The National Travel Survey for 2010 (for Great Britain) has now been published, and it shows some interesting information and some worrying trends. So I thought I would report and examine some of the data here.

Since the early 1970s, the average distance people travel per year has increased by 50%. Most of this growth occurred during the 1970s and 1980s and was largely due to an increase in average trip lengths, which have risen by 50% since the early 1970s. Trip rates increased until the mid-1990s, but have since fallen back to close to the 1970s level. Since the late 1990s, the average distance travelled and average trip lengths have generally levelled off.

Between 1995/97 and 2010 there was a steadily falling trend in trip numbers. In 2010 the average person made 960 trips per year compared to 1,086 in 1995/97 – a fall of 12%. The average trip length in 2010 was 7 miles (11.3 Km) an increase of 9% from 6.4 miles (10.3 Km) in 1995/97. Of all trips made in 2010, 20% were less than one mile (1.6 Km) in length and 95% were less than 25 miles (40 Km).

So we are travelling less overall but making slightly longer “short trips”. However, the average trip length of 7 miles (11.3 Km) could easily be accomplished by bicycle. However, in 2010, 64% of all trips were made by car (as a driver or passenger) compared to 23% by walking or cycling. Walking trips fell 8% compared to the previous year, making 2010 the lowest level recorded to date. In 2010, 77% of all trips less than one mile (1.6 Km) in length were made on foot, with 20% made by car! Something has gone badly wrong, with cycling accounting for only 2% of trips of less than 5 miles (8 Km) in 2010. Added to this, 41% of respondents said they took walks of 20 minutes or more at least 3 times a week, a further 23% said they did so at least once or twice a week, and 20% of people said they took walks of 20 minutes less than once a year or never.

Most of the decline in the overall number of trips between 1995/97 and 2010 can be accounted for by a fall in shopping trips and visiting friends. On average people made 18% fewer shopping trips per year in 2010 than they did in 1995/97. Probably because people are shopping in out of town shopping centres rather than local shops on the High Street, they are now making fewer but longer trips to do the shopping. Trips to visit friends declined by 22% during this period, with the fall entirely due to visiting friends at their homes rather than meeting them elsewhere.

On average, females make more trips than males, but males travel much further each year. In 2010, females made 5% more trips than males. However, males travelled 23% further than females. The gap in distance travelled is narrowing as travel patterns for males and females change. Since 1995/97 the average numbers of car driver trips and average distance travelled by males have fallen by 18% and 17%, respectively. This compares to a 12% increase in car driver trips and a 21% increase in distance travelled by females.

In 2010, 47% of primary school children walked to school and a further 43% were driven to school in a car (the rest travelled by other means). For secondary school children, 36% walked to school, while 24% went by car and a further 34% used local or private bus services. The mode of transport used varies by trip length. The average length of a trip to school increased from 2.1 miles (3.4 Km) in 1995/97 to 2.6 miles (4.2 Km) in 2010. During this period, the average trip length for primary school children increased from 1.3 miles (2 Km) to 1.5 miles (2.4 Km), and for secondary school pupils from 2.9 miles (4.7 Km) to 3.5 miles (5.6 Km). This reflects the shift from walking to car use over the same period. It is notable that these distances could easily be covered by children on bicycles, if they were allowed to do so. Repeated surveys have shown that, given the choice, children would rather travel to school by active means than being driven.

Since 1995/97, cars taking children to school (‘escort education’ trips, a.k.a. the ‘school run’) have increased as a proportion of all car driver trips in the morning peak hour (08.00-09.00hr), from 10% to 16%. In 1995/97 the peak proportion of car driver trips that were for the purpose of escort education was at 08.50hr, compared to the earlier time of 08.40hr in 2010, with the school run now accounting for nearly a quarter (24%) of car driver trips by residents in urban areas during term time. This earlier peak time is reflective of the increase in average length of school trips during this period.

We really need to re-think the way we live, in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. According to figures from 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or over). As many as 30,000 people die prematurely every year from obesity-related conditions. A study by the National Audit Office estimates that obesity costs the NHS at least £500m a year – and the wider economy more than £2bn a year in lost productivity.

One of the best ways to tackle obesity is to avoid putting on too much weight the first place. A combination of a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise should be sufficient for most people. It is recommended that people take vigorous exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, five times a week for 20-30 minutes. An excellent way of achieving this would be to say no to ridiculous car trips, as this Swedish video shows.

Before anyone starts to complain that walking and cycling are more dangerous than travelling by car, in 2007 the National Travel Survey (NTS) interviewers asked adults (aged 16+) whether or not they had been involved in a road accident in the previous three years and/or in the previous 12 months, and if so, whether or not they had been injured. In 2010 the NTS also asked whether children in the household had been involved in a road accident. The results from this make for interesting reading.

Between 2007 and 2010, 13% of adults said that they had been involved in at least one road accident, including 4% who had been injured in a road accident crash. Males are more likely to say that they had been involved in a road accident than females, with those aged 25-29 most likely to be involved in road crashes. In the majority of incidents the person interviewed was a car occupant at the time of the accident (69% of injury crashes and 90% of non-injury crashes). The police were made aware of 59% of injury road crashes and 31% of non-injury road crashes. The 2010 survey showed that 6% of children had been involved in a road crash in the last three years, with one percent of those surveyed reported as injured. This evidence confirms what we know from hospital admittance data, that car travel is far more dangerous than either walking or cycling.