Connecting administrative vehicle data for research on sustainable transport
28 March 2023
Passenger cars and vans have a major influence on our environment, society, and health. In order to generate insights about these challenges, researchers need access to reliable information about vehicle details, usage and trends. This would enable them to build evidence to inform transport policy that benefits the public.
Data about vehicle attributes and location is currently collected by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Data from MOT tests, which check that a vehicle meets road safety and environmental standards, (and, importantly, are when vehicle mileages are recorded), is collected by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). However, it is currently impossible for anyone other than the data owners to link this information together. In addition, calculating annual vehicle mileages is computationally complex and requires significant investment of time and resources.
This project aims to link existing data sources to create de-identified datasets that researchers can use to understand vehicle ownership and usage patterns. These datasets will be updated annually and will cover all light-duty vehicles (under 3.5 tonnes) in Great Britain. They will contain information including data on vehicle type, mileage, emissions, and registered location (at Lower Layer Super Output Area level – a standard geographical unit for anonymously reporting Census statistics).
This new resource will have the potential to generate insights that inform sustainable transport policy design and implementation, at both the local and national level.
This project aims to work in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT), DVLA, DVSA, Office for National Statistics (ONS), RAC Foundation, University of Bristol, and University of Leeds. The value of the data will be explored through partnership work with the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles; Zemo Partnership; the Energy and Security group in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Road Safety Analysis Ltd and Agilysis Ltd, Transport for the South East, Transport for Greater Manchester and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association.
This project aims to link two de-identified datasets:
- Registration data from the DVLA, including:
- location of the registered keeper
- personal or company ownership
- emission ratings.
- MOT test data from the DVSA, containing vehicle details including:
- make and model
- date of first use
- engine size
The goal of the project is that these two sets of data are routinely combined and that mileage calculations are standardised and automated. This will result in de-identified datasets being made available for secure research access, including:
- vehicle-level data
- aggregated vehicle data, for specific geographical areas.
Researchers will also consider how the project datasets could be enhanced in the future. For example, they will explore linking them to de-identified area-based statistics (including Census 2021 data), accident statistics or to other vehicle-level data, such as automatic number plate recognition data.
Potential of the newly linked data
By linking the two datasets, this project aims to provide an ongoing resource to inform urgent local and national transport, environmental, and social objectives. Research using the linked datasets will have the potential to generate insights relevant to the following policy areas:
- climate change, for example, tracking the uptake of electric vehicles over space and time, and comparing their mileage profiles to fossil-fuelled equivalents
- air quality and health, for example, using information on local vehicles to design the most efficient and fair geographical boundaries for location-based vehicle charging regimes
- road safety, for example, analysing the relationship between different segments of the vehicle market and road collisions
- taxation, for example, supporting the design of fair motoring taxation and forecasting revenue
- transport evaluation, for example, assessing the effect of local transport initiatives on residents’ car mileages.
Early pathfinder research will take place in partnership with two large local authority areas, to demonstrate how the data can be used to inform local policy design and evaluation.
Key questions these newly linked datasets could help to address include:
- How has vehicle ownership changed in areas where electric vehicles (EVs) are being promoted? For example, has introduction of EV charging points into particular areas increased the ownership of EVs?
- Are policies aimed at encouraging more sustainable travel patterns effective? For example, have major improvements in walking, cycling or bus networks led to lower car use by residents?
- How do clean air policies affect different groups within the population? For example, in areas implementing Clean Air Zones, what types and mileages of vehicles are likely to be affected, and how do these relate to levels of deprivation or commuting patterns?
The project team will work with the ONS to make a version of the data available for further use by accredited researchers, subject to the approval of data owners.
The project ultimately aims to establish a link between the DfT and ONS, so that the data can feature on the DfT’s open access vehicle statistics webpage.
Project lead: Professor Jillian Anable
Co-investigator: Professor Eddie Wilson
Funded value: £1,035,716
Duration: July 2022 – March 2026
This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. Funding decisions were based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the Office for National Statistics. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.
Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform.