Statistics reveal Covid-19 impact on traffic levels

12.19 | 29 October 2020 |

Image: DfT

The RAC says there is little doubt that 2020 is ‘having a profound impact on travel habits’, after new figures show the largest fall in motor traffic since records began in 1994.

Government figures, published on 29 October, show motor vehicles travelled 305.4 billion vehicle miles in Great Britain for the year ending June 2020 – down by 16%.

These statistics cover the period following the Government’s announcement of measures to limit the impact and transmission of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Exploratory analysis, based on provisional road traffic statistics, suggests that without the impact of Covid-19, the figure for the year ending June 2020 would have increased by 1% to 357.1 billion vehicle miles. 

Therefore, the provisionally estimated impact of the coronavirus pandemic is to have decreased road traffic for the year ending June 2020 by 51.7 billion vehicle miles, or 14.6% of rolling annual traffic levels.

The analysis also suggests that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic affected road traffic differently by vehicle type and road type. 

The decline seen in road traffic levels at the end of March 2020 was more pronounced for cars, than for vans and lorries. There were also slightly larger falls on motorways than other road types.

The RAC says the million pound question now is what happens next.

Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of policy, said: “There is little doubt that 2020 is having a profound impact on our travel habits. 

“Incredibly, 52 billion fewer vehicle miles were travelled in the year to the end of June than was to be expected if the pandemic hadn’t hit. 

“The biggest fall in traffic volumes was on motorways as drivers tended to stay local during the lockdown periods in the spring, with the sight of empty highways surely one of the enduring images of that stage of the pandemic.

“The million pound question now is what happens next. With the introduction of local lockdowns in several parts of the UK, we’re already seeing traffic volumes start to dip again after rising through the summer. 

“Nonetheless, the RAC’s own analysis suggests that drivers are attaching greater importance to having access to a vehicle in light of the pandemic, which they see as a reliable and safe form of transport in these continuously uncertain times.”



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