Tyneside imports, Tyneside (c) Webb Aviation

Britain from the Air - Cars

35 million cars use the roads in Britain today.

Our love affair with the motor car is one of the defining features of the 20th century. Thanks to our dispersed pattern of villages, towns and cities plus the changing types and locations of jobs, we are heavily dependent on cars. Add to that years of under-investment in public transport, and today we have a society dominated by the car. Unlike a few generations ago, our lives are built around an expectation of mobility.

Even in our age of Internet shopping, we Britons each travelled on average 6,691 miles in the UK in 2012. That’s roughly the same as travelling directly from London to Singapore! Nearly two thirds of all trips, and 80% of the total distance travelled, were by car. While nearly a third of households had two or more cars, a quarter of them had no car.

Even though our railways often seem overcrowded, they accounted for a mere 9% of the total distance travelled, and buses for 5%.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in a period of economic difficulty and high petrol prices, we travelled on average about 300 miles less in 2012 than in 1995, and 500 miles less than the peak in 2005. But our rising population means the number of cars on the road continues to increase. At the same time our traditional car makers have been bought out: Mini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley are German owned; Land Rover and Jaguar, Indian; and Aston Martin, Kuwaiti/Italian.


Car production plants in the UK for foreign companies have sustained the car industry to some degree, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda manufacturing here. Even so, we import the majority of cars sold in Britain. Before the recession we made 1.7 million cars and commercial vehicles a year. France made 3 million, Germany 6 million and Japan 11.6 million. Car production fell worldwide in the recent recession but there are signs of recovery. In 2013, 1.6 million cars were made in Britain.

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Location: Tyne Distribution Centre, Port of Tyne, South Shields, NE29 6DL
Grid reference: NZ 34763 66591

Britain from the Air - Cars credits

Thank you to -

Webb Aviation for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Driving on the left of the road may have come about in the times of horse and carriage travel, when the main danger on the roads was muggings. Travellers would pass on-coming strangers on the left with their sword arm towards the passer-by, ready to defend against attack.