The coronavirus pandemic has made access to cars more important than ever before, according to new research. An RAC survey of more than 3,000 drivers found almost six in 10 thought owning or driving a car was more important than before the pandemic, and willingness to use public transport has fallen to an 18-year low.

The study, conducted as part of the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring, found 57 percent of drivers thought the importance of car access had risen since the Covid-19 crisis began, with young drivers, new drivers and people living in the capital all significantly more likely to say they need a car more. Drivers said cars were necessary for commuting and shopping, as well as meeting up with friends and family.

According to the data, 64 percent still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in future – down only slightly on the 67 percent recorded in last year’s Report on Motoring. Just over a third of respondents (36 percent) said they expected to work from home more often as a result of the pandemic.

Despite the increase in home deliveries, almost seven in 10 drivers (68 percent) said they thought cars were essential for shopping – up from 54 percent last year. And with lockdown still in force in England, six in 10 drivers (59 percent) said cars were “essential” for meeting friends and family who live elsewhere in the country. That’s up from 45 percent in 2019.

The research also suggests drivers are now more reluctant to use public transport – a potential headache for policy makers looking to encourage more eco-friendly ways of getting around. For the first time since 2002, fewer than half of drivers surveyed (43 percent) said they would use their cars less, even if public transport was improved – that’s well down on the 57 percent seen in 2019.

Heavy traffic on M3 motorway in Woking approaching London

“Even with lower traffic volumes, the pandemic appears to have reinforced the bond between drivers and their cars – with public transport less attractive than ever,” said RAC data insight spokesperson Rod Dennis. “Motorists see having access to a car as being even more important for the trips they need to make, be that shopping for essentials or getting out to see family and friends in other parts of the country when restrictions allow.

“Without a concerted effort from government and local councils, the pandemic risks putting efforts to encourage drivers out of their cars for some trips back by years. Even before the coronavirus, drivers complained that public transport fares were often too high and services didn’t run when they needed them to. Now, for the first time since 2002, we have fewer drivers than ever saying they’re prepared to use public transport even if services improved – underlining just what a huge role the car continues to play in 2020.

“A failure to invest in adequate alternatives for drivers keen on accessing town and city centres risks stifling the recovery of these areas as shopping and tourist destinations as we eventually come out of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Night traffic in London