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Complaint to the BBC

Complaint to the BBC

Dear BBC

The BBC charter states the BBC aims to inform, educate and entertain. While some may regard Mr Clarkson’s comments on running over cyclists because they don’t pay “road tax” as entertainment (Top Gear BBC2 07/02/2011 21mins 25seconds in). I do not see incitement to murder others on the basis of their choice of transport, as legitimate entertainment. A car is a potentially lethal weapon, a pedestrian or cyclist hit by a motor vehicle is at risk of being killed.

His comments were not only distasteful, they were factually incorrect, road tax does not exist, the roads are paid for by general taxation, therefore we all pay for the roads, whether we own a car or not. Everybody in the UK has the right to use the roads on foot, riding a bicycle or riding a horse (with the exception of motorways), drivers are only permitted to use the roads under licence, driving is not a right.

The owners of many motor vehicles are required to pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), a tax based on pollution. However, it is not payable by all motor vehicle owners, there are an increasing number of zero rated motor vehicles. So why has he not suggested that drivers of VW Polos, or Nissan Leafs be driven off the road? If bicycles were required to carry VED tax discs, they would also be taxed at the zero rate.

If he had made suggestions that people be run over on the basis of their race, colour, creed or religion, not only would he have been sacked, he would have probably been arrested. Yet the BBC, by broadcasting Mr Clarkson’s views, endorses the idea that an incitement to murder or seriously injury another person is legitimate, so long as it is based on their choice of transport.

Yours etc.,

For the record, I do drive (I have held a clean driving licence for over 20 years), I have also held a number of advanced driving qualifications and was a fully qualified driving instructor. The above complaint has been sent to the BBC and I am currently awaiting a response, which I expect to receive within 10 working days.

You may also be interested in comedian Steve Coogan’s views on Top Gear, and he is a huge fan.

Addendum. I have now received the following reply from the BBC:

“Thank you for your feedback about Top Gear broadcast on 6 February 2011. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

Jeremy was singling out what he sees as aggressive cyclists, like the one who scraped his car. I don’t think anyone can deny that, as with motorists, there are cyclists out there whose road behaviour is hardly ideal. Jeremy made it clear that in his view cyclists are free to use the roads as long as they behave themselves. Whilst he’d clearly prefer them to defer to motorists, I think his comments stop a long way short of encouraging aggression. Of course Jeremy’s views were balanced out by those of Richard Hammond, who stood up for cyclists.

Yours sincerely

Andy Wilman
Executive Producer
Top Gear”


Personally I feel this is a total cop out and shows that the BBC is not interested in taking responsibility for the comments made by its presenters. While Mr Clarkson may feel threatened by some “aggressive cyclists”, that is no reason to issue an incitement to murder or seriously injury another person based on their choice of transport. It should also be remembered that an estimated that 800 lives a year are lost due to “disrespectful driving“, whereas, on average, only one life a year is lost to reckless cycling. I am not suggesting that reckless cycling is in anyway any more acceptable than reckless driving (neither is acceptable), I am just trying to put the scale of the problem into perspective. Sadly, Mr Clarkson has a tendency to promote the idea that reckless driving is acceptable, and that we should accept death and injury on the roads as a price worth paying.

You don’t pay tax…

You don’t pay tax…

One of the more stupid statements made by motorists to cyclists is “you don’t pay tax”, sadly this is just not true. We all pay tax, as the old axiom has it: there are two things in life which are unavoidable, death and taxes. However, when challenged on this point, they go on to say that they alone pay something called “road tax”, and that the payment of this gives them a greater right to use the roads than anyone else. Again this is not true, here in the UK there is no such thing as “road tax”, there used to be a form of tax called the “Road Fund Licence”, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, this was abolished in 1936! We all pay for the roads through our taxes, so effectively we all pay “road tax”. Despite this, there is a widespread perception among motorists that they are somehow unfairly taxed, unlike those free loading cyclists and pedestrians who dare to use their roads.

So just how true is this perception that motorists are so unfairly taxed? Well in the financial year 2006-07 £28.43bn was raised from taxes on fuel and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). In the same year around £8.78bn went toward maintenance and £11.91bn new road building, but that is not the whole story. The cost of policing the roads and the expense incurred by the judicial system has been estimated to be £3bn. Also, the cost to the NHS of injuries due to road accidents crashes, according to figures from collated by RoSPA, was £9.93bn. So the total cost to government was £33.62bn, meaning there was a short fall of £5.19bn, which had to be covered from other non-motoring related taxation.

In addition there is the cost to businesses and other drivers due to delays caused by congestion, estimated by those rampant greens, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), to be about £19.1bn.

Even this does not cover the whole cost of motoring to the nation as a whole, there are a large raft of hidden costs borne by all UK tax payers, these include –

  • Noise pollution: in the form of lowered house prices, spoilt semi-natural areas, ill-health and disturbed sleep, estimated to cost £3.1bn. One case study was based on over 3500 property sales in Glasgow, suggested that property prices were depressed by 0.20% for each decibel increase in road noise. (also see Roads: traffic noise)
  • Air pollution (not including CO2): estimated to be between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year and this is likely to be an under-estimate! [Update: A conservative estimate for one type of air pollution (particulates) is that it reduces average life expectancy in the UK by around six months, worth £16 billion a year. DEFRA 2015] When looking at the costs associated with global warming, the figures are more difficult to pin down, but have the potential to dwarf our entire economic system. Transport contributes about 23% of UK domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and road transport is responsible for 93% of this.
  • Water pollution: in the form of run-off into rivers and drainage of leaking oil, break fluid, exhaust and soot from vehicles, rubber particulates from tyres and salt used in winter. Again estimated costs are uncertain, but are somewhere between £1bn and £16bn per year.
  • Costs to health due to lack of exercise: the British population is one of the fattest in Europe. The direct cost of obesity to the NHS is £0.5bn per year, the indirect health impacts of physical inactivity, estimated to be £10.7 billion per annum, and on top of that the indirect cost to the UK economy is at least £2bn per year.
  • Insurance: Car insurance is a competitive business. Figures released by the Association of British Insurers show that the payouts to road users were not covered by their premiums. The average shortfall for the five years from 1988 to 1992 was £626 million per year. In other words, insurance companies are charging more on other kinds of insurance to subsidise motorists.
  • The cost of repairing pavements damaged by illegal parking: this has been estimated to cost in the region of £234m a year and that does not include the cost of policing, installing bollards and other devices to stop vehicles parking illegally or the cost of compensation claims for trips and falls caused by this damage.

The simple inconvenient fact is that it is 18% cheaper to run a car now than twenty years ago. This shows that “the motorist”, far from being unfairly taxed, is being heavily subsidised by the non-motoring tax payers. So it is motorists that are the free loaders on Britain’s roads, not the long suffering cyclists and pedestrians.

Now I really must get back to filling out my tax return, if only I could get a rebate for not owning a car …

Green Taxes

Green Taxes

So the Tories are proposing a move towards more environmental taxes, based on the principle the polluter pays. Now I am all in favour of increasing environmental taxes and reducing direct taxation, but can we trust the Tories on this one? After all this is a party whose leader cycles to work to show his green credentials, but then has an aide driving a car with a change of clothes and his papers. As someone who also cycles to work, I have always managed to carry all I need in panniers or a rucksack. (Indeed I managed to carry all I needed for a weekend away in two panniers, but I digress). Where did they get these new policies from? Well, it appears that they copied them from the Liberal Democrats, nothing new there then.

Changes in tax aimed at changing behaviour require political bravery and strong leadership, do we have such politicians? The current evidence is that we don’t. When it was proposed that Edinburgh should have a £2 congestion charge during rush hour (it wasn’t even going to be for the whole day) the politicians bucked at the first squeal from motoring groups. Even though all the evidence from other cities which have such a charge is that it has been successful, I have often heard car drivers claim that they have more right to the road because they pay road tax. But if they had to pay the real cost of their road usage in a tax based on the damage they do they would be quickly looking for other forms of transport. So long as the cost is paid for from general taxation it will remain hidden. The money raised from Vehicle Excise Duty (it is not road tax) is only a small fraction of the cost of maintaining the road system and not counting the environmental cost.

I am not saying there should be no cars at all, just that other forms of transport should be given equal support and the most appropriate forms of transport should be given priority according to area. I.e. in towns and cities cars should be at the bottom of the list, in rural areas with low population densities mass transit systems are less practical. The car is not going to go away any time soon, as the Swedes and Brazilians have shown, even when we have stopped using fossil fuels cars will still be around. Saab have shown that cars running on bio fuels are far more efficient in terms of raw power.

It is not just transport, that can benefit from the application of green taxation measures. A recent report suggested that, in order to encourage recycling of household waste, the way we are charged for the disposal of rubbish should be changed. Instead of the current flat rate which is included in the Council Tax, householders should be charged according to how much non-recyclable rubbish they produce. From a personal perspective, again this is a move I would support. I live in a household which has a recycling rate close to the European average, way above the British average (we would recycle more if the facilities were available). Such a change would save us money by making the polluters pay and ending our subsidy of them. Obviously increased recycling is not the only solution, it is better to avoid buying over packaged items in the first place, which is not always easy.

I could go on, but I think I will save it for later posts.

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