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It is proof of what we have probably all seen with our own eyes: every tenth vehicle on the road is now a van.

The number of vans (light commercial vehicles or LCVs) on Britain’s roads has been rising more than 2.5 times quicker than cars.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of vans increased by 29% to 3.3 million.

Over the same period the number of cars rose by 11% to 28.7 million. By comparison, over the same decade the number of lorries (heavy goods vehicles or HGVs) on British roads fell by 5% to 460,000.

The highest percentage change in van ownership over that period was seen in the North East, followed by the South West and Wales. This is the full table:

REGION Number of vans – 2002 Number of vans – 2012 % change 2012 on 2002
North East 77,300 141,000 82.5%
South West 270,100 391,100 44.8%
Wales 124,400 176,000 41.4%
Scotland 174,600 241,500 38.3%
South East 388,700 526,400 35.4%
Yorks & Humber 182,000 246,000 35.2%
East Midlands 220,600 278,000 26%
West Midlands 307,900 382,000 24.1%
East 274,000 330,300 20.6%
London 194,000 203,000 4.7%
North West 282,500 294,500 4.2%
GREAT BRITAIN 2,542,300 3,280,600 29%

The RAC Foundation commissioned a report from the consultancy company AECOM to try and better understand what has been happening with van traffic. It shows that:

  • Almost one in two (44%) of UK registered vans visit London each year
  • In Europe only France, Spain and Italy have more vans registered than Britain
  • 95% of vans are diesel powered
  • 20% of vans change hands each year
  • 3% of vans (112,000) are 20 or more years older
  • Van traffic in Britain is predicted to almost double by 2040, rising twice as fast as overall traffic.

What exactly is behind all this? We can of course speculate.

In 2013 three-quarters of British adults shopped online and we have the highest rate of internet shopping in the EU. Intuitively you would think this has resulted in a big rise in home deliveries and hence van use but more research is needed in this area.

There is also reason to believe hauliers are switching away from larger vehicles because of changing delivery patterns and growing environmental restrictions on HGVs. It could also be that more and more people are running their own businesses and need a van to carry their goods and tools.

With congestion set to grow understanding this key aspect of road transport is vital.

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The number of cars in Great Britain has hit yet another record high. In the year to the end of Q3 2013 there were 29,206,000 cars licensed with the DVLA, up from 29,080,000 three months earlier.

The total number of licensed vehicles also rose to a new record – 35,210,000 – according to the figures released by the DfT.

Alongside this data the government also gave its provisional estimate for the total traffic seen on the roads in Britain in 2013. At 306.4 billion miles this was up from the 302.6 billion seen in 2012, but still short of the all time peak of 314.1 billion miles seen in pre-recession 2007.

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The RAC’s 25th annual Report on Motoring – published yesterday – was packed full of insights into the minds of the driving public. Predominantly based on a survey of 1542 British motorists carried out by Quadrangle, it covered subjects ranging from motoring taxation to the general cost of motoring to younger drivers.

Safety and behaviour was a central theme. Amongst the statistics highlighted were:

  • 21% of drivers admit to using their hand-held mobile phone at the wheel
  • 65% of motorists admit to having broken the 70mph speed limit on motorways, yet…
  • 92% say they are law abiding

There is some evidence to suggest motorists are behaving better. In 2011 there were 1.5 million fixed penalty notices issued for motoring offences, half of them for speeding offences. However the total figure was 18% down on 2010.

Perhaps one of the more noteworthy comments in the report came from the Head of Road Safety Statistics at the Department for Transport. In relation to 20mph zones – which have been increasingly rolled out across the country in place such as London, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle, but most notably in Portsmouth – Daryl Lloyd said:

“No sound conclusions can be drawn on the basis of Portsmouth’s 20mph limits alone. Unfortunately there is no specific national information on where all 20mph zones and limits are located. Therefore evaluating the changing relationship between accident rates, travel behaviour, wider health impacts and 20mph zones is challenging.”

This suggestion from officialdom of a lack of hard evidence as to the effectiveness of blanket 20mph zones underlines the need for proper assessment of road safety interventions. This should be the job of those in public office – or at least the people they employ – after all they are the ones who introduce the policies which affect us all. Yet with budget, and hence staffing, cuts continuing to be made both in Whitehall and town halls, is there the will and the resources to adequately do this?

The speed camera report the RAC Foundation published last Friday was met with a storm of comment – that was to be expected. But leaving aside the benefits or otherwise of cameras, it is a symptom of a wider problem that we felt obliged to do work in an area where in the past it might have been reasonable to expect the authorities to do it.

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The latest (published yesterday) DVLA figures for licensed vehicles make very interesting reading. They show that the number of vehicles on Britain’s roads has reached yet another all-time high. In fact the number of licensed vehicles has increased in every year since World War II except 1991.

The DVLA points out that the rise of the ‘female registered keeper’ has increased by more than two-thirds since 1994. This would tally with the RAC Foundation’s On the Move report published in December which highlighted the increasing number of women drivers and the growing mileage done by women, products of more females in the workplace and the trend for marrying later and having children at a later age.

It also reveals that the number of buses and coaches has fallen steadily over recent years and there are now 7% fewer than at the peak in 2008.

Another illuminating detail is the amount of used vehicles which change hands each year or in the language of the DVLA see a “transfer of keepership”. Clearly the assumption must be that the majority of these are second-hand car sales.

This is the list of summary results from the DVLA publication:

“
At the end of 2012 there were 34.5 million vehicles licensed for use on the roads in Great Britain, of which 28.7 million (83 per cent) were cars.

“Between 2011 and 2012 the total vehicle stock increased by 0.9 per cent. Since the recession of 2008-09 the annual growth in licensed vehicles has slowed but not stopped, increasing by an average of 0.5 per cent per year since 2008, compared with an average of 2.4 per cent a year between 1996 and 2007.

“2.47 million vehicles were registered for the first time in Great Britain in 2012, 3.7 per cent up on the previous year.

“The number of newly registered cars powered by diesel has continued to rise, exceeding 1 million for the first time in 2012. Just over 50 per cent of new cars were diesels, 48 per cent petrol and 1.4 per cent alternatively fuelled vehicles.

“The average CO2 emissions of cars newly registered in 2012 fell to 133 grams per kilometre. This is 3.8 per cent down on 2011 and 25 per cent lower than in 2001, when emissions-based banding of Vehicle Excise Duty for cars began.

“The number of private cars with a female registered keeper has increased by 70 per cent since 1994. In 2012, about 40 per cent of privately registered cars were registered with a female keeper.

“At the end of 2012, the most common car in Great Britain remained the Ford Focus (1.4 million), followed by the Ford Fiesta (1.3 million). The Ford Fiesta had most new registrations, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Focus.”

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Casualty trends and their causes have been long discussed and are notoriously hard to explain. Understanding cause and effect is particularly tricky, a fact recognised by a new TRL report which is helping to shed new light on this complex area.

The report reiterates the often repeated fact that the number of people killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads has fallen steadily since the 1980s. Deaths and serious injuries have largely fallen in tandem, with a divergence from 2000 onwards (See graph below). Only in 2009 did deaths and serious injuries start to converge.

But the question remains – why are death rates continuing to fall? The fall in road deaths since 2007 is clearly “good news”, but the reasons for this are poorly understood. The TRL work provides some answers indicating that death reductions are largely due to:

  • A decrease in overall traffic, especially a large reduction in HGV traffic, and
  • A fall in the number of young male drivers, who are typically high risk takers

The report concludes that substantial increases in pedal cycling have tended to lessen the overall reduction. Statistical models developed to look at casualty trends and the effects of secondary safety improvements within cars found that vehicle safety improvements have made a vital contribution to increasing safety throughout the decade, but the reduction of overall fatalities between 2007 and 2010 was not directly related these improvements. The economic downturn from 2007 appears to have had a beneficial effect on driver behaviour, with less speeding and drink driving seen over this time. The effect of weather on the fatality trend as recently proposed by the DfT is less certain, but it was thought possible that people may have driven more cautiously in the progressively colder winters since 2007.

These findings, particularly those relating to young male drivers, chime with those in the RAC Foundation’s recently published ‘On the Move report. Questions still remain about data accuracy, due to under-reporting of STATS19. But given that fatality data is thought to be largely accurate, this report is clearly telling us something new.

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So buses are the green way to travel are they? Well it clearly depends on how you measure their environmental credentials. The latest figures from the DfT show that fleet average CO2 emissions for buses have risen by about 25% over the past decade (the figures are plotted below alongside similar data for rigid and articulated HGVs). The numbers tell you what is happening but not why. Perhaps buses are getting bigger and heavier because they can carry more people.

Of course what is more important here is the average load factor per bus and the subsequent CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre – rather than vehicle kilometre. Even so it would be interesting to hear what the ‘official’ reason is for the steady increase in bus emissions compared with the steady decline in those for cars.

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With little fanfare, yesterday the DfT published the results of the latest National Travel Survey, an annual snapshot of the travelling week of some 20,000 British residents. Here are some of the headline figures:

  • In 2011, residents of Great Britain made an average of 958 trips per person and travelled 6,826 miles. The average trip length was 7.1 miles.
  • Between 1995/97 and 2011, overall trips rates fell by 12%. Trips by private modes of transport fell by 13% while public transport modes increased by 3%. Walking trips saw the largest decrease.
  • By purpose, most of the decline in overall trips rates between 1995/97 and 2011 can be accounted for by a fall in shopping and visiting friends.
  • Trips by car (as a driver or passenger) accounted for 64% of all trips made and 79% of distance travelled in 2011.
  • On average, females make more trips than males, but males travel much further each year.
  • In 2011, 79% of males and 65% of females had a full driving licence.
  • Since 1995/97, the average number of car driver trips by men has fallen by 18% and average distance travelled fell by 16%, while car driver trips and distance travelled by women increased by 11% and 23% respectively. Men still drive nearly twice as many miles per year than women.
  • Concessionary travel pass take-up in 2011 was 79% of those eligible (82% of females and 76% of males).

The figures seem to back up the trends identified in our On the Move report published last week, namely that women are travelling more by car and men less.

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