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Motorists' perspectives on the environment

The environmental burden has shifted away from solely manufacturers to placing some responsibility on motorists, both in terms of their purchasing decisions and also their driving behaviours.

But how well do motorists understand the impact they are having? Do they understand what they can do to make a difference and how does this compare to other aspects of their lives? How realistic is it for them to make more significant changes quickly?

Years ago people walked to work. But nowadays, lots of people work on big industrial parks. And therefore they have to drive to work. There is no bus that goes down there. So I think people are being forced into driving. And to say we are not green, it isn't a choice. It's because you don't have an alternative.

Fay, motorist from Lincolnshire

Are motorists really concerned about the environment?

RAC's research shows the cost of motoring is currently of much greater concern to drivers than its impact on the environment.

Almost half of motorists said increases in the cost of fuel have been the single biggest influence changing their driving behaviour. In comparison, just 6% had changed as a result of concern for the environment. (Fig.1) In addition, more than eight in ten (81%) of motorists are now most concerned about the cost of owning and running a car, up from 74% in 2007. The debate in motorist minds is more about the pound in their pocket rather than saving the planet.

Most believe they are an "easy target" for generating Government revenues. This is probably reinforced by the fact that £45bn6 a year is generated by cars and motorists, but only £7.5bn is reinvested back into the road network.

Motorists were asked to choose which issues had caused them to change their driving behaviour and then which was the single most influential issue.

The recent fluctuation in fuel prices and the credit crunch are catalysing a change in driving behaviours to save fuel, this has resulted in motorists being more conscious of how they drive – and as a result they are driving in a more environmentally friendly manner.

The key question now is how to capitalise on this and make sure this new green driving behaviour is continued once the economic situation improves. Action must also be taken to engage the significant minority (22%), who say that they have as yet made no changes in their driving behaviours.

While cost is their biggest priority, motorists say their willingness to consider green motoring is increasing. In 2008, 77% of drivers would now buy a more environmentally friendly car if the tax incentives were better, up from 66% in 2007.

Over half of motorists (56%) today are also much more likely to say they would carefully consider CO2 emissions when buying their next car, up from 37% in 2007.

There is a significant difference in perspective between rural and urban motorists. Rural dwelling motorists are more receptive to considering a "green" car, but are less able to adjust their lifestyle to being without a car, than are urbanites. (See Fig.3). Since their inability to do without a car is linked to gaps in public transport the need to improve alternative modes of transport, especially in the countryside, is once again highlighted.

However the evidence from our new research is that "doing more" is increasingly contingent on people perceiving improvements in the public transport system.

RAC calls for:

  • Increased parking provision at railway stations and further incentivising take-up of park and ride schemes, which show the car can be seen as part of the integrated package. While there will always be some reliance on the car, transport options need to be integrated to ensure people can make personalised choices which are simple, easy and affordable.

Choices and alternatives

20 years of environmental debate