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2.0 Who is the motorist?

White car driving on road along side cyclist

Love them or hate them, cars are here to stay for the foreseeable future. But the economic situation means they are being used less - as drivers use other modes of transport or make fewer trips. Who drives them and where they drive has changed marginally over the year but fundamentally drivers still have to drive.

The problem facing drivers today is that the high cost of fuel means they have to think very carefully about the journeys they take. They are combining trips and exploring alternatives. The cost of motoring is polarising the country. Urban drivers who have more options available to switch out of their cars, are typically ranged against rural dwellers with fewer options as they face fewer viable alternatives.

2.1 The cars they drive

Small cars continue to dominate the roads. Although the car scrappage scheme was no longer available to incentivise people, the average age of a car on the road in 2011 remained at 5.5 years, the same as 2010 - with two in five cars aged five to ten years old. 46% of homes have one car in the drive and 44% have two. Almost one in ten homes has three or more cars parked outside.

2.2 Behind the wheel

All the evidence shows that we are driving less year on year. According to the Department for Transport's Traffic Estimates for 2010, traffic levels fell 2.1% in 2010 against 20092. The RAC Report on Motoring confirms this.

  • 57% of drivers cut down the number of short distance journeys they made by car.
  • 47% cut down the number of long distance journeys they made by car.

Of those reducing the number of miles driven, approximately a third said they did this for financial reasons.

Cutting down on long/short journeys


  Drivers who could cut down on short journeys did so for financial reasons Drivers who could cut down on long journeys did so for financial reasons






However, the research shows rural drivers still drive the most on average with:
  • City drivers covering 8,596 miles a year.
  • Suburban drivers covering 9,608 miles a year.
  • Rural drivers covering 10,008 miles a year.

Also according to the Commission for Rural Communities' State of the Countryside 2010 report, drivers living in rural areas drive approximately 40% further than those in urban areas, but rural people make similar numbers of journeys and spend a similar amount of time travelling - so their journeys are longer and faster3.

Drivers are also combining as many journeys as possible into one regardless of where they live. Over the past twelve months, 70% of people living in rural areas have combined journeys - over half for financial reasons - against 60% and 28% respectively for people living in urban and suburban areas.

  • 38% drive a hatchback or medium saloon
  • 35% drive a mini or supermini
  • 11% drive a 4x4, SUV or MPV
  • 9% drive an executive, luxury saloon or sports car
  • 7% other

2.3 The alternatives

As the number of car journeys has fallen, the number of times public transport has been used over the past twelve months has increased.

  • 38% of drivers have used public transport more for short journeys.
  • 32% of drivers have used public transport more for long journeys.

But again, the options available to people living in towns against those living in a rural location fall into stark contrast.

  • 55% of people living in a city said they chose public transport for short journeys and 45% for longer journeys.
  • 37% of people living in a suburb said they chose public transport for short journeys and 29% for longer ones.
  • 25% of rural dwellers said they chose public transport for short journeys and 26% for longer ones.

These differences clearly reflect the reduced access, availability and affordability of public transport options open to people who live in rural, and to a lesser extent suburban, locations. This is also set to get worse as the amount of investment in public transports falls.

It is worth noting that changes were rarely made for environmental reasons with 7% or less citing it as the main driver of the trends mentioned in the chart below.

Walking or cycling/car sharing


  % increasing the amount of walking or cycling they do % of workers who shared a car with others
Urban      68%
   2010: 60%
   2010: 29%
Rural      44%
   2010: 49%
   2010: 17%
Suburbs      46%
   2010: 51%
   2010: 15%


"We need to understand what the barriers are to people using bicycles and public transport more"

Robert Gifford
Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Panel for Transport Safety


3.0 What is concerning drivers?

1.0 Introduction