Key Points:

Many New Zealanders feeling the pinch of fuel prices will recall the Government's response to oil scares in the late 1970s. For those too young to remember, the Q&A below provides the details - and asks if it could happen again

The gallery to the right shows correspondence from the time, including letters to and from Prime Minister Rob Muldoon

What caused it?

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The second oil crisis in 1979 occurred following the revolution in Iran. Widespread panic and speculation ensued.

By 1980, oil production in Iran and Iraq had noticeably declined. Over-production by Opec countries led to a decline in oil prices during the mid 1980s.

What was it?

Carless days were introduced on July 30, 1979 in a plan to stabilise a struggling economy.

Anyone who owned a petrol-powered vehicle less than 4,400lbs - excluding motorcycles - had to designate one day of the week on which they would not operate the vehicle.

Other restrictions included the reduction of the open-road speed limit from 100 km/h to 80 km/h and limits on the operating hours of garages and service stations.

Vehicles displayed coloured stickers on the windscreens that indicated which day of week the vehicle was not to be operated.

Did it apply to everyone?

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Exemption stickers were issued to those who had urgent business that might require use of a vehicle on any day of the week.

With an exemption you still had a carless day and were supposed to use the vehicle for the specified business purpose only.

Fines were given to those who didn't observe their designated carless day: Thursday being the most common. There was an immediate problem though as two car households had an obvious advantage when they could choose to continue driving seven days a week.

Those who lived in the country were exempt as it was presumed there was no public transport available for them.

How long did it last?

The initiative folded after 12 months amid reports of black market exemption stickers and imitations, leaving the scheme in a shambles.

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Could it happen again?

Current oil prices reflect an imbalance between supply and demand, with no short-term prospect of a relief.

Higher demand from developing countries and oil producers are off-setting the lower demand of wealthy countries.

Car-free days may be a more likely option as fuel prices lead people to look for cheaper alternatives.

Is anyone asking for carless days now?

The informal World Car Free Days Consortium was formed in 1995 to promote car-free days.

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Initiatives were already established in parts of Iceland, The United Kingdom and France.

In 2000, the European Commission established a Europe-wide initiative called 'In town, without my car'. The main idea behind the campaign was to encourage people to use alternative forms of transport for a day and raise awareness of what is at stake in terms of long term mobility and the risks connected with pollution.

By 2004, more than 40 countries were participating in the event.

What about in NZ?

A 2005 consultant's report for the Economic Development Ministry looked at an oil crunch and how the country could cope.

Current measures, such as cutting discretionary trips, combined with mandatory speed limit reductions, could provide consumption savings of 7 per cent.

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Compulsory restrictions on car use - such as the return to carless days - could provide another 4 per cent to 5 per cent.

- NZ HERALD STAFF