Pandemic sees number of cars on the road drop for only the second time since World War II

The number of vehicles on British roads declined across a full year for only the second time since World War II, according to new government data.

Licensed vehicle numbers dropped 0.3 per cent in December 2020 compared with December 2019 to 38.6 million vehicles, meaning there were 101,000 fewer vehicles on the road.

It was the fourth consecutive quarter of decline, which last happened in 1991.

Light goods vehicles and motorcycles bucked the trend with minor increases, but cars, heavy goods vehicles, and buses and coaches all saw decreases, coinciding with a surge in the number of vehicles registered as not being driven.

A statutory off road notice (SORN) allows car owners to register their vehicle as not being used, which means they do not need to pay vehicle excise duty (VED). The car cannot legally be driven while it is registered as SORN.

There were 192,000 fewer licensed cars on the road in December 2020 compared with 2019, with 259,000 more cars with a SORN. When all vehicle types are taken into account, there were 101,000 fewer on the road, with 421,000 more declared SORN.

A Department for Transport report into vehicle licensing statistics revealed the data, which said the rising number of vehicles taken off the road is “possibly due to keepers choosing to
SORN their vehicle to save on VED as they may not be using their vehicles during the coronavirus restrictions”.

Other statistics from the report show that there were 2.1 million vehicles registered for the first time in Great Britain last year, down 27 per on 2019, while the average age of licensed cars in Great Britain was 8.6 years.