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

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

Licensed vehicle numbers fell by 0.3 per cent in December 2020 compared with December 2019 to 38.6 million vehicles. It meant that there were 101,000 fewer vehicles on the road. 

It represented the fourth consecutive quarter of decline - something which last happened in 1991. 

The trend was bucked by light goods vehicles and motorcycles which both saw increases, but cars, heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches all saw decreases. It coincided with a rise in the number of vehicles not being driven. 

A statutory off-road notice (SORN) allows a car’s owner to register their car as not being used which, as a result, means they don’t need to pay vehicle excise duty (VED). However, once declared SORN, the car cannot legally be driven on the road. 

In total, there were 192,000 fewer licensed cars on the road in December 2020 compared with 2019, with 259,000 more cars covered by SORN. With all types of vehicles taken into account, there were 101,000 fewer on the road with 421,000 more declared SORN. 

The data was relealed through a Department for Transport report into licensing statistics. It showed that a rising number of vehicles were being taken off the road “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”.

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