Drivers poll signals double standards

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Britain's motorists see themselves as increasingly well behaved and environmentally conscious - but 3 million of them are prepared to drink and drive, and few are willing to give up their cars to save the planet.

Researchers have found that drivers are becoming more aware of the environmental damage caused by cars and new roads, with 40 per cent believing the Government should invest more in public transport. One-third of drivers questioned in a survey for Lex Service plc also said they would use their cars less if public transport were to be improved.

However, the survey also shows that 8 million more cars would be on the road if motorists could afford them.

The survey, the seventh of its kind, shows that only 18 per cent of motorists now believe building new roads will solve congestion, compared with 30 per cent in 1990. But 80 per cent said they would find life difficult without their car.

A growing awareness of social responsibility is also displayed in drivers' views of their own morality - although similar double standards are also exposed. Almost a quarter of those asked by Mori, for Lex, said they would "drive away quickly" if they accidentally bumped into a parked car unnoticed. And, asked what they would do if they were slightly over the limit at a friend's house and wanted to get home, 15 per cent - or the equivalent of 3 million motorists - said they would "drive home carefully."

A section of the Lex report, What drives the motorist, prepared for the Henley Centre for Forecasting, predicts that car sales will continue to rise over the next five years, although Bob Tyrrell, a director of the centre, said the prediction was "cautious" because of the continued absence of the feel-good factor among consumers.

"If you look at the way people are allocating income, there is an increase in areas that would in the past have been provided for by government," he said. "That is still giving people less to spend, despite the apparent economic upturn."

He said the Henley Centre had identified £16bn of new expenditure on education, health, pensions and life insurance that amounted to 8p in the pound of "hidden taxation".