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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.

Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country, but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

Here are a few more suggestions:

Strict liability, this is common in most western European countries, in fact the UK is one of only five countries which does not have a law of strict liability, the other four are: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania. The principle is simple, the person who is in charge of the heavier vehicle should be presumed liable in a crash. For example, if a lorry was in a collision with a car, the lorry driver would have to take the greater responsibility. So where the driver/rider of a motor vehicle is involved in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed liable. This is not always popular with motorists, there are people who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, but this is why we need to enshrine strict liability in law. The other objection which is often given by motorists is that this would lead to cyclists and pedestrians deliberately running into motor vehicles in order to claim compensation. This seems unlikely, but where the motorist could prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault, i.e., if the motor vehicle was stationary and a cyclist ran into the back of it, then the motorist would not be liable (as is currently the case for crashes between motorists).

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, not just around schools, but throughout all built up areas. This would make the streets safer for everyone, as around two-thirds of crashes in which people are killed or injured occur on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph. According to RoSPA the probability of serious injury to a person wearing a seat belt in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater. Impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, and so lead to more serious injuries. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30mph.

It is sobering to realise that:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive.

Added to this, drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. [Update: this is now creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, all be it slowly.]

Cycle training. All school children should have cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills). In addition, training needs to be made available to adults, there is a “lost generation” of adults who have received no cycle training and who don’t understand that the correct place to ride is on the road rather than the pavement, and that the rules of the road apply to them too.

Scrap Vehicle Excise Duty, and instead raise the tax revenue by increasing fuel duties and tax on car sales. This would discourage the excessive driving which has become the norm. People choose to drive short distances rather than walking or cycling because driving is relatively cheap. According to the RAC, in real terms it is 24% cheaper to buy a car and 57% cheaper to run a car now than it was 20 years ago! At the same time the cost of public transport has risen significantly. Overall, tax incentives are pushing people towards driving rather than using other forms of transport.

Reduce VAT on bicycles, the car scrappage scheme was used to encourage the sale of new cars (which helped to lift France and Germany out of recession), why shouldn’t there be an extra incentive to encourage people to buy bicycles?

Tax car parking spaces, another change over the last twenty years is the growth of retail parks and shopping malls. These use large car parks and generate significant traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and so reduce congestion. Rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to the building. As a planning requirement, all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclist and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

A lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Lets give people back their travel choices, lets help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

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 …

Roads are for cars!??

Roads are for cars!??

Anyone who cycles regularly on British roads is likely to have heard the comment from car drivers that “roads are for cars!” This is often stated as fact, which poses the question why are roads for cars? Despite the currently prevalent believe among some motorists, roads weren’t actually invented for cars, as roads have been around for quite some time before the car was invented. The road was invented in Asia around 3500 BC (although the Chinese probably claim to have invented them earlier), and strangely enough Herodotus made no mention of Babylonians using their roads to drive around in cars.

Modern methods of road building where invented by John Loudon McAdam who died in 1836, thirty one years before Karl Benz invented the car. It was the invention of the pedal bicycle, by fellow Scot Kirkpatrick Macmillan, which became increasingly popular through the 19th century. This in turn led to a great public concern at the deplorable conditions of the nation’s roads. The roads thus improved, enabled Henry Hewetson to import from Germany the first motorcar to run on the “British Highway” in 1894. So, if it hadn’t been for the bicycling boom in the 1890’s leading to the construction of better roads, cars wouldn’t have become common in Britain. Interestingly the early cycle paths were constructed in towns in the middle of the street to help cyclists avoid the discomfort of cycling over a cobbled surface. No concession to cars there then.

Explain all of this to the average motorist, and they will tell you that they have more rights to the road because they pay tax. Before going further, it should be pointed out that, in Britain, the vast majority of adults pay tax (unless they are Russian billionaires, in which case they live London specifically because they don’t feel the need to pay tax), and that public roads in Britain are paid for out of general taxation. Therefore, all adults in Britain have a right to use the public roads, having paid for them through taxation. However, many motorists will then claim that they have a greater right to the road as they pay something called “road tax”, which oddly enough doesn’t exist. Most motorists will pay Vehicle Excise Duty. This is based on the level of CO2 emissions, it doesn’t have anything to do with paying for the roads. Besides which drivers of vehicles which produce emissions of 100 CO2 g/km and below are exempt from VED, and cyclists would fall into this category if tested (also the right to breath has yet to be taxed).

So where did this idea that motorists are somehow exclusively paying for the roads come from, when in reality we are all paying for the roads through taxation?

The earliest form of motoring tax was introduced under the Finance Act 1908, which levied a tax of 3d (£0.01) on a gallon of petrol from 1st April 1909. This was then followed by the Finance Act 1909-10, which introduced a tax based on the horsepower (hp) of the vehicle. It was stated at the time that revenue from this tax would be paid into a Road Fund, which was to be used for road improvements and this would pay up to half of the cost of some new roads. In 1910 Road Fund Licences introduced, which was charged at £2-10 for vehicles up to 6.5hp and £42 for 60hp. A Road Board was set up to administer the Road Fund and grants paid to local authorities for road improvements. In 1918 the Road Board was disbanded and its functions were taken over by the newly formed Ministry of Transport. The Finance Act 1921 replaced Road Fund Licences with Car Tax (Road Fund Licence) which was set at £1 per hp. The Road Fund continued until 1936, when Winston Churchill, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, abolished it (on the ground that it was give motorists a dangerously inflated sense of ownership of the public road) and so brought to an end to hypothecated road taxation in Britain. So the only drivers on British roads who can truly claim to have paid for the road through car tax are those who are over the age of 88!

QED: roads are not for cars, but are for people however they choose to travel. The act of driving a car confers on the driver no more right to the road than that of any other road user.

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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