:

Car use (both as driver and passenger) accounts for only 8 per cent of the trips under half a mile in length but rises to 76 per cent of all trips in the 2 – 3 mile band and 80 per cent of trips longer than five miles in length; above one mile, more than half of all trips are by car.

In terms of time, that translates into the average person spending around 22 minutes in the car each day.

The big picture

The DfT’s 2019 Road Traffic Estimates lets us zoom out and assemble all of those individual journeys into one big picture. And the numbers are mindblowing.

Extracted from Road traffic Estimates in Great Britain 2019.

Take a look at that total number of vehicle miles for the UK. To put 356.5 billion miles into perspective, we got our calculators out (OK, we clicked on the calculator app), and we reckon that is equivalent to:

  • 14.3 million trips around the Earth
  • 745,000 round trips to the Moon
  • 1,917 round trips to the Sun.

You can see from the graphic that on all types of road, the car is now completely dominant, making up 78% of all the traffic.

Was it always like this? Nope, not at all.  Over time, the car has risen to the top of the heap. In fact, since 1949:

  • Bus and coach mileage has fallen by 3%
  • HGV mileage has increased by 123%
  • Light van mileage is up by 1254%
  • …but car and taxi mileage is up by2106%

That’s a whopping 21-fold rise in car use. Most of that growth took place between the forties and the eighties, but even over the last ten years, total car mileage has gone up by 13.7%.

The unknown stat: Covid and driving

Of course, the big unknown is what will happen to traffic as a result of the pandemic and all the associated restrictions.

We all saw the massive traffic reductions in the short term. By the 13th April 2020, total motor traffic was down to just 23% of usual levels. As soon as lockdown eased, though, everything rebounded back to normal. In fact, over some days in August 2020, traffic had actually increased over previous years.

What’s less clear is any longer term changes. Will the rise of working from home take millions of cars off the road? Don’t bank on it. Some research suggests that home-bound workers just use their cars more for other purposes. For the forseeable future, the car is here to stay.

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