Say no to ridiculous car trips

Say no to ridiculous car trips

The National Travel Survey for 2010 (for Great Britain) has now been published, and it shows some interesting information and some worrying trends. So I thought I would report and examine some of the data here.

Since the early 1970s, the average distance people travel per year has increased by 50%. Most of this growth occurred during the 1970s and 1980s and was largely due to an increase in average trip lengths, which have risen by 50% since the early 1970s. Trip rates increased until the mid-1990s, but have since fallen back to close to the 1970s level. Since the late 1990s, the average distance travelled and average trip lengths have generally levelled off.

Between 1995/97 and 2010 there was a steadily falling trend in trip numbers. In 2010 the average person made 960 trips per year compared to 1,086 in 1995/97 – a fall of 12%. The average trip length in 2010 was 7 miles (11.3 Km) an increase of 9% from 6.4 miles (10.3 Km) in 1995/97. Of all trips made in 2010, 20% were less than one mile (1.6 Km) in length and 95% were less than 25 miles (40 Km).

So we are travelling less overall but making slightly longer “short trips”. However, the average trip length of 7 miles (11.3 Km) could easily be accomplished by bicycle. However, in 2010, 64% of all trips were made by car (as a driver or passenger) compared to 23% by walking or cycling. Walking trips fell 8% compared to the previous year, making 2010 the lowest level recorded to date. In 2010, 77% of all trips less than one mile (1.6 Km) in length were made on foot, with 20% made by car! Something has gone badly wrong, with cycling accounting for only 2% of trips of less than 5 miles (8 Km) in 2010. Added to this, 41% of respondents said they took walks of 20 minutes or more at least 3 times a week, a further 23% said they did so at least once or twice a week, and 20% of people said they took walks of 20 minutes less than once a year or never.

Most of the decline in the overall number of trips between 1995/97 and 2010 can be accounted for by a fall in shopping trips and visiting friends. On average people made 18% fewer shopping trips per year in 2010 than they did in 1995/97. Probably because people are shopping in out of town shopping centres rather than local shops on the High Street, they are now making fewer but longer trips to do the shopping. Trips to visit friends declined by 22% during this period, with the fall entirely due to visiting friends at their homes rather than meeting them elsewhere.

On average, females make more trips than males, but males travel much further each year. In 2010, females made 5% more trips than males. However, males travelled 23% further than females. The gap in distance travelled is narrowing as travel patterns for males and females change. Since 1995/97 the average numbers of car driver trips and average distance travelled by males have fallen by 18% and 17%, respectively. This compares to a 12% increase in car driver trips and a 21% increase in distance travelled by females.

In 2010, 47% of primary school children walked to school and a further 43% were driven to school in a car (the rest travelled by other means). For secondary school children, 36% walked to school, while 24% went by car and a further 34% used local or private bus services. The mode of transport used varies by trip length. The average length of a trip to school increased from 2.1 miles (3.4 Km) in 1995/97 to 2.6 miles (4.2 Km) in 2010. During this period, the average trip length for primary school children increased from 1.3 miles (2 Km) to 1.5 miles (2.4 Km), and for secondary school pupils from 2.9 miles (4.7 Km) to 3.5 miles (5.6 Km). This reflects the shift from walking to car use over the same period. It is notable that these distances could easily be covered by children on bicycles, if they were allowed to do so. Repeated surveys have shown that, given the choice, children would rather travel to school by active means than being driven.

Since 1995/97, cars taking children to school (‘escort education’ trips, a.k.a. the ‘school run’) have increased as a proportion of all car driver trips in the morning peak hour (08.00-09.00hr), from 10% to 16%. In 1995/97 the peak proportion of car driver trips that were for the purpose of escort education was at 08.50hr, compared to the earlier time of 08.40hr in 2010, with the school run now accounting for nearly a quarter (24%) of car driver trips by residents in urban areas during term time. This earlier peak time is reflective of the increase in average length of school trips during this period.

We really need to re-think the way we live, in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. According to figures from 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or over). As many as 30,000 people die prematurely every year from obesity-related conditions. A study by the National Audit Office estimates that obesity costs the NHS at least £500m a year – and the wider economy more than £2bn a year in lost productivity.

One of the best ways to tackle obesity is to avoid putting on too much weight the first place. A combination of a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise should be sufficient for most people. It is recommended that people take vigorous exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, five times a week for 20-30 minutes. An excellent way of achieving this would be to say no to ridiculous car trips, as this Swedish video shows.

Before anyone starts to complain that walking and cycling are more dangerous than travelling by car, in 2007 the National Travel Survey (NTS) interviewers asked adults (aged 16+) whether or not they had been involved in a road accident in the previous three years and/or in the previous 12 months, and if so, whether or not they had been injured. In 2010 the NTS also asked whether children in the household had been involved in a road accident. The results from this make for interesting reading.

Between 2007 and 2010, 13% of adults said that they had been involved in at least one road accident, including 4% who had been injured in a road accident crash. Males are more likely to say that they had been involved in a road accident than females, with those aged 25-29 most likely to be involved in road crashes. In the majority of incidents the person interviewed was a car occupant at the time of the accident (69% of injury crashes and 90% of non-injury crashes). The police were made aware of 59% of injury road crashes and 31% of non-injury road crashes. The 2010 survey showed that 6% of children had been involved in a road crash in the last three years, with one percent of those surveyed reported as injured. This evidence confirms what we know from hospital admittance data, that car travel is far more dangerous than either walking or cycling.

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3 thoughts on “Say no to ridiculous car trips

  1. I have good reason to believe that everything you have said has been shown repeatedly to be true. Even if it weren’t all true, the fact remains that pollution from traffic kills tens of thousands of people in the UK each year and in a civilised country this alone should be sufficient evidence in itself that fossil-fuelled motorised transport is unacceptable. “Poor air quality reduces the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and up to 50,000 people a year may die prematurely because of it. Air pollution also causes significant damage to ecosystems. Despite these facts being known air quality is not seen as a priority across government and the UK is failing to meet a range of domestic and European targets. ….Road transport contributes far more to the public’s exposure to pollutants and is responsible for up to 70% of air pollution in urban areas. …”[1]

    Regarding the cost of obesity: There are numerous reasons to believe the cost to the NHS of obesity is several £ billions each year a figure that seems set to rise alarmingly.

    The Telegraph stated:
    “…. a standard ambulance can only carry a person weighing up to 20 stone….If the patient is on a bariatric bed, the vehicle can take a single person weighing up to 70 stone as well as the ambulance’s two dedicated members of support staff…..The NHS spends around £7 billion every year dealing with obesity and bariatric-related disorders. ” [2], although no supporting evidence was cited.

    The independent said: “£4.2 billion is spent on obesity every year by the NHS …. ” [3]

    The NHS said in ‘Statistics on obesity, physical activity and diet: England, 2011 ‘: “….In England, in 2002,
    physical inactivity was estimated to cost at least £2 billion and maybe up to £8.2 billion a year and does not include the contribution of physical inactivity to obesity estimated at £2.5 billion annually….” [4]

    Ref. 1 House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Air Quality Fifth Report of Session 2009–10 Volume I

    Ref. 2 Obesity ambulance takes to the road – capable of carrying 70 stone patients

    Ref. 3 The Cost of Obesity


  2. First up, wanted to dive in to the numbers a bit. Average trip length is not necessarily that useful a measure, if you’re trying to work out what % of trips could be made by non-car means. The numbers get pulled upwards by a small number of very long trips (typically on motorways, trunk roads or intercity rail). The /median/ trip length tells us more about how many avoidable car journeys there are (and the “95% under 25 miles” is a useful data point, although 25 miles is a pretty long ride for most people!)

    Also, I’m not sure how trips are counted in terms of there-and-back – for example, while I’ll happily ride 7 miles in each direction (indeed, I do almost every day), that’s quite an effort for many/most people. 3.5 miles each way, sure, any able bodied person between 12 and 70 ought to be able to handle that, but double that on regular basis is asking a bit much.

    “Only 2% of trips under 5 miles by bike” sounds awful, but isn’t necessarily quite as bad, if those trips are weighted heavily in favour of very short trips. For example, if most trips under 5 miles are actually under 2 miles, you wouldn’t necessarily expect or even want people to bike rather than walk (even the noble bike has a worse environmental footprint than pedestrians, albeit not by much). There’s not enough data in the report to break those numbers down further, unfortunately.

    The stats on under-30s and their rate of driving licensing are really striking! More so when you consider that in those parts of the country where not-driving is a viable option, the falls are likely much steeper.

    Final point on the numbers. The stats on walking suggests, roughly speaking, that 43% of population walks no more than two miles a week, and 20% essentially never walk a mile. Jesus wept, no wonder obesity is becoming a national health crisis.

    Re the School Run. I live opposite a primary school; I know for a fact their catchment area extends for no more than a mile in any direction. Yet I can set my watch by the queues of honking cars and yelling parents every morning and afternoon. It’s pretty sad really – as you stated, a lot of these kids would love to cycle to school, but the roads in the area really are too dangerous for that age group.. I know most people don’t have a problem with primary-age children riding on the pavement, and technically they can’t be prosecuted or fined, but maybe it’s time to officially legalize it for the under-11’s.

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