Number of cars in Britain at a record high30 Dec 2011

More cars than ever

Despite three years of economic downturn the number of cars in Great Britain stands at a record level.

Figures show there are 28.6 million licensed cars in the country. This is a rise of 29% since 1996.

When all motor vehicles are counted – including motorcycles, lorries, vans, buses and coaches – the total number of legally registered vehicles is 34.5 million (also a record) up 31% over the 15 years.

The amount of vehicles has risen every year during this period.

The table below shows the increase broken down by vehicle type:

                                   1996                       2011                       % increase between 1996 and 2011
Cars                            22.2 million             28.6 million             35
Motorcycles                  740,000                  1.3 million              86
Light goods vehicles      2.2 million               3.3 million              57
Heavy goods vehicles    430,000                  470,000                 12
Buses and coaches        160,000                  170,000                 13
Other vehicles                560,000                 640,000                 12
ALL VEHICLES               26.3 million            34.5 million            31%

Looking further back there were just 53,000 cars licensed in 1909 and even in 1950 the number was only 2 million.

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

“These figures might surprise some but they reveal just how important the car is to all sections of society, with the biggest growth in car ownership taking place amongst those on the lowest incomes and the elderly.

“It is a fact that overall traffic volume has recently fallen and is at the lowest level since 2003. The decline has coincided with families and businesses feeling the financial squeeze brought on by the economic downturn. However there are clearly an increasing number of people who still feel they have no practical alternative to owning and driving a car to go about their daily lives.

“The growth in car ownership has been encouraged by the relative fall in the price of new and second hand cars over many years, though spiralling running costs will have contributed to the drop in total mileage.

“The question is: what will happen if and when oil prices fall, the economy recovers and we all feel better off?”



Philip Gomm – Head of External Comms – 07711 776 448 / [email protected]

Professor Stephen Glaister – Director – 07973 206389 / [email protected]

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.

In 2003 the total number of motor vehicle miles travelled (traffic) was 305 billion. In 2007 it peaked at 319 billion miles. In 2010 it was 308 billion miles.

The figures quoted come from analysis of the DfT’s Vehicle Licensing Statistics released earlier in December.

‘Other vehicles’ includes rear diggers, lift trucks, rollers, ambulances, Hackney Carriages, three wheelers and agricultural vehicles.