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Roads to Nowhere

Continued decreases in road travel leave Government policy exposed

30 July 2013
Government forecasts of huge traffic growth, used to justify a £28bn programme of new roads, have been undermined today by official statistics showing travel by road continues to fall (1).

The 2012 National Travel Survey (NTS) reveals that the distance travelled by car drivers is down 7% since 1997. Yet government forecasts claim that car traffic in England alone will jump by 23% in the next twelve years compared to 2010 figures (2).

The NTS shows a continued and marked divergence between actual travel patterns and the Department for Transport projections based on their computer model. Where the NTS shows downward or static trends in behaviour, the projections used by the DfT to set policy have been inaccurate in repeatedly predicting high traffic growth (see notes and tables).

The road traffic forecasts used by the Department for Transport have been used as the basis for a massive increase in spending on new road building plans. The Government’s Action for Roads paper sets out plans for accelerating expenditure on new road schemes and for feasibility studies that could see new roads driven through National Parks.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport said:

“The National Travel Survey shows that year on year the amount we drive has been going down. Yet year on year government forecasters predict a huge jump in car traffic. It’s madness to base a £28bn policy on such shaky forecasting. We urgently need a review of the whole model that the Government uses.”

Campaign for Better Transport has highlighted how money earmarked for new road building would be better spent tackling the £10.5 billion backlog of potholes on the nation’s roads and offering people more choice in how they travel.

Stephen Joseph said:

"We need a transport policy which meets the real needs of all road users. Rather than throwing money at new roads based on bad forecasts, we must focus on filling the £10 billion backlog of potholes and investing in decent and affordable public transport."



1. The results of the 2012 National Travel Survey was published by the Department for Transport on 30 July 2013.

2. Government forecasts of car traffic in England project a 23% increase by 2015 compared to 2010 (table 1 of English regional forecasts)

3. Key statistics from the 2012 National Travel Survey and DfT traffic statistics include:

  • Distance travelled per person per year is down 4% since 1997 for all modes of transport and down 7% for driving in a car or van.
  • The annual average distance travelled per car has fallen 11% since 2002
  • Car ownership levels are now lower than in 2005 at 1.13 cars per household (in 2005 it was 1.15 cars per household)
  • The latest DfT traffic statistics for 2012 show that the amount of traffic is now below the level seen in 2003 (259 billion vehicle miles per year, vs 260 billion ten years ago).

4. A Campaign for Better Transport briefing including graphs of distance travelled by road, average miles per car, traffic volume and a comparison of Department for Transport forecasts and reality is available on the CBT website.

5. Relationship between the economy and traffic

  • Between 1993 and 2011 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose three times faster than traffic levels (54% and 18%)

(GDP from Office for National Statistics Blue Book. Traffic volume figures from 2012 National Travel Survey)