Car dependency increasing despite lockdown


The Covid-19 pandemic, as well as having had a dramatic impact on car usage, is also reinforcing the bond between drivers and their cars, new RAC research reveals.
Worldwide lockdown restrictions first imposed in March unsurprisingly led to a marked decline in traffic levels. But the 2020 Report on Motoring has found that motorists are now more reliant on their vehicles than in the past – largely due to concerns about the safety of public transport and a lack of adequate alternatives.
Almost half (49%) of the UK’s 40 million drivers report that their vehicle usage has declined in the past 12 months – by way of comparison, only 21% of motorists said their usage had fallen in 2019.
Three-quarters (75%) of those say that Covid-19 is the main reason that they are driving less, with a further 18% citing the pandemic as a contributory factor. But interestingly, a third are using their vehicles just as much as last year and 17% are using them more.
Clearly, the rise in the number of people who started working from home rather than commuting to an office or other workplace since March played a significant role in the drop in car use.
But the figures suggest that the switch to homeworking could, in a limited number of cases, become permanent: while 67% say they typically travelled to and from work by car pre-Covid-19, 64% expect to do so in the future.
At the same time, while 18% of car owners said they normally worked from home prior to the pandemic, 24% expect to do so even as we emerge from the crisis.
And more than a third (36%) of motorists believe they will work from home more frequently – even if not all the time – in the post-pandemic world.
Nonetheless, for many motorists, working from home is not an option – which could help explain why car use levels are unchanged for a third of them (33%).
It should also be noted that the Report on Motoring research was carried out before the re-opening of schools in September – a development that is likely to have led to a rise in vehicle use for many families.
Only 31% of motorists say they have become more dependent on their cars in the past 12 months compared with 35% in 2019 – a figure that should not come as a surprise given this year’s movement restrictions.
But despite this decrease in dependency, drivers say that having access to a vehicle has become crucial: 57% of motorists say that having access to a car is more important given the pandemic than in it was before.
To underpin this finding, the majority of motorists (52%) say they will use public transport less in future as a result of the pandemic – and the potential for tightly packed buses and train carriages to increase the spread of infection.
Meanwhile, for the first time since 2002 fewer than half of drivers (43%) say they would use their cars less if public transport was improved – down sharply from 57% in 2019.
While drivers were asked to consider their use of public transport in non-pandemic times, the coronavirus has likely had a significant impact on how drivers answered.
Nonetheless, taken at face value, the declining appeal of public transport seemingly represents a seismic shift compared to recent years, and suggests drivers are more wedded to their cars than they have been for a long time.