Findings from the latest comprehensive study of UK drivers' views

Dependency on the car is increasing


British drivers are becoming even more reliant on their cars as their main mode of transport, new RAC research has found.

The 2019 Report on Motoring has identified a trend towards growing car dependency in the UK – at a time when the Government and local authorities are keen for drivers to use their cars less frequently to improve air quality and cut congestion. This year, the equivalent of 14.7 million motorists (35%) say they have become more dependent on their vehicles in the last 12 months – up from 33% in 2018 and the highest proportion in the past five years. Only 14% of drivers (around 5 million people) say they have become less dependent this year.

Public transport an inadequate alternative

The Government is keen to encourage drivers to use their vehicles less – not only to ease the pressure on the UK’s road network, but also to help the country meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets and reduce the impact of emissions on air quality.

But a significant number of drivers feel they have little choice but to rely on their cars given the lack of other viable options: more than half (53%) of the UK’s 42 million motorists say they are frustrated by the lack of feasible alternative modes of transport for long journeys, while a similar proportion (52%) say the same about short journeys.

A majority of drivers – 57%, the equivalent of almost 24 million people – would be willing to use their cars less if the quality of public transport was better, and agreement with this statement has been high for 11 consecutive years now. Among this group of motorists, 50% complain that fares are too high – up by five percentage points on last year – while 41% say services are not frequent enough. Meanwhile, a growing number of people (36% – up from 31% in 2018) say that a lack of punctuality is a significant barrier to them using public transport as an alternative to driving, and 38% say services don’t run where they need them to. So it is clear that many drivers continue to believe that public transport does not suit their needs for the sorts of journeys they have to make.

Of those who would be willing to consider using public transport if services were better, almost a third (31%) say they would make more use of it if there was greater availability of services – a figure that rises to 40% for rural motorists, reflecting to some extent the significant cuts that have been made to rural bus services in recent years.

Last December, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Future of Rail report indicated that the cost of rail fares has increased by 47% over the last 10 years, with motoring costs having gone up by 32% over the same period. Meanwhile in May 2019, the Parliamentary Transport Committee published a report which called for the introduction of a national bus strategy to address the paucity of services available outside of London, where bus provision is regulated by Transport for London. The committee said that more than 3,000 bus routes had been reduced, withdrawn or altered since 2010-11.

Regional differences

The Report has found that motorists who live in London are far more likely to use alternatives to their cars for many journeys: in the capital, on average 38% of each driver’s weekly journeys are made either by public transport, walking or cycling compared with a national average of 24%.

For those who live in villages or other rural areas, cars typically account for 85% of all journeys, with just 15% represented by public transport, cycling or walking.

Across the UK as a whole, an overwhelming majority of motorists (73%) say they would find it very difficult to adjust to life without a car – and more than half (54%) of this group say this is because their vehicle is essential to carry heavy items. London residents would find it easier to live without a car: only 58% say they would struggle to adjust, compared with 84% of rural and village-based motorists.

Experts' views

These statistics on dependency confirm that our cars are still hugely important – a fact that policymakers can sometimes lose sight of when they look through the lens of urban – and especially London - transport options. A great number of people do not have reliable public transport as an alternative.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

It would be very interesting to compare the levels of car dependency in London – where there are a number of realistic alternatives to car use – to those in the rest of the UK, and even in other major cities.

David Davies, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS)

Do you commute by car? Do you wish better alternatives existed for these journeys? Vote in our poll

Are you a journalist? Check the RAC Media Centre for the full press release covering the topic of car dependency.

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Breakdown cover from just £7.95 a month*. Plus up to £150 of driving savings!

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

^For 1 nominated vehicle when added to Extra or Complete cover. New customers only. Ends 08/12/23. *New, single vehicle-based cover. £7.95 a month for Basic cover.