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Number of cars on road dropped in 2020 for only the second time since Second World War

  • SORN – statutory off road notification – figures rocket as number of licensed vehicles falls
  • 2.1m vehicles registered for first time in Great Britain in 2020 – 27 per cent down on 2019
  • Coronavirus restrictions could have led to people SORNing their vehicles, says Department for Transport

Time 1 month ago

There was a reduction in the number of cars on British roads last year, driven by a surge in the number of vehicles declared SORN.

New government statistics show that licensed vehicle numbers were down 0.3 per cent in December 2020 compared with December 2019, dropping by 101,000 to 38.6 million.

It marks the fourth consecutive quarter of decline for only the second time since the Second World War and the first time it’s happened since 1991.


Buses and coaches, cars and heavy goods vehicles all saw a drop in numbers, but light goods vehicles and motorcycles bucked the trend with increases.

However, these figures coincided with a surge in the number of vehicles with a statutory off road notification (SORN), which means the owner cannot legally drive their vehicle on the road but doesn’t have to pay vehicle excise duty (VED).

The number of licensed cars on British roads saw a year-on-year decline of 192,000 in December 2020, while the number of SORN cars jumped by 259,000.

Across cars, light goods vehicles, HGVs, motorbikes, buses and coaches, the number of licensed vehicles was down 101,000 overall, as some saw rises, while the number of SORN vehicles went up by 421,000 overall.

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The Department for Transport report into vehicle licensing statistics said the rising number of vehicles taken off the road was ‘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’.

Elsewhere in the report, it was revealed that 2.1m vehicles were registered for the first time in Great Britain last year – a decline of 27 per cent – and the average age of licensed cars was 8.6 years.

Darren Cassey's avatar

Darren is a staff writer for Car Dealer parent company Blackball Media. He has been writing about cars for eight years and tests all the latest models on sale, with previous experience at Car Throttle and DriveTribe.

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