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How has motoring changed?

Back in the 80's I drove a Mk5 Cortina and a Capri - I still own a Capri today. I really miss the character of old cars - car parks today are filled with cars that all look the same. I struggle to identify with modern cars - they're all faceless blobs with no personality of their own. That's why I love my Capri.

Steve, motorist from Cambridgeshire

In 2008, is it very different to how it was in 1988? Or, when you scratch the surface, are things the same as they always were?

We look at four key aspects of motoring to reveal what has really changed.

The growth of motoring in Britain

There's been enormous growth in motoring in Britain over the last 20 years. Compared with 1988, there are now 7.6 million more drivers and 9.34 million more cars using largely the same roads.

The serious growth in car ownership began in the mid-1950s.

Then, cars were the preserve of the few. Today, they are an integral part of ordinary, everyday British life.

This growth in ownership has fundamentally changed our lives. The freedoms a car brings have given us greater choice in where we live and work, and how we spend our time.

Year Percentage
1956 22%
1986 62%
1966 45%
1996 70%
1976 55%
2006 77%

The first RAC Report on Motoring found that, in 1988 most households in Britain owned a car and most adults had a driving licence.

It would be wrong, however, to think little has changed since then - it has.

The big story over the last twenty years is the extent to which the car has embedded itself in our everyday lives.

The figures show a huge growth in motoring. Since 1988:

  • The number of households with a car grew by 39%, from 14 to 19.5 million
  • The number of households with 2 or more cars grew by 95%, from 4.3 to 8.4 million
  • The total number of drivers grew by 29%, from 26.1 to 33.7 million
  • The number of women drivers grew by 50%, from 10.2 to 15.3 million
  • The total number of vehicles on our roads grew by 46%, from 23.3 to 34.0 million
  • The number of cars on our roads grew by 49%, from 18.9 to 28.2 million

Today, three-quarters of households have a car, seven out of ten adults hold a licence and there are more than eight cars for every ten drivers.

Arguably for the first time, we can genuinely say there is near-universal access to a car in Britain.

However, not only are there a lot more cars than 20 years ago, we're also using them more.

Again, since 1988:

  • The average number of car journeys we make increased by 11%, from 387 to 430 per year
  • The total amount of car miles driven increased by 32%, from 190 to 250 billion per year

A lot more cars and a lot more drivers mean a lot more traffic or, rather, congestion on our roads. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of the increased traffic is concentrated on the same roads we were using 20 years ago. Of the 12% growth in the length of our roads, the majority has been on minor roads, which, whilst accounting for 87% of Britain's road length, only carry around 36% of all traffic.

Since 1988:

  • The total traffic on our roads grew by 35%, from 234 to 315 billion vehicle-miles
  • The total length of our roads grew by 12%, from 220 to 247 thousand miles
  • The total traffic on our major roads grew by 40%, from 144 to 202 billion vehicle-miles
  • The total length of our major roads shrunk by 0.4%, from 31.38 to 31.26 thousand miles (although this is in part due to reclassification of roads).

The demographics of the British driver have also changed over the past 20 years:

  • In 1988 the average age was 43 and now it's 46
  • In 2008, Britain's motorists have been driving for an average of 24 years
  • The number of drivers aged 65 or over has grown from one in 10 in 1988 to one in five in 2008.

The cost of motoring