Currently reading: UK road traffic at an all time high
British drivers averaged 25.5mph over the past 12 months and sat in traffic for 45 seconds for each mile driven in March. Trends suggest things won't improve…
3 mins read
20 May 2016

The average speed on the UK’s A-roads in the past 12 months was 25.5mph, putting into context the level of congestion across the country.

UK drivers sat in traffic for an average of 45sec for each mile they drove in March, according to the latest figures from the Department for Transport (DfT). This increased to 1min 24sec for every mile when driving on urban A-roads.

The latest 12-month rolling statistics show that travelling during weekday evenings has the greatest impact on average speeds on A-roads, pushing it down to a 22.5mph crawl for the commute home. Urban roads show an even lower average, at 18.7mph, while rural roads have the highest average speed, at 36.9mph.

The average speed across the whole of England’s Strategic Road Network has reduced from 60.6mph in April 2015 to 59.5mph in March this year.

The DfT’s provisional estimates show vehicle traffic in the UK increased by 1.8% to 318.5 billion miles travelled between April 2015 and March 2016.

Commute will only get worse

The government has earmarked £15bn for its Road Investment Strategy in order to roll out 100 road improvement projects over the course of this parliament and the next.

A total of more than 1300 new lane miles will be added through the schemes, which will address traffic black-spots such as the A303 at Stonehenge in Wiltshire and the remaining single-lane sections of the A1.

A spokesman for The AA said: “The stats are moving in the wrong direction and commuting time is only going to get worse, particularly if you’re using urban A-roads to connect to the motorway for your journey.

“Unfortunately the £15bn isn’t going to help the urban A-roads improve as most of it will be spent on major projects. This leaves local authorities to improve these A-roads, and they don’t have the funds to do this.”

Provisional estimates indicate car traffic was higher than ever before on motorways and minor rural roads in the year ending March 2016.

Rolling annual motor vehicle traffic has now increased for each quarter in succession for three years. Van traffic continued to rise faster than any other vehicle type, increasing by 4.1% to a peak of 47.3bn vehicle miles.

Motorway traffic increased by 3% to 67.1bn vehicles miles and rural A-road traffic increased by 3% to 92bn miles, with both at their highest recorded levels.

Worst areas in the UK for traffic

The southeast accounted for the highest proportion of traffic, at 43bn vehicle miles - almost double the next-highest level in the east of England at 28bn vehicle miles. London accounted for 14.2bn miles, with Hillingdon, which incorporates Heathrow airport, highlighted as the most congested borough in the capital, recording 1.1bn miles on its own.


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Greater Manchester and Kent account for some of the heaviest traffic in the UK, at 8.9bn miles and 7.1bn miles respectively.

The DfT said the growth in traffic volumes likely reflects the growth seen in the UK economy over the past year. Lower fuel prices were also cited as a potential factor for the increase in traffic.

The typical retail price of premium unleaded in the year ending March 2016 was 13.1 pence per litre cheaper than in the previous year, while diesel was 16.9 pence per litre cheaper.

RAC says Government needs to play catch up

RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes said: “While traffic has only increased very slightly on the previous year, it has taken us to record levels. The longer-term picture is more concerning, with overall traffic since 1995 growing by 18.6% in stark contrast to the overall length of our roads, which has only increased by 2.4%.

“The data shows the length of motorways increased by 11.8%, however in the same period traffic levels on motorways increased by 44%, demonstrating that major road usage is outstripping road space.”

The DfT statistics also reveal that the number of cars in Britain has shot up by 43% in the past 20 years, from 21m in 1995 to more than 30m in 2015, yet in that time the length of the country’s roads has only increased by just under 6000 miles.

Lyes said: “Having a road network that is fit for purpose, in terms of being able to cope with increased traffic as well as being maintained to an acceptable level, is vital for a prosperous economy.

“There is little doubt that the government’s Road Investment Strategy recognises the importance of this, but these figures show there is a lot of catching up that must be done.”

Tom Seymour

Join the debate


20 May 2016
If the government invested the tax money raised from VED and the ridiculously high fuel duty on maintaining and building roads instead of sticking speed cameras everywhere, we'd have less congestion and fewer potholes.

20 May 2016
There obviously needs to be some serious thinking done when it comes to UK roads. An assessment of reduced speed limits, on all roads, to see if they have delivered the predicted safety improvements would be a start. If there have been no statistical reduction in accidents on these roads then replace with the old speed limit. The government also seem to think that taking away hard shoulders is perfectly acceptable yet there is obviously a risk, so why not increase the motorway speed limit to 85 mph. The risk involved in this measure is zero as a significant amount of traffic already moves at this speed when its possible.

20 May 2016
The obvious answer is to legislate to make companies accept working from home requests. Lots of office jobs do not need people to commute to their work place 5 days a week 9 to 5.

21 May 2016
With the population (and number of drivers) of the country increasing, two million plus extra cars going on the roads each year with far fewer being scrapped, fuel costs still being relatively cheap and very few new roads being built, it's inevitable that congestion will increase and average speeds will go down. Any solution would need drastic and expensive measures like building many more roads or stabilising the vehicle population by insisting on one car being scrapped for every new one registered. Or markedly increasing the price of fuel. Incidentally, lower speed limits actually help utilisation of existing roads, since the throughput of traffic actually increases as speeds are lowered, with vehicles able to follow each other more closely. That's the reason for speed restrictions on many of our motorways.

21 May 2016
Increasing motorway speeds is not going to help when most users are driving during peak road use at 22mph and ever more cars on the roads. More roads+road space does not lead to faster throughput-it just moves more users to use those faster roads which quickly fill up and you are back to square1. Offering tax incentives to open up regional offices outside the main cities near public transport to allow some work to be done without commute is option1. Option2 is Road pricing based on the time you are using the road, it might move some users to reschedule work trips, pressure schools to open at different times, push more demand for real cycle paths. London will just have to push up its congestion charge-boost underground investment even higher and all major cities will have to roll out trams or expand them further and intro congestion charges on a more limited scale than London. Most state departments don't need all their office workers commuting into city centres. Living near Heathrow will soon be akin to slum living with traffic gridlock, air/noise pollution and thus a greater child-elderly mortality rate. When avg peak use speeds drop below 20mph in 2017-18 what happens then?

23 May 2016
Seriously, it's like being the Omega Man (Will Smith in "I Am Legend" for younger readers)

As Centenary has already said, the office hours culture has to change.

It seems ridiculous that so many of us sit in traffic to then sit at a desk staring at a computer.

A combination of flexible working and working from home should reduce the road usage in the short term.

In the long term I envisage that everyone rents a desk at an office within walking distance of their home to then sign into their employer's virtual office.

None of this addresses the school run though which is the most unnecessary build up of traffic - most people live within walking distance of their child's primary school but choose to use their car.

23 May 2016
Car should be made very expensive to drive in urban areas, with bicycles given priority. It will improve health and productivity. Special exemptions should be made for the disabled etc.

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