Car sales set to rise but drivers reject more roads

Fewer than one in five motorists thinks investment in better roads is the answer to transport congestion, according to a survey of drivers' attitudes.

Car sales will increase over the next few years, though the pace of growth will be held back as consumers concentrate spending on things like education, health, insurance and pensions.

The annual Lex Service report highlights increasing concerns about Britain's "car culture"but indicates that people are still unwilling to give up motoring.

The survey, by the opinion researchers Mori and the Henley Centre for Forecasting, found that the outlook for sales of company cars remained strong.

But caution among private buyers - the reason for last year's sudden fall in new car registrations - will continue to hold back sales.

Bob Tyrrell, chief executive of the Henley Centre, said new car sales would rise by around a fifth in the five years from 1993 to 1998 after faltering during the recession. "Growth will not return to the halcyon days of the 1980s and we do not see a return to the peak of 1989," he said.

Investing more money intrains and buses was seen as the best way of beating congestion, which costs industry hundreds of millions of pounds.

The survey found increasing support for anti-congestion measures such as charging drivers £3 a day to drive in cities. Yet four in five motorists still said they would find it difficult to cope without a car and only one in three - mostly Londoners - said they would use cars less if public transport was better.

If motorists were not constrained financially, there would be another 8 million cars on the road, about a third as many again as there are today.

The study, based on replies from more than 1,500 motorists including 383 company car drivers, found that only 18 per cent of drivers supported investment in better roads to beat congestion, compared with 40 per cent in 1990. Two in five favoured more train and bus investment, and nearly one in three backed banning cars from city centres.

The survey was conducted last October, just before publication of the Royal Commission on the Environment and the Government's decision to abandon some road building programmes.

It is clear that environmental worries about the motor industry are growing. About 43 per cent of respondents said the Government should take responsibility for these problems, with 16 per cent saying companies were responsible.

The view that companies would improve their environmental responsibility only if forced to do so by law was held by 81 per cent of respondents, against 69 per cent in 1992.

Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, said in a foreword to the report that people valued the freedom and convenience provided by their cars. But more and more motorists considered environmental issues to be important.

"We must look therefore for ways of achieving a balance between these two conflicting priorities," he said.