traffic jam

Car use by drivers in the UK has not fallen to the same extent as it did during the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, according to an analysis of RAC data.

During the first week of the latest lockdown, data from RAC Black Box Insurance customers shows there were on average 10% more cars in daily use than during the first week of March’s lockdown, leading to 31% more daily miles driven. This represents a 22% reduction in car use compared to normal (first week of February 2020).

The RAC believes traffic volumes are now at a similar level to the middle of last May, which was the point when restrictions first started to be eased, with people encouraged to return to workplaces if they were unable to work from home.

According to RAC data, the quietest week for traffic since the start of the pandemic was the second week of the first coronavirus lockdown (w/c 30 March), with a 41% reduction in car usage compared to normal. This contrasts with the first full week of September (w/c 7 September) when the RAC recorded its highest levels of car use of the year as schools in England returned after the summer holidays, with traffic back to normal levels.

A further sign that vehicles are being used more during this latest lockdown is the extremely high number of breakdowns attended by RAC patrols so far this year. The RAC had its busiest start to a New Year on record with 8% more breakdowns handled over the first four days of January compared to the same period in previous years. The cold weather and the fact cars were used less than normal over Christmas as a result of the coronavirus restrictions will have contributed to this, but the data confirms that more drivers are still deeming it necessary to use their vehicles for essential trips in 2021.

RAC data insight spokesman Rod Dennis said: “The feel of this latest nationwide lockdown is very different to that which was first imposed in 2020, with greater numbers of people working in ‘Covid-secure’ workplaces, more shops offering click-and-collect services, and more children of keyworkers attending schools. In addition, with so many avoiding public transport, there will inevitably be far more people opting for the safer environment of the car. Together, these differences help account for the busier roads.

“Nonetheless, it’s vital drivers think carefully before using their vehicles and ensure they’re only venturing out for essential trips as specified by government guidelines. Every unnecessary journey increases the chances of a breakdown, or worse a road traffic collision, and risks adding to the pressures being experienced by our emergency and healthcare workers.”