Consumption of diesel and petrol in Britain has plunged by a fifth since the start of the credit crunch, according to a new analysis.
The motor industry sought to explain the fall in light of the increasing fuel efficiency of cars and the impact of the economic downturn, which has resulted in a temporary reduction in vehicle use.
However, environmentalists claimed the figures are proof of shifting attitudes towards motor travel in the developing world which has seen the number of journeys steadily falling from a peak in the mid-1990s.
The Government is widely anticipated to be planning a new round of road building projects to stimulate the economy ahead of the next general election and to meet the Department for Transport’s projected 44 per cent growth in traffic by 2035.
But the analysis by the Office of National Statistics shows that households are struggling to cope with the near doubling of vehicle fuel prices in the past decade. Between 2002 and 2008 spending on vehicle fuel per head per quarter increased from £84 to £130. But since then average spends have dipped – despite soaring petrol prices – falling to a low of £103 in 2009.
The ONS figures showed that consumption – the quantity of petrol purchased – has plunged 18 per cent since 2007. The figures come after an AA Populus Poll showed that seven out of 10 drivers said they intended to make fewer journeys because of fuel prices.
The number of driver journeys by car or van has fallen seven per cent since 1995, according to the most recent National Travel Survey. Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth said fuel efficiency and the economic crisis could not explain the long term decline in car journeys or a growing lack of appeal that motor vehicles held for young people. “There is strong and building evidence that car use has peaked not just in the UK but the US, France, Germany and other developed nations,” he said. “The decline is most marked in younger people whose status is defined by different sorts of technology. They want iPads and iPhones rather than a car,” he said.
But Paul Watters, head of public affairs and road and transport police at the AA said there was an “unbreakable link” between traffic growth and the economy and it was imperative the Government was prepared for the eventual upturn.
“The majority of people cannot imagine life without their car. We have seen this in the past in the 1990s and in previous recessions. It will undoubtedly get back to previous levels when the economy improves. Looking at different predictions for the future we are going to have to start making plans for when the current network fills up,” he said.