COVID-19 and the effect on traffic

For anyone still on the road during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the lack of traffic made it seem as if we had experienced a time shift, back to a bygone age of motoring. The roads were so quiet.

Data from the Office of National Statistics confirms that, at the start of lockdown, 23 March 2020, the use of cars in GB fell to just 22% of the level during the equivalent day in the first week of February 2020. (ie comparing Monday with Monday, Tuesday with Tuesday etc).

To understand what the usual traffic volumes are in the first quarter of the year, in the absence of a global pandemic, Department for Transport (DfT) figures tell us that, in GB in Q1 2019, the provisional traffic volume arising from car travel was 60.8 billion car miles over the quarter.

Traffic volumes are calculated from the number of cars on the road multiplied by the mileage of those cars. Since, at the end of June 2018 there were 31.8 million private cars on the roads of GB, the 60.8 billion figure corresponds to an average annual mileage of just over 7600 miles. Exactly in line with current estimates. (Annual mileage has fallen over recent years as the number of cars on the road has increased, the mileage per car has fallen).

Given traffic volume at the outset of the COVID-19 lockdown were just 22% of the equivalent week in February 2020 and assuming the traffic volume to be similar to the average week during Q1 2019, then the figure for the number of cars on the roads during the quietest period of lockdown is 22% of (60,800,000,000/1900) or 7million cars.[1900 being the average mileage during the quarter].

How far back do we have to go to find traffic at this level?

Again, DfT figures provide the answer and, amazingly, you would have to time travel back to 1963 to find roads as quiet as we found them at the end of March and early April 2020.

It is already clear that traffic volumes are now averaging around 90% of pre-COVID-19 levels. As children return to school and many parents return to their workplace, will the changes in our motoring habits prove to be just a blip?

As we have seen, car usage dropped sharply during the early months of lockdown so it might be expected that accidents, serious injury and fatalities on the roads of GB would also have decreased. In the immediate aftermath of lockdown, headlines spoke of “Huge drop in car crashes as drivers stay at home …”. Following the first easing of lockdown, the headline “Car accident rates climb sharply …. “, became typical of early July.

In many parts of the country, the number of motorists exceeding the speed limit increased in the quiet period on our roads. During the first month of lockdown,  Greater Manchester Police reported 6,200 motorists exceeding the speed limit; an increase of 57%. What effect did this have on accident statistics?

Cycling and walking were encouraged and these pedestrians and cyclists, some new and inexperienced, shared road space with motorists. In the first month of lockdown, tragically, 14 cyclists were killed on the roads of GB (plus one in Northern Ireland) compared with a 3-year average of under 7 for the corresponding month since 2016.

In truth, it is too early to forecast how the current year will turn out. In 1963, with 7 million cars on the roads, there were 6,922 fatalities in GB. Since 2012, the number of fatalities has remained stubbornly between 1,700 and 1,800, after falling steadily over the years preceding 2012. It seems possible that 2020 could see a departure from that flat line: but which way? We will have to wait and hope.

Finally, research at the University of York has found that air pollution also fell during lockdown. There are many reasons for this; they range from industrial inactivity to less airline and maritime transport. Specifically associated with motor transport, however, nitrogen dioxide levels in major cities have seen falls ranging from 30% to 48% giving us a glimpse of what we may expect as the ban on new petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles comes into force from 2035.

My new car is ‘Green’, or is it? – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the environmental trade-offs of retaining or replacing a petrol or diesel car based on the lifetime CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions incurred during manufacture, use and scrappage of that car. Now it’s time to consider how a battery electric car fares when subjected to the same scrutiny.

What is indisputable is that, for the electric vehicle (EV), there is no equivalent to the CO2 tailpipe emissions produced by an internal combustion engine (ICE). Just as importantly, from a health point of view, there are no other gaseous emissions such as oxides of nitrogen or unburnt hydrocarbons. The particulate emissions from combustion are also absent; although particulates from brakes, tyres and the road surface will exceed those from an equivalent ICE vehicle due to the greater weight of the EV. Given that around 40,000 deaths per year in the UK are deemed by the UK Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to be a consequence of atmospheric pollution arising from road transport, the electric car, at the point of use, is an unequivocal winner from both an environmental and health perspective.

During manufacture, there is overwhelming evidence to show that, today, building an EV generates more CO2 and other greenhouse gases than the equivalent ICE vehicle. Battery production, currently heavily centred on China and other Asian countries, is the major, fossil fuel-intensive processes that tips the balance against the EV. With newer, renewable energy-powered ‘giga factories’, producing batteries in the same region of the world as the car assembly plant, the balance will swing towards the EV within the next few years.

Once the electric car reaches its destination, the battery needs to be recharged. Unless recharged from a wholly renewable source of electricity, this is also not a CO2-free process. In practice it will depend upon the energy mix of the grid at the time of re-charging. In those regions of the globe with a heavy dependence on coal-fired power generation, there is an argument that the electric car simply shifts the point of greenhouse gas emission from the urban high street to the point of generation.

With a decreasing UK dependence on coal in the generation of electricity, driving and recharging a small hatchback with a 30-45kWh battery, results in emissions of CO2 equivalent to around 35grammes per driven kilometre (g/km). A luxury EV with a battery capacity of 90kWh, would result in around 50g/km when in use. Both emission figures are well below those of even the smallest, most efficient ICE car: for example, the 2020 Mk8 VW Golf with a petrol engine produces 122g/km and few ‘City cars’ achieve much below 95g/km. So, the key question is: how long before the lower emissions of the EV, when on the road, offset the higher emissions during production?

As with the ‘Retain or Replace’ discussion for an ICE car in Part 1 of this post, there is no single answer to the question. It will depend greatly on where the vehicle (and particularly the battery) was produced, the size of the vehicle and how the EV is used (eg a life of urban commuting or long-haul motorway journeys).

A recent statement from Volkswagen, who have a vested interest in both EVs and ICE models, claimed that, on average, a new battery electric vehicle would need to travel 77,000 miles before it would have ‘saved’ the CO2 associated with its production. Imperial College, London, state that the luxury EV with its 90kWh battery is responsible for more CO2 emissions during production than over a 15-year lifetime. Both statements seem reasonable when looking at the chart below. This shows the EV lifetime CO2 emissions superimposed, in red, on the same chart as the ICE ‘Retain or Replace’.Lifetime CO2 plot inc EVs

What is clear is that even with the higher emissions associated with its production, within less than 2½ years the medium sized EV (eg VW ID3) will have generated less CO2 than the modern, fuel efficient ICE car (eg Citroen C1). The luxury EV (eg Jaguar I-PACE) will take just over 7 years to achieve the same result when compared with the medium sized 2019 ICE car (eg Ford Mondeo).

So, your EV may not be a zero-emission mode of transport but, over a lifetime of use, it should be greener than most ICE cars and, as our global power generation becomes cleaner, that margin will increase.

Factors such as the deployment of a charging infrastructure, which carries an associated CO2 ‘footprint’, the availability of scarce elements required in lithium battery production and in the components of efficient electric motors, carry their own implications for the future of EVs. Recycling these scarce materials is also not trivial nor energy-free.

Finally, as noted in the post on this blog in December 2014, hydrogen fuel cell EVs are becoming increasingly available (albeit with their own fuelling infrastructure requirements). Crystal ball-gazing by those who try to predict the future of personal transport, is an interesting pastime.

My new car is ‘Green’, or is it? – Part 1

For this post we are, of course, talking about ‘Green’ in the environmental sense – not Emerald Green, Leaf Green or even British Racing Green!

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), of the 2,311,140 new cars purchased in the UK in 2019, just over 90% were powered solely by an internal combustion engine (ICE): a decreasing proportion being diesel powered and an increasing proportion powered by petrol.

(As an aside to the theme of this post; that switch from diesel to petrol is not entirely good news. The recognised hazards to our health from particulate matter ie soot particles, and oxides of nitrogen, are significantly worse in the emissions from a diesel engine but the higher CO2 emissions from a petrol engine have resulted in an increase, for the third successive year, of this greenhouse gas. Visit the museum’s website for more on this topic in our ‘plastic dinosaurs’ download – no that’s not a misprint, you will find it under the tab ‘Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine’).

Returning to ‘Green’. If you look at your favourite news website, switch on the TV, pick up a newspaper or magazine, it won’t be long before you spot an item discussing our ever-increasing awareness of the contribution that transport, and in particular motor transport, makes to the steadily growing volume of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and the consequent increase in average global temperatures. Elsewhere in our newspaper or magazine we may well be facing an advertisement for the latest, low-carbon family car, with its environmentally friendly low or zero emissions, in the headlines of the advertisement.

Buying a new, low emission car, is being sold to us as a way of saving the planet! Can that really be true? Consider for now, the 90.1% of UK drivers who swapped their old car for a new ICE powered car in 2019.

Look more deeply on specialist websites or the motoring press and it won’t be long before we find statistics concerning the environmental impact associated with building that new car. It is possible to find figures stating the one-off environmental impact of building the car, expressed in terms of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. These can be anything from 20% to well over 50% of the car’s lifetime CO2 emissions.

Why such a wide spread of figures? Well, like all statistics, it depends on the starting assumptions. What is the average car lifetime? When do you start counting the CO2 associated with the build: when the iron, steel and alloys enter the body shop and assembly plant? When the raw materials enter the foundry or the rolling mill? Or when they are still in the ground? All major motor manufacturers operate on a global scale. Do the statistics include global transportation and even end-of-life scrappage?

So, should we retain or replace our ICE car? Purely from the point of view of CO2 emissions, consider replacing a 2012 car with a modern-day equivalent (like for like in the chart below – eg a 2012 Mondeo with a 2019 Mondeo). Making assumptions on the emissions performance of 2012 and 2019 cars, average annual mileage and average age of scrapping, then looking at the chart below, it could be over 10 years before the newer, cleaner engine yields an emissions benefit. Not surprisingly, a like-for-like replacement of a well maintained, low annual mileage 2012 car, may never ‘save’ the CO2 associated with its manufacture.

Retain or Replace graph

However, replacing the 2012 car with a small, modern, fuel-efficient petrol car (eg Citroen C1), could show a CO2 benefit within 5 years.

So, retain or replace? There is not a single answer, it will depend very much on our personal motoring lifestyle. There is more information about this on the museum website under the ‘Direction of Travel – Part 1, Environmental’ tab.

Suppose that we were amongst the 9.9% of buyers who went for a battery electric or hybrid car in 2019, was that a good environmental choice? Part 2 of this post will attempt to shed some light on that question.

Reopening – Saturday 15th February 2020

Following our winter closure, the museum re-opens on Saturday, 15th February, for the 2020 season.
The week before re-opening is always a busy one as final preparation of new displays is underway and the “big clean” takes place. This year, on the Wednesday before re-opening, there were at least 16 museum staff and volunteers beavering away. Everything looks bright and shiny and a few spiders are now looking for new homes.
What is new for 2020? Well to a casual observer wandering around the museum this week, the Paved Paradise gallery has been shuffled with the Imp, Herald, Mini and Volvo moving around and being joined by a Sinclair C5.
The Toy Galleries have had a lot of work done having been completely emptied over the winter and now showing new paint, floor coverings and a refreshed display.
As you leave the final gallery, a completely new, computer-controlled sound and light display tells the story of Boundless, the club which owns the museum. If you like mirrors and lights, this will be a real attraction.
We look forward to welcoming old friends and new visitors in 2020.

DOWNLOADS from the Museum Website

Anyone browsing the museum website could easily overlook the DOWNLOADS tab on the home page. This could be a mistake! Bear with me, please let me explain why.

Museum web page showing DOWNLOADSIn 2008 the museum started to publish brief documentation on the website that supported on-going museum displays. One of the very first documents, in 2008, showed that even then, we felt that the rising levels of carbon dioxide emitted by cars was an impending problem and a museum display reflecting this situation was first launched in the same year. Here is one of the graphics that we used.

2008 image of co2 emissions

Since that time, other documents, including “The Impact of Motoring”, “Our Motoring World”, “Tell-Me-More”, “Email-Me-More” and “A History of Motoring in 10 Objects” have all been available to download from the website – albeit sometimes a bit tricky to locate within the site – and accompanying an associated museum display.

Twelve years later, whilst celebrating the magnificent contribution that the museum collection makes to the history of motoring, we continue to recognise that big changes have to occur if the damage inflicted on the planet by our addiction to fossil fuels is not to be catastrophically irreversible: that, of course, includes changes to the world of motoring.Covers of two downloadable documents

Currently, we have two sets of documents behind the DOWNLOADS tab on the website. “The Direction of Travel – Motoring from The Past to The Future” is a set of five ebooks that, following a short introduction, look at the environmental, social and technological influences that have resulted from 130 years of the motor car and which concludes with a look to the future of motoring. Will hydrogen be the future or battery electric? Just how many vehicle manufacturers brands that we recognise today will still be around in even 10 years time or will new arrivals have disrupted the scene?

Our second, concise ebook addresses “The Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine over the last 130 years and its future in the 21st century”. It directly relates to an on-going display in the museum and tries to answer, at both a European level and a global level, questions that relate to our use of oil and the health and environmental impact of that consumption.

Oh, and that reference to plastic dinosaurs (made from oil)? Well, sorry, you will just have to click the DOWNLOADS tab to find out!

The Dunlop Tyre

Continuing our series of posts based on a museum exhibition from a few years ago entitled “The History of Motoring in 10 Objects”, this post gives a brief summary of the contributions made by John Boyd Dunlop, Charles Goodyear and the Michelin brothers. Yes, it’s tyres and the global demand today is approaching 3 billion every year.

It seems plausible that the word “tyre” derives from the wheelwright’s habit of referring to the steel rim around a wooden spoked wheel as the item that ‘tied’ the wheel together. Or perhaps it derives from ‘attire’ meaning a covering. Nevertheless, it is a method of construction that can be traced back over 2000 years.

In 1844 Charles Goodyear invented a means of stabilising natural rubber making it strong, flexible and suitable for solid tyres. In 1888 John Dunlop had the idea of wrapping an inflated tube of canvas around the wheel rim to create a more comfortable ride for his son’s cycle. But he was not the first to come up with this idea, 43 years earlier fellow Scot, Robert Thomson, patented and demonstrated a pneumatic tyre for use on carriages and bicycles, but it was expensive and the market was not receptive. The Michelin brothers demonstrated how this technology could be used on cars and Dunlop was able to sell his tyre to the growing automobile industry. By the mid ’50s, Dunlop had almost half of the market share in Britain and remains, along with Goodyear and Michelin, a leading brand today.

The composite image below shows just some of the enamel signage relating to tyres that is scattered around the museum.

Montage of signs

If you would like to read more about the history, construction and possible future of the humble tyre, you might be interested to download “The Direction of Travel: Motoring from The Past to The Future – Part 3 – Technological” from the museum website.

Our Austin Seven

It is good to see the museum’s Austin Seven gracing the forecourt of the museum on most days this summer. With the hard work of museum staff and volunteers, it underwent a significant restoration during the winter months and is now looking fabulous once more.IMG_20190725_164318 - low res

New for 2019

The museum opened again for the 2019 season on 16 February and our first visitors of the year enjoyed the sunny days of the school half-term that followed the re-opening. All is looking sparkling and dust free after a great effort from our museum volunteers during the preceding week. Thanks to all.

One major change that regular visitors will spot is the completely refurbished Blacksmith’s Shop.

The Blacksmith’s Shop and Woodworking Shop are now on opposite sides of the gallery and the blacksmith and wheelwright keep each other company throughout the day, chatting about their work and ‘these new-fangled motorcars’ and making very life-like movements. Don’t be alarmed, yes, you really did see them move!img_20190228_123911.jpg


Still to make a full appearance, is our new display on the “Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine”. After a fleeting look back over the first 130 years of internal combustion and its impact on both our climate and our health, it looks ahead to when the sale of vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines will be banned. More details will be posted shortly once all material is in place.

The Internal Combustion Engine

Continuing with our series of significant objects in the history of motoring, this latest object is really a bit of a ‘no-brainer’! Vehicle technology has been dominated by the next object: the internal combustion engine. It became successful because it proved to be dependable, convenient and affordable. There was also an abundant fuel supply which could be delivered to the vehicle in seconds. Modern engines are cleaner and much more efficient than their predecessors. Today however, there are compelling reasons to find alternatives. There are grave concerns about of the effects of pollution and fears over global warming. We are aware that the supply of easily recoverable oil will not last for ever; it will become more expensive to find and extract. Governments and city authorities are setting emission-free targets and manufacturers are pressing ahead with hybrid or all electric vehicles. Yet the internal combustion engine will not suddenly disappear while issues around battery technology – like the reliance on rare metals, low range on each battery charge and excessively long recharging time – remain unresolved.


This is a standard four-stroke, four cylinder engine, as used in millions of cars around the world. This cut-away picture demonstrates the classic engine cycle showing intake, compression, ignition and exhaust – otherwise known as suck, squeeze, bang, blow! Other engines in our cars and motorcycles include the straight six-cylinder, single cylinder two-stroke, the V-twin and the V-eight, but they are all versions of the internal combustion engine.

More detail on the history of the Internal Combustion Engine, plus other topics in our series of articles on the Impact of Motoring, can be found on our website under the DOWNLOADS tab.

Indian Motorcycle 1915

For the second object in our story of motoring we have chosen the Museum’s 1915 V-twin engine Indian Scout. Motorcycling was an affordable gateway into the early days of motoring and played an important role in the establishment of the Civil Service Motoring Association (CSMA): owners of the Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection.


During the 1910s, Indian was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world with an impressive racing success. In more recent years the bike gained appreciation in the film ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’, released in 2005 and starring Anthony Hopkins as a determined New Zealander, Burt Munro, who ultimately sets a land speed record for under 1000cc bikes of 201.851mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA.

While for many, the thrill of riding a powerful two-wheeled machine could not be exceeded, for others riding a motorbike was a less expensive alternative to car ownership. Frank Edwards the founder of CSMA, along with many of the original members, was a keen motorcyclist. He had some notable success in competitive racing, but also saw the bike as practical transport. Edwards died just one year after the club’s inauguration and we have very few photographs, so the two with his 1920s Harley Davidson are special to us. Harley Davidson were direct competitors to Indian eventually surpassing them in popularity.Edwards low resEdwards Family