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Transport and health

Over the last 60 years road traffic density in the UK has steadily increased and congestion in many urban areas is a significant problem.

The most significant change in travel behaviour has been in car use, which is seen by many as their primary means of transportation. Cars have become relatively affordable compared to other transport alternatives and land use policies have prioritised mobility over accessibility.


The adverse impact of transport on health

While the expansion in car use has brought many social and economic benefits, increased vehicle numbers and traffic volume has also had negative impacts on health:

  • greater risk of road traffic crashes, with pedestrians and cyclists being particularly vulnerable 
  • long-term exposure to air pollutants decreases life expectancy
  • areas of high deprivation suffer most from air-pollution-related morbidity and mortality and the effects of noise pollution
  • increased community severance as a result of poor urban planning.

Active travel
Active forms of travel, such as walking and cycling, are the most sustainable forms of transport and are associated with a number of recognised health benefits including:

  • improved mental health
  • a reduced risk of premature death
  • prevention of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, dementia, and cancer.

Walking and cycling are also effective ways of integrating, and increasing, levels of physical activity into everyday life for the majority of the population, yet there has been a lack of investment in walking and cycling infrastructure. 

Public transport
Combining active travel and public transport options can help people achieve recommended daily physical activity levels.  And public transport is the most sustainable for longer journeys, yet it can be more expensive and less convenient.  And in rural areas travel infrastructure and public transport present real problems.


So what can be done?

We would like to see strong government leadership to re-focus UK transport policy. The greatest health benefits would come from prioritising accessibility over mobility, reducing the demand and need to travel by car and making public transport the affordable, desirable option.

A strategic approach to transport policy could include reducing the need to travel - by making jobs, education and services more local.  It could create ambitious targets for increasing walking and cycling, could look at land-use policy and at low-carbon transport options.


How can doctors and healthcare bodies help?

Healthcare organisations could work with local authorities to ensure that local transport plans and infrastructure take account of active travel. 

Employers can promote or support policies which encourage staff to walk or cycle to work. 

Doctors could use their influence as community leaders to promote active travel locally and in interactions with patients could use appropriate messages and advice to improve physical activity levels connected with cycling and walking.

Want to know more?
The full report is a very comprehensive and therefore, large PDF to download so we've listed the main chapter headings here so you can get an overview of the subjects it covers:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Sustainability
  4. Car use
  5. Air and noise pollution
  6. Active travel
  7. Public transport
  8. The urban transport environment
  9. Rural transport
  10. Rail
  11. Transport and the NHS
  12. Our conclusions.



See our report: Healthy transport = Healthy lives

BMA parliamentary briefing on safe cycling, November 2013