National Travel Survey 2021: Household car availability and trends in car trips
Published 31 August 2022
Applies to England
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About this release
The National Travel Survey (NTS) is a household survey of personal travel by residents of England travelling within Great Britain, from data collected via interviews and a seven-day travel diary, which enables analysis of patterns and trends. This release covers the main findings from these travel behaviours during 2021. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from March 2020, has had a substantial impact on travel trends in 2020 and 2021 and has affected the operation of this survey.
Fieldwork for the NTS 2021 survey continued to be impacted by the coronavirus restrictions from March 2020, with data collection combining the approach used in 2020 with interviews being conducted via telephone (push-to-telephone approach) instead of face-to-face, and to increase response rates, doorstep recruitment by trained interviewers with interviews being conducted over the telephone (knock-to-nudge approach).
Response rates to the survey in 2021 were halfway between 2019 levels (14,356 individuals) and 2020 levels (6,239 individuals) with 9,971 individuals participating in the survey, an increase of 60% compared to 2020, but a decrease of 31% compared to 2019. Consequently, caution is needed when interpreting these results for 2020 and 2021 as they are likely to be less representative of residents of England compared to previous years. Please see our technical note for more details.
Household car access
Chart 7: Percentage of households by car access: Great Britain (1971 to 1988) and England (1989 to 2021) (NTS0205)
There have been long-term increases in the proportion of households with access to more than one car since 1971, with 33% of households having two or more cars in 2021 compared to 8% in 1971. The proportion of households with one car was 45% in 2021, however, the long-term trend has remained broadly constant since 1971 with an average of 43%. The proportion of households without a car has fallen from 48% in 1971 (based on the Census) to 22% in 2021. In 1985 to 1987, there were 8 cars for every 10 households in Great Britain; in 2021 there were 12 cars for every 10 households in England.
Types of vehicles people own
Chart 8: Proportion of cars people own by fuel type: England, 2019, 2020 and 2021 (ad hoc analyses)
The NTS has a wealth of information about the types of vehicles that people own including fuel type, the transmission and where they are usually parked. In England in 2021, 64% of cars people owned were petrol (65% in 2020 and 63% in 2019), 32% were diesel (32% in 2020 and 34% in 2019) and 4% were another fuel type (3% in 2020 and 2% in 2019) such as plug-in hybrid or electric. These figures are broadly comparable with the DfT vehicle statistics based on DVLA data. In England in 2021, 71% of cars people owned were manual (75% in 2020 and 74% in 2019) and 28% automatic or semi-automatic (25% in 2020 and 26% in 2019).
Trends in car trips
Chart 9: Trends in car trips and miles travelled (as driver or passenger): England, 2002 to 2021 (NTS0303)
Car driver and passenger trips in 2021 were 32% and 38% lower respectively than levels seen in 2002. Car drivers and passengers have shown a gradual decline in the number of trips per person since 2002 with 2019 levels being similar to 2015, followed by a sharp decline in 2020 to 295 car driver trips per person and 134 car passenger trips per person and then car driver trips remained at a similar level in 2021 at 300 car driver trips per person and car passenger trips increased to 148 car passenger trips per person.
For average miles travelled by car, the trend since 2002 is similar to that for trips, however, car driver miles per person decreased in 2021 compared to 2020 to 2,229 miles. Car passenger miles per person remained at a similar level in 2021 compared to 2020 with 1,220 miles.
Chart 10: Proportion of car trips per person per year, by trip purpose: England, 2019, 2020 and 2021 (NTS0409)
The most common purpose for a trip by car was for leisure with 31% of trips in 2021. This was followed by shopping (19%), commuting (15%) and other escort (13%). In 2020 and 2019 the most common car trip purposes were the same as in 2021, with similar percentages observed.
Chart 11: Average car trips and miles travelled, by age and sex: England, 2021 (NTS0601)
From ages 0 to 59, females made more car trips on average than males, however, for those aged 60 and over, males made more car trips. The age group with the highest number of car trips on average for males is 60 to 69 and for females is 40 to 49, with 559 and 609 car trips on average respectively in 2021. Overall, males made longer car journeys than females, apart from the age group 0 to 16. In 2021, males travelled on average 3,678 miles in car trips, compared to 3,225 miles travelled on average in car trips by females.
Chart 12: Frequency of private car use: England, 2021 (NTS0313)
Around 82% of people reported to have used a private car at least once a week, and 6% less than once a year or never in 2021. These proportions were similar in 2020 and 2019, when 84% and 85% of people respectively reported to have used a private car at least once a week, and in both years, 5% used a private car less than once a year or never.
The 2021 National Travel Survey (NTS) is the latest in a series of household surveys of personal travel by residents of England travelling within Great Britain, from data collected via interviews and a seven-day travel diary. The NTS is part of a continuous survey that began in 1988, following ad-hoc surveys from the 1960s, which enables analysis of patterns and trends.
Some key uses of the data include describing patterns, for example how different groups of people travel, monitoring trends in travel, including sustainable modes; assessing the potential equality impacts of different groups; and contributing to the evaluation of policies.
We always welcome feedback to help ensure that the survey meets the needs of users, and any feedback provided will help inform the future design and development of the survey. If you have any feedback, please email National Travel Survey statistics.
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These statistics are designated as National Statistics. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards as set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics. The Code of Practice for Statistics plays an essential role in ensuring that statistics published by government inspire the public confidence through demonstrating trustworthiness and providing high-quality statistics. These statistics were designated as National Statistics in July 2011. The continued designation was confirmed in September 2018.
Further information about these statistics is available, including:
- National Travel Survey statistics: data tables
- National Travel Survey statistics: notes and definitions
- National Travel Survey statistics: guidance and quality information
- National Travel Survey statistics: future developments
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