Traffic levels fall for first time in decades: Motor firms head for crash

The 'great car economy', championed by Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties, faces its biggest challenge

Traffic on Britain's roads is decreasing significantly for the first time since the three-day week of the early 1970s, suggesting the car economy is heading for a crash, official figures revealed yesterday.

In a sign that the country is already in recession, fewer car and lorry journeys on motorways, rural and urban roads were made over the last six months compared to the same period a year ago.

The Department for Transport (DfT) recorded two consecutive quarters where road traffic has decreased year on year – the first time for more than 30 years. If the trend continues to the end of the year, it will hugely undermine the "great car economy" championed by Margaret Thatcher.

At the same time, sales of new cars have fallen by 23 per cent and are at their lowest since 1996. The motor industry is suffering across the world, with Volvo, the Swedish giant, selling just 115 heavy trucks over the past few months, compared to 41,970 during the same period last year – a 99.7 per cent fall.

And the jobs of 3,700 people at two UK car plants are at risk after General Motors warned it would be bankrupt within months unless it received a bailout from the US government.

The new traffic figures emerged as the Government prepares to announce car-related tax cuts as part of Gordon Brown's strategy to get Britain through the recession. Planned vehicle excise duty increases for older cars are expected to be scrapped, while ministers are examining plans by the German government for tax reductions on green vehicles. On Friday the Prime Minister said he would work with other EU leaders on fiscal policy to support economic growth – a signal that tax cuts to reinvigorate the economy are being considered.

As Mr Brown and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, battle it out over the economy, a poll today puts the Conservatives 13 points ahead of Labour. The ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph suggests that despite Labour's surprise win in the Glenrothes by-election, the "Brown bounce" could be short-lived.

Besides the three-day week in 1973 and two world wars, traffic has steadily increased since the beginning of mass production of the motor car more than a century ago. But the new DfT figures show a 2.2 per cent decrease between July and September this year. This followed a 0.5 per cent decrease between April and June. The decline runs against the official predicted trend of an increase in traffic of 1-2 per cent a year.

Traffic congestion has also decreased on motorways and A-roads. The average vehicle delay on the slowest 10 per cent of journeys was 3.67 minutes, down from 3.95 minutes for the year ending September 2008.

Britain is in the early stages of a recession, with unemployment rising and industry shrinking, leading to fewer cars and HGVs on the roads. But during the recession of the 1990s, traffic remained static, suggesting there are other reasons for the decline.

It would appear thousands of motorists are giving up driving, either because of soaring fuel costs, rising parking and car taxes or because of the environmental cost.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "It is too early to say there is a definite long-term trend here, but there is no doubt these are the best figures we have to go on suggesting a decline in traffic."

Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth said: "The Government must help people to use their cars less – and tackle climate change – by giving them better public transport alternatives, and making it safer and easier to cycle and walk."

Adrian Ramsay, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: "It's good to see that people are making better use of other travel options as they feel the pinch of the rising cost of using the car. There will be a limit to how many people can make this choice. Too many towns and cities have such poor and expensive public transport that people are stuck using the car."

When she was Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher hailed the car-based economy as the ultimate expression of the individual over the state. In the 1980s and 1990s, road traffic rose substantially from 215 billion vehicle kilometres in the year 1980 to 378.7 billion in 2000. Last year traffic reached 513 billion vehicle kilometres.

Car ownership has steadily increased over the past decade, with the proportion of households in Britain without access to a car falling from 30 per cent in 1997 to 25 per cent in 2007. Homes with two or more cars outnumber those with no cars, increasing from 25 per cent to 32 per cent.

Road transport produces around a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly 60 per cent of this is from cars. This summer petrol reached 118p a litre, but many retailers have since lowered this to below £1 a litre after criticism from the Prime Minister.

the ex-motorist: 'I feel a lot fitter and more alert now. I don't miss having a car at all'

Gary Mahoney, 50, from Liverpool, works for the council's environmental protection department. He gave up his Toyota Corolla seven months ago.

"The car was something of a family heirloom and I used it for the five-mile trip to work, as well as to take my mum round for her shopping. The car died about seven months ago and I decided to scrap it. I was sentimentally attached to it but it was the right time to get rid of it. I was increasingly uncomfortable with having the car because of my job. I am aware of the damage cars can do, particularly in terms of air pollution.

"Now I cycle to work, car-share with a colleague, or I take the bus and I walk a lot more than I did before. I feel a lot fitter physically and I get to work feeling a lot more alert than I used to. I also feel better about myself and better about the environment. I would encourage people to think about doing the same as me, if their circumstances allow it. I don't miss having a car at all."

Ian Griggs

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness