Number of cars on UK roads falls for first time since 1991

1991 Ford Escort

The number of licensed vehicles on UK roads fell for the first time over the course of a whole year since 1991. That’s according to new statistics released by the Department for Transport.

According to the data, the number of road-legal vehicles declined by 192,000 last year, due to more people declaring vehicles as being off the road.

The DfT revealed the number of applications for a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) increased by 421,000. The AA attributed this to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The statistics are yet another indication of just how much the coronavirus epidemic has disrupted travel in the UK,” said Jack Cousens, the AA’s head of roads policy. “Stuck in their homes for months on end, many car owners took the opportunity to save money by declaring that they had taken their vehicles off the road during the lockdowns.

“Even today, with lockdown rapidly easing and a new relaxation of restrictions due on Monday, car travel during the working week remains at least 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels. The AA expects travel to pick up with the staycation, but the true test of ‘long covid’ for UK travel will come after the August Bank Holiday and a full return to work.”

Diesel’s downward spiral

Traffic on UK roads

The government figures also show that 179,000 ultra-low emission vehicles (those that emit less than 75g/km CO2 – primarily electric cars) were registered last year, a 125 percent rise on 2019. ULEVs made up 8.5 percent of all new registrations.

More alternative fuel cars, notably petrol-electric hybrids, were registered during 2020 than diesel cars (338,000 versus 295,000). This represents an 87 percent annual increase for alternative fuel cars year-on-year, against a sharp decline for both petrol and diesel cars.

“With ever-more electrified models available, it’s looking increasingly likely that sales of diesel cars may now never recover to previous levels, which will help improve the air quality in towns and cities,” said RAC spokesman Rod Dennis.


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