A tenth of all drivers have given up their car completely during the current lockdown but one in three say they rely on their car more than ever during the coronavirus crisis.
Since the restrictions on movement came into force, affecting private vehicles and public transport, there has been a marked reduction in traffic volume around the country. The Department for Transport estimates that journeys are down by two thirds since lockdown began.
However, the new data from the RAC suggests most people are still heavily reliant on their cars for essential journeys such as getting groceries or medicine, with one in five still driving to work regularly.
The 13 best beaches in Northumberland as ranked by Tripadvisor
Fun in the sun at Blyth beach
29 of the best places for Sunday lunch in Northumberland
The 14 best beaches in Northumberland as ranked by TripAdvisor reviewers - and 6 stunners which didn't make it
Amble basks in the sunshine as heatwave hits
In a new poll of motorists, the motoring organisation found that three quarters used their car for essential food shopping and just over a quarter (28 per cent) relied on their car to get to pharmacies. Almost a fifth (18 per cent) drove to help care for a vulnerable person and 20 per cent said they needed their car to get to work.
Although the majority of drivers said they still needed their car occasionally, most (60 per cent) said they now only drove once a week for essential trips.
Cars still have an important role
RAC Breakdown spokesman Rod Dennis said: “These figures highlight the important role the private car still plays in enabling people to complete their essential journeys during lockdown. The reality for many people is that they still rely on the car for certain trips – be it for weekly food shopping, to get to and from work or when looking after a vulnerable person.
Worryingly, the survey found a small minority of drivers were continuing to drive for non-essential trips. Five per cent said they drove a short distance so they could get some exercise despite the clear government instruction to ‘stay local’ when doing so, and four per cent said they went for a drive to give their cars a run.
The RAC has warned that both of these types of journeys carry the avoidable risks of road traffic collisions at a time when the emergency services are under enormous pressure, and of unnecessary breakdowns.
RAC figures showed that its patrols attended 50 per cent fewer breakdowns over the Easter weekend as most drivers heeded instructions to stay at home. However, there was an unexpected spike in breakdowns on Tuesday – presumably as some drivers started their cars for the first time in weeks.
Adding to the burden on emergency services
Mr Dennis said: “The Government has indicated that food shopping should be done as infrequently as possible, and consequently many people are using their cars to carry heavy bags of groceries. But only using cars infrequently can lead to problems, particularly with batteries.
“What is vital however, is that drivers heed the Government advice and strictly use their cars for essential trips only. It’s encouraging to see just how many drivers reported they stayed at home over Easter, but there appears to be a small proportion who continue to get in the car either to drive somewhere for exercise, or to keep their vehicle’s battery healthy. While the temptation might be there with the car sat outside and largely unused, we really do urge people to think twice before they get behind the wheel. Every unnecessary journey potentially adds to the burden on our emergency services.”