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Has Britain reached ‘peak car’?

Our love affair with the car may have 'peaked' new research suggests, as it reveals that average driver mileage has changed little over the last ten years.

The 'On the Move' report, commissioned by the RAC Foundation, found that an overall levelling off average mileage between 1995 and 2007 masked large differences between men and women's mileage, private and company car mileage and between London and the rest of the country.

Are the increasingly congested roads and high insurance and running costs putting us off using the car?Overall men's mileage has dropped, with the biggest drop for men in their 20s whose average car mileage fell by about 2,000 miles per year. Significantly fewer young men hold a driving licence too, down 14 per cent compared with mid-1990s.

Most of the reduction in mileage by men (except for those in their 20s)
can be accounted for by a sharp fall in company car use; this seems to be
linked to the large increases in taxation on fuel provided for private use.

Yet with two and a half million more women with driving licences in Great Britain today than 15 years ago, average mileage for women has increased; by over a fifth (22%).

Women have also helped boost National Rail travel with an 86 per cent rise in mileage amongst those in their 30s. This compares with a 54 per cent increase in rail travel across the board.

London is unique as the only British region - prior to the recession - to have seen a decline in traffic. The introduction of the congestion charge coupled with investment in public transport and cycling facilities have helped Londoners wean themselves off the car.

No more company car

The study team, lead by Professor Peter Jones of University College London,  specifically excluded data from the recent recession so that short-term economic pressures did not mask long-term changes in travel patterns. Despite evidence of some reduction in car mileage among certain groups, the researchers concluded that their was little evidence of 'peak car'. Once company car mileage was excluded, those aged 30 and over outside London actually increased their car travel right up to the 2007 recession. This group accounts for 70 per cent of the British adult population.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "This state of the nation report on how we get about reveals we overwhelmingly remain a country of car drivers.

"Strikingly it is women who have increasingly gotten behind the wheel. This is a reflection of their growing social and financial independence over recent decades.

"The big question is: what will happen with young men? Will they take up driving as they age and their domestic and financial circumstances change, or will they go their whole lives without feeling the need to get a car?

"There has been much talk of 'peak car' - the idea that individual car use has reached a plateau - but strip out the one-off impact of a collapse in company car mileage and prior to the recession we were actually driving more.

"Let's not forget about population growth. An extra ten million people are predicted for the UK over couple of decades and whatever we do individually will be dwarfed by the travel needs of these extra people."

For those that are using the car less though, it is suggested that high fuel and insurance costs are driving the change.

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Faye Sunderland

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