BBC reporter reads out ‘road tax’ gibe after cyclist floored by car

When Paul Jones of Cambridge supplied helmetcam footage to BBC Look East of himself being hit from behind by a car, he probably thought this would educate viewers to the need to share the road properly. Instead, last night’s regional news programme for East Anglia broadcast a number of hate-filled rants from viewers.

Helmetcam evidence showed Jones knocked from his bike but the BBC news programme insensitively cut to comments from viewers wholly ignorant of how roads are funded. The BBC reporter said lots of comments had been received asking “Why don’t cyclists pay road tax?” The reporter did not point out such a tax does not exist.

Another viewer had complained “Why do cyclists have a given right to complain about cars? Cars that pay for facilities [cyclists] use?”

Remember, this is directly after footage showing the cyclist being smashed to the ground by an inattentive Merc driver.

Now, those who text, email and call in to regional TV news programmes are self-selected and in no way represent a genuine cross-section of society but if the BBC reporter and programme editors don’t seem to know that roads are paid for by all, not just motorists, exactly how widespread is this ignorance?

This is important. As cyclists, we have to ride close to motorists, many of whom believe they, alone, pay for roads. And, no doubt, with “ownership” comes rights. As cyclists don’t pay for roads (we do) we have less rights to be on those roads.

This BBC Look East segment is the clearest evidence yet that the belief in the existence of the mythical ‘road tax’ isn’t a minority opinion. The belief that cyclists “don’t pay for roads” is widely held.

And that’s frightening. I have written to BBC Look East expressing this fear, letter below.

Who Pays For Britain's Roads?

In last night’s segment about cyclists your reporter and editors allowed comments from viewers which were wrong, misleading and dangerous.

When viewers asked why cyclists don’t pay road tax, your reporter could have said because it doesn’t exist. The ‘road tax’ canard is used to hate on cyclists and it’s unacceptable that the BBC should air such views without adding the rejoinder that ‘road tax’ was abolished in 1937 and that roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not motorists.

The end of ‘road tax’ (1909-1937) was started by Winston Churchill in 1926. The oddly fascinating history of ‘road tax’ – and why it’s a loaded term – can be found here. ‘Road tax’ is, in fact, Vehicle Excise Duty (or ‘car tax’). Roads were not built for motorists, roads are not paid for by motorists and roads are not owned by motorists. All road users have to share what is a limited resource. Ignorance about how roads are funded leads to an awful lot of abuse of cyclists. The cyclist you included in the film was hit from behind in broad daylight. Was the motorist charged? Why didn’t the BBC explore this angle instead of airing ignorant comments from viewers who, if they are motorists, don’t seem to understand that roads are for everybody not just those with internal combustion engines.

I started iPayRoadTax.com to set the record straight on ‘road tax’. Viewers have every right to write in to complain about something they have viewed but when those views are factually incorrect the BBC ought to stress this otherwise the BBC seems to be endorsing those views.

Carlton Reid

Hat-tip to Cole Stone.

UPDATE:

BBC Look East was deluged with complaints about its ‘road tax’ error. On Monday 24th May it broadcast a more accurate follow-up:

  • http://www.ibikelondon.blogspot.com Mark

    This is the most shocking level of ignorance that I have seen for a very long time. I think it's every cyclist's duty to get the message out there about how roads are a public resource for the use of all and paid for by all and not just the sole domain of car drivers. I have no issues with car drivers, but I firmly believe that much anti-cycling sentiment stems from this notion that cyclists and pedestrians have no 'right to be on the road'. Thanks for sharing this insightful article and shame on the BBC for such lazy journalism.

  • Pedro Stephano

    what's even more frightening about this is that one legal road user got rear-ended by another road user – and the onus of blame placed by the news article was clearly placed in the hittee not the hitter. In law, if you drive into the back end of another road user, you are at fault for Not Driving With Due Care And Attention. Would this article have made as much news if the rider was actually a “non road tax paying” Prius? The BBC seriosuly needs to educate (and be educated) on this point!

  • Tim Lennon

    I think a proper complaint to the BBC board would be in order, no? I don't think you'd need help writing it, but would happily assist if required!

  • Pedro Stephano

    Letter to BBC East done. Posting today. Will CC this as an email too.
    In the segment aired 20th May 2010 about a cyclist from Cambridge who was involved in a collision, your reporter and editors allowed comments from viewers which were wrong, misleading and dangerous, and in my opinion the BBC has transmitted information which is likely to increase victimisation of the safe and legal use of the road system by cyclists.
    When viewers asked why cyclists don’t road tax, your reporter should have said because it doesn’t exist. The ‘road tax’ canard is used to hate cyclists and it’s unacceptable that the BBC should air such views without adding the rejoinder that ‘road tax’ was abolished in 1937 and that roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not motorists. A Toyota Prius is subject to zero Vehicle Excise Duty and as such, using the BBC’s flawed logic, is not entitled to use the road system.
    Why did the article not focus on the fact that a legal road user was rear-ended by an unthinking careless unobservant driver who should have been charged for Not Driving With Due Care And Attention? That would have changed the focus of the article to point the finger of blame firmly where it truly lies – with the driver who struck another (legal!) road user from behind in broad daylight.
    I have found the site iPayRoadTax.com to be a very useful resource that sets the record straight on ‘road tax’, which should nowadays be referred to as VED or vehicle Excise Duty. It disturbs me that the reporter and the editors chose to avoid correcting the information and hateful opinions expressed by the viewers, thus implicitly endorsing their views.
    At its best this is lazy journalism, promoting untrue information and non-fact-based opinions. At its worst, it promotes strongly negative emotions directed from one group of road users to another. We must all share the road. We all pay for it.
    Yours sincerely,
    Pedro Stephano (with thanks to ipayroadtax.com)

  • Tim Lennon

    Have also written, and will be chasing if I receive no reply:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I'm writing to complain about your feature on 20th May about the cyclist knocked from his bicycle. After showing the footage, your reporter moved straight to verbal diarrhoea from viewers, rather than any analysis or meaningful review of the video you showed. Perhaps your reporter thinks that someone being knocked from his bicycle by a careless driver doesn't merit any analysis?

    I have a number of questions and suggestions I'd like answering:

    1. When you report traffic incidents on the show, how often is this 'vox pop' format used?
    2. How often are traffic accidents reported on the show? How many of these involve cyclists?
    3. Is there any requirement on journalists to verify / counter statements used by viewers in the quotes read out? (For example, “cyclists don't pay road tax”, “cyclists being given rights to complain about cars”.)
    4. Do you think your journalists should undertake any factual research into the comments being read out? (Would you for example, read out or display a statement like “all the immigrants in our town are illegal, and avoiding taxes” or “white men are more intelligent than black men”?)
    5. Does the BBC have any requirement to fairly reflect different points of view when using this format? (Your journalist seems largely to have used quotes from people who either don't cycle, or have a very negative view of cycling.)

    And some suggestions:

    - Why not use the video to look at general road safety? Driving like that endangers pedestrians as well as cyclists.
    - Why not use it to look at the legal situation – should the police have been called? is what happened breaking the law?
    - You could look at how other countries / boroughs approach traffic safety.
    - You could ask why someone was parked straight across a cycle lane.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours,

    Tim Lennon.
    timlennon@mac.com

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Good one, Tim.

    I was thinking of something along the lines of:

    - Would you for example, read out or display a statement like “all the
    immigrants in our town are illegal, and avoiding taxes” or “white men
    are more intelligent than black men”?) -

    You've put it well and I'm glad that's been put to the BBC.

  • http://www.ibikelondon.blogspot.com Mark

    Here's the contact details for BBC Look East, if you want to get in touch:

    CONTACT US
    Telephone: 08457 630630
    E-mail: look.east@bbc.co.uk
    BBC Look East
    The Forum
    Millennium Plain
    Norwich
    NR2 1BH

  • http://www.ibikelondon.blogspot.com Mark

    I've sent an email to Look East, and would encourage other cyclists to do so. Until the general perception that we 'don't belong in the roads' is addressed head-on the lot of the UK's cyclists will not improve.

    Email:
    Dear Look East Production Team,

    I was shocked and saddened by your recent report on BBC Look East about the cyclist, Paul Jones, who was hit by a careless driver. I was saddened to hear that the cyclist had been hit, and shocked by your careless journalism and the un-checked comments you allowed to be broadcast from members of the public.

    Firstly, your report did little to highlight the law breaking shown in the footage of the accident: the cycle lane featured is clearly marked with a solid white line, meaning that it is is mandatory for motorists to keep out of it. The cyclist would not have had to pull into the road had another car not been parked in it. Secondly, the car which hit Mr Jones hit the cyclist from behind, an automatic offence in the UK. Furthermore the driver failed to observe the highway code which states clearly “Rule 163: Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” There was no reference in your report to these facts. Why is this?

    This is a clear-cut case of the car driver being in the wrong and the cyclist being the victim, and yet you then followed the footage of the accident with un-checked comments from members of the public which I believe could only serve to increase the perception that minority road users do not belong on the roads.

    I'd like to take issue with two particular comments which I find inflammatory and incite poor driving behaviour towards cyclists:

    “Why don't cyclists pay road tax?”
    There is, as I am sure all of your well-briefed and intelligent reporters know, no such thing as road tax. Car drivers pay duty on their fuel, and Vehicle Emissions Duty (VED) to obtain their 'tax discs'. There are a large number of vehicles with low emissions which are exempt from VED – does the BBC also think that these vehicles do not belong in the road?

    “Why do cyclists have a given right to complain about cars, cars which pay for the facilities that cyclists use?”
    Firstly I would remind you that the cyclist was the victim in this instance. If I was driving, or walking, or riding a bike I would feel more than entitled to complain if I was injured by the action of a careless road user. I believe the police and the rule of the law would back me up on this too. Does the BBC make a habit of blaming victims in their stories? If this story had been about a child crossing the road who was hit by a law-breaking motorist would your feature include comments such as 'pedestrains deserve to get killed on our roads because they don't belong there because we car drivers pay for it all'? I thought not…

    To address the viewer's point about how roads are paid for I would refer you to the excellent website http://www.ipayroadtax.com. Briefly put, our roads are paid for from non-hypothecated taxes (such as income and council tax) which EVERYONE pays (even cyclists!); our road network is therefore a public resource which everyone has recourse to and right to use; it is not the sole domain of the motorist. If you choose to drive a car you pay taxes on the right to operate the vehicle and the fuel you put in it, not to use the road which is open to all.

    Considering how severe this accident could well have been, and considering how very wrong the tone and factual information in your broadcast was, I look forward to a clear and stringent rectification being broadcast at your soonest opportunity. If I were a producer on BBC Look East, considering this is supposed to be the 'Year of Cycling' I would take the opportunity to remind my viewers that the law is very clear as to how people should drive on our roads and would refer my less-enlightened viewers to the Highway Code.

    Yours sincerely,

    Mark Ames

  • Tony Brett

    Us cyclists pay the same amount of vehicle tax as any other vehicle that produces less than 100g of CO2 per Kilometre…

  • Pedro Stephano

    An extra note to Mark's contact points – courtesy of SayNoTo0870.com,
    the “normal” phone number is 01603 619 331 (useful for mobiles and all-inclusive calling plans)
    Telephone: 08457 630630
    Other contacts as per Mark's post :-)

  • D Y

    A lot of people operate on the basis of assumption i.e. I have a car & I pay tax to use it on the road therefore I am paying for the roads.

    I'll quite happlily pay tax based on the current system of emmissions. So zero emmissions means zero tax.

    As for the journalism….well what can you say. Typical really. Designed to insight hatred as with a lot of things these days. Not even a balanced item & lost focus on the real story. Does this mean that car drivers can run unto the back of cyclists because people don't think that they are allowed? What happenned to the Law & even common sense & when did it turn into a popularity contest?

  • John

    Disgraceful reporting.

    As well as emailing Look East may I suggest as many as possible make a formal complaint via the BBC complaints procedure (http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/homepage/).

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=751 Kim

    This video is a clear example of why we need a law of Strict liability, all road user have responsibilities when using the roads and it is about time the BBC took this on-board. All to often the BBC seem to forget that they remit is to Inform, Educate and Entertain, and not to reiterate the ill informed prejudices of a minority of their views and listeners. By airing these views without challenge the BBC is enforcing and promoting these prejudices, in direct contradiction of their own mission statement (http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/purpose/). The production team for this program need to explain how they think that failing to challenge the view that only drivers of vehicle with high emissions have a fight to use the roads, fits with the BBC remit to sustain citizenship and civil society.

  • James Marshall

    I moved to London 13 years ago, an avid cyclist I have ridden in many cities around the world. After being hit three times in London I decided it just wasn't safe and no longer ride in the city. The reason I believe this to be the case is the general hatred of cyclists. This has also become a vicious circle, a growing minority of the cyclists who remain on the road are agressive due to an agressive nature being something that self-selects this proportion of riders due to the danger involved so one cyclist in fifty behaving badly is taken as proof that all are the same. I've basically given up, the comments I hear from many people echo the ignorant rubbish read out on the BBC report.
    In the city I come from it is legal to ride on the footbath. If a cyclist so much as frightens a pedstrian they will be ticketed and the system seems to work well. Drivers are agressive but they don't seem to pick on bikes as a rule, they just act agressively towards everyone. Police in London are very lax in general when it comes to anti-social behaviour by drivers and anything else that means paperwork and a low-grade collar. I imagine if they are forced to became stricter they would just end up booking cyclists who jump red lights. If this is done in a safe way there is no reason apart from jealousy to get all hot under the collar but this seems to be the main complaint I hear from idiots. It's a ridiculous situation. I don't understand why the English become imbecilles as soon as they get behind the wheel but it seems to be the case. I am completely exasperated with this situation and I think the comparison with racism is a good one.

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Which city do you hail from, James?

  • MickAllan

    Crack-on Carlton!

  • http://twitter.com/tedmagnuson Ted Magnuson

    What's with the driver? Impaired with a cell phone, intoxication, attitude or all three? Did he stop to offfer aid? It's a sad day for all travellers when outmanevering their fellow trumps getting from point 'A' to point 'B.'

  • Downfader

    Well I was angry enough at the lack of proper journalism from what is really a public body that I sent my email in after much googling and searching of the BBC online network.

    If you watch the full report on the BBC website he makes some stupid statement about helmets and the two “pro” cycling comments were pretty inert against the sheer anger and vitriol of the motorist comments (with those forgeting that most cyclists drive)

    I know myself and others have emailed people like This Morning and The One Show to try and get them to do a peice of cycling rights, taxes and laws. We need a broad audience to see these things for what they actually are, and until they do we will continue to get the moronic comments aired on places like the BBC.

  • Phil

    Look East is my local news programme and I normally trust BBC (news 24) news, not wholeheartedly but more than commercial news. I am pretty shocked at how biased this piece was or at least unchecked for balance.

    Maybe the better option is to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Commission (Ofcom) like people did for the Brand-Ross phone message incident. The best outcome would be if Look East would have to publish an apology at the end of the programme.

    If anyone cares to draft a letter (I'm no good myself) I would send it in.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/ Phil

    Ofcom won't deal with complaints about bias or impartiality. Instead complain to the BBC Trust.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/

  • http://www.fightbaddriving.co.uk JobySp

    I was interviewed by a BBC Radio show a short while ago when I set up my site, and the host of the show was adamant that cyclists where at fault!

    Its just the BBC in general – Freewheeler from Crap Cycling And Walking in Waltham Forest goes on about the anti cyclist / pro motor BBC all the time. – and he has a point.

    Its a shame its taken Carlton and his road tax push to make more people realise that its true!

    Keep it up Carlton.

  • John

    I have a large car, I pay all the relevant taxes. I don't use it much, so I pay more tax per mile than most motorists. Why don't I use it much? Because I choose to cycle whenever I can, for all the usual reasons, including the health benefits (less cost to the NHS, etc.) Whilst we're at it, I also have third party insurance for cycling, cycle-commute across London and have only ever had the occasional scrape in 30 years of daily cycling and I don't believe this is all down to luck. I often wonder whether all those motorists who complain about cyclists would be happier if all cyclists drove cars instead, or whether they'd simply moan about 'other motorists', congestion, the deteriorating road surfaces, yawn, yawn, yawn…

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Phil

    There's a couple of ready drafted letters here: http://www.bikeradar.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t

    However, IMHO, a letter in your own words would tend to do better because rote letter writing campaigns are seen as suspect by the recipients.

  • Tim Lennon

    I've called the newsroom (3 days after my initial email). They found my email (and have sent an automatic response anyway). Apparently Jackie Meadows deals with emails, etc.,, and is in progress with them. The lady I spoke to wasn't able to confirm when I'd get a response, but it sounds like they're dealilng with it. If they can't answer the questions specifically, I might try a Freedom of Information Act request …

  • Tim Lennon

    By the way, it turns out that you need to indicate that you want a reply …

  • Tim Lennon

    Didn't manage to catch it, not living in the area, but got this email today:
    Dear Mr Lennon,

    Thank you for email.

    We are revisiting the story on Look East tonight and addressing concerns
    raised by our viewers. I hope it goes some way to allaying your
    questions and suggestions.

  • steve

    why do so many assume that cyclist dont pay road tax? i am a cyclist and i own a car so do pay road tax! but if we are going down the foolish u dont pay road, what about those pedestrians crossing out roads? hold ing us up use crossings paid for out of our tax?

  • Tim Lennon

    You can watch the programme here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mj5w

    The response is at about 16 minutes in, and isn't a bad effort.

  • Mal Pool

    Lots of motorist seem to think cyclists can avoid them easier because there on a cycle I'm for ever getting cut up by motorists.

  • Richard

    There is no 'road tax'. There is vehicle excise duty. A duty levied on motorised vehicles for a number for reasons. One being the amount of damage they cause to the roads.

    Bicycles do not wear trenches into the A roads.

    Bicycles do not tear up the roads at junctions like the chavs in their fart mobile cars who wheel-spin away at the lights and rip up freshly laid roads at the expense of _every_ tax payer.

    Bicycles do not require schemes to widen roads that were never made for use by motorised vehicles.

    Bicycles do require or use motorways that cost £30 million per mile to build.

    Bicycles could ride up and down the roads for a hundred years with no significant damage.

    If more people cycled your tax burden would come down!!!

  • Mal Pool

    Lots of motorist seem to think cyclists can avoid them easier because there on a cycle I’m for ever getting cut up by motorists.

  • Richard

    There is no ‘road tax’. There is vehicle excise duty. A duty levied on motorised vehicles for a number for reasons. One being the amount of damage they cause to the roads.nnBicycles do not wear trenches into the A roads.nnBicycles do not tear up the roads at junctions like the chavs in their fart mobile cars who wheel-spin away at the lights and rip up freshly laid roads at the expense of _every_ tax payer. nnBicycles do not require schemes to widen roads that were never made for use by motorised vehicles.nnBicycles do require or use motorways that cost u00a330 million per mile to build.nnBicycles could ride up and down the roads for a hundred years with no significant damage.nnIf more people cycled your tax burden would come down!!!nn

  • Steve

    The BBC's backtracking was done in such a totally patronising way, all giggles and snorts. I have had the ire of Driving Instructors and many other motorists yelling at me when I'm cycling. They don't yell at me on my motorbikes or if I'm in my car!

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Agreed. It was whimsical, for sure. Not ideal, but this is all a work
    in progress. Baby steps; small victories etc.

  • Steve

    The BBC’s backtracking was done in such a totally patronising way, all giggles and snorts. I have had the ire of Driving Instructors and many other motorists yelling at me when I’m cycling. They don’t yell at me on my motorbikes or if I’m in my car!

  • http://www.quickrelease.tv carltonreid

    Agreed. It was whimsical, for sure. Not ideal, but this is all a work rnin progress. Baby steps; small victories etc.

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