Half of all car journeys in the Greater Dublin Area involve trips of less than one mile, according to a report by Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH).
The institute said the use of private cars for “short and uncomplicated” journeys such as going to work or school had continued to increase in Ireland and highlighted the need to strengthen policies which promoted active travel.
It is calling for more policies to promote active travel, such as walking and cycling.
Using figures from 2006, the IPH report found 63 per cent of all journeys in the Republic were made by car. Similarly, some 70 per cent of all journeys in Northern Ireland were made by private car in 2007-2009.
The report’s author, Teresa Lavin, said placing greater priority on active travel in urban planning and policies would increase walking and cycling and improve health and well-being in the community.
“There is considerable scope to replace car journeys with walking and cycling and doing so would increase physical activity which would benefit people’s health straight away.
“As the level of active travel increases road traffic injuries and deaths decrease. For example in Germany and The Netherlands where there are high rates of active travel pedestrian fatalities are ten times lower than in the United States which has high car usage,” she said.
The report also highlighted the environmental, economic and social benefits of active travel.
“Increased active travel reduces greenhouse gas emissions, brings better air quality and less noise, benefitting both the environment and health,” Ms Lavin said.
Research conducted in Scotland found if 40 per cent of all car journeys switched to bicycle it would result in a saving of £2 billion (€4.7 billion) per year due to reduced mortality. The saving is estimated to be closer to £4 billion if improved health is also included.
“The research shows that increased active travel also promotes social cohesion and enhanced community life by increasing opportunities for social interaction as well as increased safety from anti-social behaviour due to more people on foot or bicycle in the area,” she said.
The report highlighted the need to address health inequalities when promoting active travel as people in disadvantaged communities are less likely to walk or cycle due to traffic, noise, crime, litter, poor street lighting and poor quality public transport.