The automobile was once an efficient way to get around but now causes such traffic woes and health hazards that people must learn to use other transportation methods, said a study released Saturday.

"Excessive reliance on cars can actually stifle rather than advance societies," said the study by Worldwatch, a private think-tank.The study estimated the number of passenger cars in use worldwide grew from 53 million in 1950 to 386 million in 1986.

As a result, motorists in hundreds of cities creep forward at speeds slower than a bicycle's, the study said. It said that more than 200,000 people died in 1985 in traffic accidents worldwide. In the United States, some 30,000 people die each year of diseases resulting from the use of gasoline and diesel fuel, the study said.

"It is time to build a bridge from an auto-centered society into an alternative transportation future . . . in which cars, buses, rail systems, bicycles and walking all complement each other," the study said.

It said governments should discourage auto use where possible, require cars be made more fuel efficient and less polluting, expand public mass-transit systems and encourage affordable housing near jobs.

In the long run, moving urban patterns away from the sprawl generated by the automobile is a solution, the study said.

"What people need is access to jobs, homes and services," the study said. "More compact and integrated communities can provide such access without long commutes."