User guide - Road Transport Vehicles

User guide - Road Transport Vehicles

Notes and definitions

Motor Vehicles

There are three types of classification of motor vehicles:

  • Taxation Group: based on the level of tax placed on a motor vehicle according to its vehicle type (e.g. Private & light goods, Public transport, Goods etc);
  • Body Type: based on the look of a vehicle (e.g. cars).
  • Method of propulsion: based on type of fuel used.
Private and Light Goods Vehicles

The bulk of this group consists of private cars (whether owned by individuals or companies) and vans and light goods vehicles (goods vehicles which do not exceed 3,500 kgs gross weight). The group also contains a number of other types of vehicle including private buses and coaches.


No distinction is made between motorcycles, scooters and mopeds for taxation purposes, and therefore motorcycles includes all two wheeled vehicles.

Public Transport

All vehicles classified for taxation in class 34 - Bus (introduced 1 July 1995). These are vehicles used for public conveyance, with more than 8 seats. Prior to 1 July 1995 public transport vehicles were taxed in class 35 Hackney, used similarly for public transportation but with no lower limit on seating capacity. Buses and coaches not licensed for public conveyance, and operated and used privately, are excluded and are classified for excise licensing with private and light goods. Taxis and private hire cars are now included in the private and light goods group.

Goods Vehicles

The totals for this group (goods vehicles which exceed 3,500 kgs gross weight) for the earlier years include the now-discontinued formerly separate Farmers Goods, General Goods and some vehicles which before 1 July 1995 were taxed in a specialised taxation class but which now fall into the Goods Vehicle class groups, which were shown separately in some of the previous editions of Scottish Transport Statistics. Goods vehicles that are used un-laden, privately or for driver training purposes are licensed in the Private HGV taxation class.

Crown and Exempt Vehicles

The 'exempt' vehicles include a number of distinct sub-groups and classes, of which the most important are: 'Emergency vehicles', 'Disabled driver and disabled passenger carrying vehicles', 'All vehicles, except buses and goods vehicles used commercially if they were constructed before 1 January 1973', and 'Personal export and direct export vehicles', and vehicles formerly in the 'Special Concessions' class i.e. agricultural tractors, combine harvesters, and mowing machines, electric vehicles, gritting vehicles and snow ploughs, and steam powered vehicles.

Special Vehicles

This group consists of vehicles over 3,500 kgs which do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty as heavy goods vehicles nor qualify for taxation in the special concessionary group. Vehicles in this group include road rollers, work trucks, digging machines and mobile cranes.

Average ages of vehicles

With effect from the estimates for 2008, the Department for Transport [DfT]) improved its method of estimating the age of the vehicle fleet. The estimated ages are slightly higher than previously, although the pattern from year to year is unchanged.

Goods vehicles licensed by operator size

To operate a goods vehicle (over 3,500 kgs gross weight) in GB (England, Scotland and Wales) in connection with a trade or business or for hire or reward you need to hold a goods vehicle operator's license. The aims of operator licensing are basically road safety and fair competition. All operators undertake to keep their vehicles in a fit and serviceable condition and to ensure their drivers meet the statutory requirements regarding drivers' hours and records legislation. Operator licensing is the responsibility of the Traffic Commissioners. Each is responsible for a Traffic Area, of which there are 8 in GB. Where an operator has an operating centre(s) (i.e. the place(s) where vehicles are normally kept) in a Traffic Area, a license must be held in that Traffic Area. Some of the larger operators will have more than one license. Some operators have licenses with no vehicles specified, relying solely on short term hire instead.

Reported CO2 emissions

The reported CO2 emissions for a car in the UK are determined using a laboratory test. The test changed from the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) to the Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) in late 2018, although the WLTP figure was translated into an equivalent NEDC (e-NEDC) figure to maintain consistency in the transition period. The figure reported when first registering the car moved from e-NEDC to WLTP from April 2020 onwards, which caused a discontinuity in the reported emissions trend shown here. This topic is complex and care should be taken when considering recent figures – see

Driving tests

The theory test was introduced on 1 July 1996, therefore full year figures are available from 1997. A person who has passed the theory test must sit the practical test within two years. If the person fails the practical during this period then he/she can re-sit the practical without having to take the theory test again.

Households with cars available for private use

In the Scottish Household Survey (SHS), the term car is used only for cars: vans are not included in the analysis. The interviewer asks whether any cars are normally available for private use by members of the household. Cars normally kept or owned by someone outside the household are excluded, but company cars available for private use are included.

Household types

The following categories are used in the analysis of the SHS results:

  • A single pensioner household consists of just one adult of pensionable age (60+ for women, and 65+ for men) and no children
  • A single parent household contains an adult of any age and one or more children.
  • A single adult household consists of an adult of non-pensionable age and no children.
  • An older smallerhousehold contains either (a) an adult of non-pensionable age and an adult of pensionable age and no children or (b) two adults of pensionable age and no children.
  • A large adult household has three or more adults and no children.
  • A small adulthousehold contains two adults of non-pensionable age and no children.
  • A large family household consists of either (a) two adults and three or more children or (b) three or more adults and one or more children.
  • Small family households consist of two adults and one or two children.
Annual net household income

The net income (i.e. after taxation and other deductions) which is brought into the household by the highest income householder and/or his/her spouse or partner, if there is one. It includes any contributions to the household finances made by other members of the household (e.g. dig money). In the case of households for which any of the main components of income were not known (for example, because of refusal to answer a question), the SHS contractors imputed the missing amounts, using information that was obtained from other households that appeared similar.

SHS urban / rural classification

The urban / rural classification shown in some tables was developed for use in analysing the results of the SHS. It is based on settlement size, and (for the less-populated areas) the estimated time that would be taken to drive to a settlement with a population of 10,000 or more. Each postcode in Scotland was classed as either urban or non-urban, then clumps of adjacent urban postcodes, which together contained more than a certain total number of addresses, were grouped together to form settlements. Six categories were then defined:

  • Large urban areas - settlements with populations of 125,000 or more. These are around - but not the same as - Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. This category may (a) include areas outwith the boundaries of these four cities, in cases where a settlement extends into a neighbouring local authority, and (b) exclude some non-urban areas within the boundaries of these four cities.
  • Other urban areas - other settlements of population 10,000 or more.
  • Accessible small towns - settlements of between 3,000 and 9,999 people, which are within 30 minutes' drive of a settlement of 10,000+ people.
  • Remote small towns - settlements of between 3,000 and 9,999 people, which are not within 30 minutes' drive of a settlement of 10,000+ people.
  • Accessible rural areas - settlements of fewer than 3,000 people, which are within 30 minutes' drive of a settlement of 10,000+ people.
  • Remote rural areas - settlements of fewer than 3,000 people, which are not within 30 minutes' drive of a settlement of 10,000+ people.
Motor Vehicle Offences

Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes into crimes and offences. The term "crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts. The less serious are termed "offences". The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes and has no impact on how the police investigate reports of criminal activity. Road traffic offences are those classified as road traffic offences in the classification of crimes and offences used for police recorded crime statistics. Road traffic crimes are crimes related to motor vehicles, namely causing death by dangerous driving, causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs and reckless driving at common law.


Numbers of vehicles

The source of this information is the Vehicle Information Database (VID) held by the Department for Transport (DfT). The results conform to the same definitions as earlier vehicle censuses, but, for technical reasons, are considered slightly more reliable than earlier estimates. Some vehicles have complicated licensing histories, that may include incidents such as cheques failing to clear, changes of taxation status, late payments, and one or more valid or invalid refund claims. The VID undertakes a more detailed examination of licensing history than earlier vehicle census analyses and is therefore able to provide better estimates of licensed stock. The figures include all vehicles which pay tax and certain vehicles which are exempt. The exempt vehicles are described in section 1.6. The figures exclude vehicles registered by the armed forces, or as personal or direct export and trade licences issued to manufacturers, repairers of and dealers in motor vehicles.

Number of Vehicles: Taxation class changes in the period covered by the tables

In 1995 there were major reforms of the vehicle taxation system. The bulk of the changes came into operation on 1 July 1995, but some additional changes were introduced on 29 November 1995. The intention was to remove many of the complications in the existing taxation structure, using a strategy to link Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rates for many directly to the rate for the private and light goods group (PLG), or the basic minimum rate for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). One measure to help achieve this was the creation of three umbrella taxation groups:

  • An emergency vehicles group - exempt from VED
  • A special concessionary group, including agricultural machines, snow ploughs, gritting vehicles, electric vehicles and, later, steam powered vehicles, paying VED at one quarter of the annual PLG rate
  • A special vehicles group, limited to vehicles over 3500 kgs, including mobile cranes, works trucks, digging machines, showmen's vehicles, etc, paying VED at a rate equivalent to the basic minimum rate for HGVs.

From 1 April 2001, vehicles licensed in the special concessionary group were exempted from the payment of VED.

In addition, the goods vehicle taxation system was itself considerably simplified by the abolition of separate goods vehicle classes for farmers and showmen. All remaining goods vehicle taxation classes were also abolished and vehicles in those groups transferred to an appropriate tax class. At the same time, the basis for calculation of excise duty for goods vehicles was amended to revenue weight. Revenue weight means either confirmed maximum gross weight as determined by plating and testing regulations, or design weight for vehicles not subject to plating and testing (formerly known as Restricted HGVs).

The process also included further simplifications and tidying arrangements. These included cases in which vehicles not over 3,500 kgs gross weight were removed into the private and light goods taxation class rather than remaining in specialised taxation classes and groups, and the re-allocation of some tax classes into more appropriate groups. One key change of a similar type was to abolish the separate taxation of public transport vehicles with eight seats or fewer, and tax all such vehicles in the PLG class. From start of July 1995 bigger public transport vehicles were taxed in a new bus taxation class. The changes were completed by the introduction in the November 1995 budget of a new exempt class for vehicles over 25 years of age previously in the private and light goods or motorcycle groups. In 1998 the exemption for vehicles over 25 years of age was replaced with one applying to all vehicles, except buses and goods vehicles used commercially if they were constructed before 1 January 1973.

In general, the process of implementing these changes was gradual, and vehicles were allowed to remain in their current class until a new tax disk was required, whereupon they were transferred into other groups and classes as appropriate. Since tax disks may run for up to a year, some vehicles remained legitimately taxed in abolished groups at the end of 1995. That process was effectively complete by the end of 1996, but users of taxation and stock statistics for 1995 and later years should take special care to ensure they are aware of the changes and the methods by which vehicles were re-allocated to other groups.

Heavy Goods Vehicles

There is a large increase in the over 38 tonnes category, and a large decrease in the 32.1 to 38 tonnes category, between 1998 and 1999, and continuing in later years. This is due primarily to legislation which came into effect in 2001 allowing 6-axled lorries to run at up to 44 tonnes. This has led to many lorries 'up-plating' i.e. the lorries do not necessarily physically change, but are simply taxed differently so that they may carry greater loads.

A further reform to the tax class structure for vehicles weighing up to 3,500kg was announced in 1998. In 1999 a two banded system based on engine size was introduced for the PLG class. In March 2001 four new tax classes were introduced. The Petrol Car, Diesel Car and Alternative Fuel Car taxation classes were introduced for passenger vehicles weighing up to 3,500kg registered on or after 1 March 2001. The Light Goods Vehicles tax class was introduced for goods vehicles weighing up to 3,500kg registered on or after 1 March 2001.

Numbers of vehicles: Analysis by local government areas

Until 1995 the DVLA used the postcode of the registered keeper (of the vehicle) to allocate vehicles to local government regions. With the 1996 re-organisation of local authorities in Scotland, local government area analyses required major revisions. This was achieved by use of the most recently available postcode directory, which, when used in conjunction with the Vehicle Information Database, allowed vehicle stocks to be estimated for the new local authorities.

Numbers of new registrations of vehicles

The numbers of new registrations of vehicles of various taxation class types have been obtained by DfT from DVLA. In recent years, changes to taxation classes and local government reorganisation have affected the DVLA computer system used to produce these figures, and it can longer provide the numbers of new registrations for each taxation class for Scotland. Scottish figures appearing here are estimated by DfT, using post town area data, and are subject to a small margin of error.

Taxis licensed

These figures are based on an annual survey conducted by the Scottish Government and represent the taxi fleet size/driver numbers at the time of replying to the survey.

Goods vehicles operators by licence type and number of vehicles specified on the licence

These figures were produced from information taken from the Traffic Commissioners administrative records.

Most popular car sold

These figures are supplied by Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). They are based on postcode location derived from form V55 which is completed by the car dealer. The figures do not include sales from non SMMT dealers, such as overseas dealers.

MOT tests

These figures are supplied by VOSA (Vehicle Operator Services Agency) and are based on test results data entered electronically at each privately operated Vehicle Testing Station in Scotland.

Driving test receipts

Figures for both driving licence theory and practical tests are obtained from the Driving Standards Agency (DSA).

Scottish Household Survey

The Scottish Household Survey is a large household level survey run in Scotland. Data is collected on a range of topics including transport and travel. The survey also includes a Travel Diary component. This data is used to analyse travel patterns and choices.

Numbers of Blue Badges

The Scottish Government requested details from Local Authorities on the number of badges awarded under the EU Blue Badge scheme. Blue badges are valid for up to 3 years from the date of issue. Totals (shown in Table 1.21) will include all valid badges on issue in the specified year.

The Blue Badge Improvement Service (BBIS), a central database for all blue badges on issue, was introduced on 1 January 2012. Data accuracy for the total number of blue badges on issue has improved as all blue badges are recorded on BBIS.

Motor Vehicle Offences

The statistical return from which the figures on recorded road traffic crimes and offences in this publication are taken is a simple count of the numbers of crimes and offences, for each local authority, which the police have recorded. Data from other police forces, such as the British Transport Police, are not included. Amendments to crime and offence records will always arise after data has been submitted by Police Scotland to the Scottish Government. Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2021-2022 - ( presents a comparison which confirms that the extent of further amendments to police crime and offence records following the original submission of data continues to be minimal at the Scotland level.

Most road traffic crimes and offences are discovered and recorded as a result of police activity rather than by being reported to the police by the public. Hence the numbers of such offences recorded are mainly determined by the level of enforcement or police deployment.

The figures included in the road traffic offences group do not include stationary motor vehicle offences dealt with by the issue of a fixed penalty ticket. However, offences dealt with under the vehicle defect rectification scheme and offences for which the procurator fiscal offers a fixed penalty are included in the figures. In addition to this, moving traffic offences which are the subject of a police conditional offer of a fixed penalty are also included, e.g. speeding, traffic directions offences.

Certain motor vehicle offences are not always recorded in cases where police forces are unable to clear-up the offence (e.g. speeding offences where the driver is untraceable). Clear-up rates for motor vehicle offences in these circumstances are artificial. Thus, clear-up rates for the road traffic offences group are not included.

The number of Vehicle Excise Licence Offences recorded decreased from 3,792 in 2017-18 to 176 in 2018-19. This was largely due to standardisation of practice across Police Scotland divisions in November 2017, whereby the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (rather than the police) took primacy in dealing with these offences. There was a decrease in this offence from 2020-21 to 2021-22 (35% decrease, from 220 to 143 offences).

Further information

Within Scottish Transport Statistics:

  • Chapter 2 – Bus and coach travel,
  • Chapter 5 – Road Traffic (including congestion)
  • Chapter 11 – Personal and Cross modal travel
  • Chapter 13 – Environment and Emissions

Other Transport Scotland Publications:

Transport and Travel in Scotland – includes more detailed analysis of SHS data, in particular:

  • Table 20 – Frequency of driving

SHS Local Authority Results, publishes as part of Transport and Travel in Scotland – provide breakdowns of SHS data by Local Authority, Regional Transport Partnership and Urban Rural Classification. In particular:

  • Table 4 – Car access by Local Authority
  • Table 5 – Frequency of driving by Local Authority

Further information on motor vehicle licensing statistics can be found in the DfT publications Transport Statistics Great Britain, and Vehicle Licensing Statistics.

Further information on motor vehicle offences recorded by the Police is available in the Scottish Government's Criminal Proceedings in Scottish Courts.

Eurostat collate vehicle registration statistics for EU member states.

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