DfT data reveal that congestion down by almost a fifth on 100 key routes in UK

New figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) have revealed that traffic congestion has fallen by almost a fifth on major roads as a result of the recession and the rising price of fuel. A separate study has shown a drop of 50 per cent in traffic volumes on one stretch of motorway. The RAC believes that many drivers are taking measures including switching to cycling and walking to save money.

The DfT monitored 100 of Britain’s major roads and found that from a height of 4 minutes 19 seconds per 10 miles driven in July 2007, congestion had fallen to 3 minutes 49 seconds by January 2011, reports the Daily Mail, which adds that this represents the first time that congestion has fallen since the international oil crisis in the late 1970s.

According to Roads Minister Mike Penning, “The falls in traffic volume over the last two years are likely to be linked to the wider economic situation but we recognise that it’s a tough time for motorists as we tackle the country’s record budget deficit.”

A separate report by Trafficmaster, which provides data regarding traffic jams to satnav systems using speed sensors deployed on key routes, found that the number of delays in February 2011 was 52% down on a year earlier on a stretch of the M1 between Leicester and Sheffield.

Trafficmaster data manager Graham Smith commented: “The simple explanation is that there are now fewer vehicles on the roads. There is considerably less commercial traffic and in some cases people are finding other ways to get to work.”

He continued: “People are also cutting down on leisure trips or driving to the shops. The cost of fuel is a major factor in people’s decisions about making journeys these days.”

The Daily Mail added that cities such as Leeds have seen a fall in the amount of traffic in the centre, and that there was a 500,000 drop in the number of drivers paying the Central London Congestion Charge between 2009 and 2010, despite the cost remaining unchanged.

With the average price of a litre of unleaded petrol hitting 133.17p earlier in March, sales of fuel are likely to continue to drop, despite the 1p cut in fuel duty announced in last week’s budget.

In the three months to January 2011, petrol sales dropped by 4.1 per cent against the comparable period a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics. The three months to December 2010 saw a year-on-year fall of 9.5 per cent.

According to Adrian Tink, a motoring strategist at the RAC, people are switching to two wheels or two legs to help beat the impact of the rise in motoring costs.

“We are seeing record numbers of people walking and biking,” he explained. “Evidence from the last couple of quarters is that the sale of petrol is dropping.

“A lot of people are combining journeys, making shorter ones and looking at alternatives like the train,” he continued.

Mr Tink added that the impact of improved roads plus poor weather deterring people from driving had also been behind the reduction in traffic.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.