Queen reigns over road revolution 24 May 2012

Sixty years of motoring

During her sixty year reign the Queen has presided over a motoring revolution.

Since 1952 there has been a fourteen-fold increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

When Her Majesty ascended the throne there was just one car for every twenty people. That figure has soared to more than one car for every two people today.

Over the same period, the cost of buying a car has fallen significantly.

In 1952 the popular Morris Minor would have cost £631 (£14,200 in today’s money). By contrast the cheapest Ford Fiesta – the best-selling car in the UK in 2011 – costs £9,795.

Back in 1952 someone earning the average salary would have needed every penny from twenty months of (untaxed) wages to afford a Morris Minor. In 2012, an average-earner would need less than five months salary to purchase the Ford Fiesta.

Amongst the changes witnessed over the past sixty years:






50.2 million

62.3 million


Cars per head of population

49.8 per 1000

553.8 per 1000


Number of vehicles

2.5 million

34.5 million


Number of households with access to a car or van




Traffic (all motor vehicles)

38 billion miles

306 billion miles


Road length

185,523 miles

244,977 miles


Average mpg of bestselling car




Bestselling car

Morris Minor

Ford Fiesta


Cost of bestselling car


(£14,200 in today’s money)


-31% (in today’s money)

Time taken for average worker to earn money needed to buy new car (before tax).[1]

20 months

4.5 months


Cost of a litre of petrol

11 old pence a litre

(104.9p in today’s money)


33% (in today’s money)

Number of people killed on the roads


1,900 (provisional figures for year ending September 2011)


Fatality rate on the roads per million head of population




Fatality rate on the roads per billion vehicle miles travelled




Note: All figures are GB unless otherwise stated.

But despite the profound shift over the past six decades in the way the British travel, the Queen has ensured that when it comes to transport some things never change – at least not in her own household. Amongst the Queen’s collection of cars, the oldest is a straight-eight Rolls Royce Phantom IV built in 1950. It is still seen on regal duty, appearing at events such as Royal Ascot.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“Her Majesty has reigned over a revolution on the roads. Car ownership and usage has soared during the past sixty years with the car going from being an exclusive luxury for the rich to underpinning the daily lives of the vast majority of the population.”


Contact: Philip Gomm - Head of External Communications - RAC Foundation

020 7747 3445 / 07711 776 448 / 020 7389 0601 (ISDN) Philip.gomm@racfoundation.org

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a charity that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and responsible road users. Independent and authoritative research, carried out for the public benefit, is central to the Foundation’s activities.

The ‘2012’ figures might refer to an earlier year but are the most recent available.

[1] In 2011 the average gross annual salary in the UK for a full-time employee was £26,200