Sunday Times columnist calls for booze taxation to be spent on bigger pubs

Mike Rutherford in the Sunday Times writes that motoring taxation pays for roads

How can a motoring journalist get this far into a career without knowing how roads are paid for? Why does the Sunday Times give him money for writing articles with such factually incorrect information? At least Clarkson is a parody and often quite funny (Rutherford’s Swampy ‘joke’ is too weak for even the cheapest Christmas cracker). Or does Rutherford genuinely believe that motoring taxation should be spent only on roads? If he does, does he also advocate for other taxation ring-fencing: should the billions raised from sales of booze and fags be spent on bigger and better pubs, and swankier tobacco emporiums?

The tax on fags and alcohol goes into the national coffers, just as the taxation raised from motoring – or from incomes – also goes into the ‘consolidate fund’ i.e. direct to the Treasury. Taxation ring-fencing is heretical. The dedication of the revenue of a specific tax for a specific expenditure purpose is rare. The main UK example is the TV licence fee, a ring-fencing of funds for the BBC.

While it’s patently daft to argue that booze and fag taxes should be spent on improving pubs and building bigger tobacco shops, the exact same argument is wheeled out by some motoring organisations and by motoring journalists, all of whom ought to know better. Their argument that the taxes levied on motorists should be spent only on…motorists, is just as daft as requesting bigger pubs for drinkers.

Motoring orgs often wheel out the rogue stat that £47bn is raised in motoring taxes but only a fraction of this is “spent on roads”. It’s a favourite stat of the Road Users’ Alliance. The RUA has been using the same basic ‘only a fraction spent on roads’ stat since the alliance was founded in 2002.

“The Government raises almost £50 billion from motorists, and returns less than one fifth of this in spending which directly benefits the road user,” is the standard ring-fencing refrain from the RUA.

What the RUA fails to stress – an error repeated by motoring journalists on a frequent basis – is that the money generated by motorists is NOT a fund to repair roads and build new ones; it’s money that goes straight into the national pot, the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund, the public purse.

Airline passengers pay taxes when they fly from British airports but nobody suggests all this money should go to building more runways. Ditto for pubs and tobacconists. The pub analogy used above isn’t new. Winston Churchill railed against ‘Road Fund’ ring-fencing in much the same way. In 1925, when Chancellor, Churchill said:

“Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed; racehorses may be taxed…and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the whole yield of the tax on motors devoted to roads. Obviously this is all nonsense…Such contentions are absurd, and constitute…an outrage upon the sovereignty of Parliament and upon common sense.”

The ring-fencing had been started by Lloyd George in 1909, with ‘road tax’ and fuel duties pumped into a hypothecated Road Fund. For 17 or so years, motorists paid into a protected fund which helped pay for some road crust improvements and a handful of road realignments.

Winston-Churchill-grunge2018

But such ring-fencing was always controversial; to the Treasury anathama. Churchill wanted to quash the Road Fund. He – and the Treasury – plotted against it. Churchill famously made ‘raids on the Road Fund’ in the mid-1920s, all but killing it off. By 1937, the Road Fund – which had been fatally wounded ten years previously – was finally abolished. Amazingly, the concept of a Road Fund, paid for by ‘road tax’ (still, wrongly, believed to be a payment for the upkeep of roads) has lingered on in the folk memory of motorists.

Many motorists – perhaps even the majority? – still believe that ‘road tax’ exists, and demand that the duties paid by motorists should be ploughed into fixing potholes, widening dual carriageways and adding to the UK’s motorway network. In reality, everybody pays for Britain’s roads via general taxation.

Motorists do not pay for use of the roads, motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. Vehicle Excise Duty is not a a fee to use roads, it’s a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most ‘car tax’. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less car tax. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty.

Motorists are not the only users of public roads. Pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders also use public roads. So do farm tractors but, even though they’re heavy and so damage roads, they do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty. They have to display tax discs, but these are issued free of charge. Motorists have been filmed attacking cyclists for “not paying road tax” yet there are no known cases of motorists attacking farmers for the same perceived ‘crime’. And nor do motorists attack band A cars, disabled drivers, the Royal family, or other “road tax dodgers” out there, of which there are millions.

UK motorways and trunk roads are paid for with cash supplied by the Highways Agency via the Department of Transport via the public purse via all UK tax payers; all other roads – that is, 87 percent of all the roads in the UK – are paid for by local authorities. Local authorities get some grant aid from national Government, but most of the cash for local roads is raised locally, via council tax. Non-motorists pay the same for roads as motorists.

[Come to think of it, those who pay the most council tax really ought to have more rights on roads than those in cheaper council tax bands. So, Merc drivers who live in big posh houses ought to have priority lanes on local roads and those motorists who drive cheaper cars from cheaper houses should be corralled in slow lanes.

And, of course, bankers and others on Britain’s rich list pay more tax than mere mortals so should get preferential treatment in NHS hospitals. Rich people involved in road smashes, and who need emergency care, by rights, should get that care long before poor people. But why stop there? Means-testing could be expanded to expensive drugs, too. Bankers should get life-saving cancer medicine when they need it because they pay more in annual taxation. Tis only fair. ]

Externalities
Rutherford wrote that railways are subsidised but that roads aren’t. This is not so. There are many external costs of motoring. In effect, Britain’s motorists are subsidised to drive.

The 2009 Transport Select Committee report, Taxes and Charges on Road Users, calculated the total taxes and charges on UK road users as £48 billion per annum. The report quoted the typical annual expenditure on roads as about £8-9 billion.

In the same report, the Department for Transport estimated that the average marginal external cost of driving a car an additional kilometre is 15.5 pence allowing for the congestion (estimated at 13.1 pence per kilometre), infrastructure, accidents, local air quality, noise and greenhouse gases. This compares to 3.6 pence per kilometre paid in fuel duty and VAT.

However there are other costs to society as a result of our existing car-dependent transport patterns. In 2009 a Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report on urban transport attempted to quantify the costs of our existing urban transport patterns. Working with the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), they arrived at the costs shown here:

Costs of driving

The figures are based on the best available evidence sources, adjusted to 2009 prices. Where there is uncertainty or disagreement, they have stated the likely range as shown in lighter shading in the bars. The conclusions changed policy makers’ understanding of the situation. Previously, congestion had been thought to represent the majority of transport’s external costs to society. Now the combined costs of accidents crashes, air quality, physical inactivity, greenhouse gas emissions and noise at £27-38 billion per annum represent 71-78 per cent of the total.

The total cost for the English urban areas is estimated at £38-49 billion. Given that the Cabinet Office’s report states that this covers 81 per cent of the population, scaling up the appropriate impacts gives an estimate of £43-£56 billion for the whole of the UK.

It is important to note that the report makes no attempt to quantify the external costs of negative social impacts, despite referring to reduced social cohesion and interaction as a result of traffic. Yet research in Norway estimated that the cost of community severance (the ‘barrier effect’ due to transport infrastructure such as busy roads) is greater than the estimated cost of noise and almost equal to the cost of air pollution.

The Cabinet Office report also excludes the impacts of noise pollution on health, productivity and the ecosystem and does not attempt to quantify ‘quality of life’ impacts of the built environment. However it acknowledges that all these areas could represent significant additional costs, mentioning for instance an additional £4-5 billion for noise impacts on health and productivity alone.

Alternatively, estimates of the marginal costs of road transport provided in a report commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions result in a higher total cost figure of £71-95 billion (in 2006 prices). This excludes the costs of physical inactivity and other as yet un-monetised costs such as severance effects and loss of tranquillity. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Natural England, the monetary values for landscape and loss of countryside have not been calculated.

The Campaign for Better Transport extrapolates from the Government research on marginal external costs to reach a total cost of externalities of £70 billion–£95 billion per annum at prices for 2006.

The Sustainable Development Commission, a non-departmental public body (2000-2011) responsible for advising the UK Governments, concluded:

“So it would appear that the overall costs imposed on society by motoring outweigh the revenues obtained from motorists, probably very substantially.”

And the externalities of driving costs don’t include noise pollution (£3.1bn); air pollution (£19.7bn – not including CO2); water pollution (between £1bn and £16bn); or obesity (£2bn).

Subsidy for driving

But there are other, hidden subsidies, too. Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA in the US, estimates that providing free off-street car parking in the US cost a whopping $386bn in 2002 (in the same year, the US government spent $349bn on defence). As UK town planners operate to similar rules to their US counterparts – in that any major development has to have a set number of parking places, most of them unfilled but there ‘just in case’ – UK drivers get similar parking subsidies. No doubt it’s in the magnitude of many billions of pounds.

HYPOTHECATION & WHY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A TAXATION OPT-OUT
Taxes and Charges on Road Users of 2009 said hypothecation is “the establishment of a direct link between specific taxes or charges and specific expenditure. For example, taxes levied on alcohol might be earmarked for spending on hospitals. In the UK there is no such link for taxes.”

The report said:

“the Government opposes the idea of hypothecation of tax revenues. It argues that decisions about revenue raising and spending should be kept separate for two main reasons:

• if all income were to be hypothecated, it would create severe difficulties for those services that could not readily raise revenues, such as schools, hospitals, police and defence; and
• inefficiencies would result. For example, if a large sum was raised from road users, hypothecation would dictate that it was all spent on roads (or possibly other transport modes, such as buses), even if the public priority was for more investment in, say, education.”

There are no tax opt-outs
The argument about the Government raising £47 billion but returning “less than one fifth of this in spending which directly benefits the road user” is a weak one and motoring organisations – and journalists for respected national newspapers – do themselves no favours by wheeling out such an argument. Revenue ring-fencing is something vehemently opposed by Governments down the ages, and for very good reasons.

Motoring organisations and motoring journalists would be better off arguing about the many benefits of mass car ownership; the ‘we pay squillions, so ought to get squillions back’ case is easily swatted away, behind the scenes, by Treasury mandarins.

The money paid by motorists does not have to go back to motorists. If it did, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; cannot work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads.

Smoother, less congested roads would be wonderful for all road users, not just motorists, and such infrastructure – a shared national resource – is paid for by all taxpayers, not just motorists. The public highway is, by definition, for the benefit of the public, not a sub-set of the public.

THE OLD CHESTNUT: ‘ROAD TAX’ IS A FEE TO USE THE ROAD
Those who believe VED is fee to use roads sometimes use the seemingly-convincing ‘off-road’ argument:

“Doesn’t matter what you call it, VED/car tax/’road tax’, it’s a fee to use the public road because if you don’t pay it, you can’t drive on the public road. For instance, if I elect to use a vehicle off-road, I don’t need to pay VED. If I then choose to use the vehicle on a road, I would have to pay VED. If the vehicle emitted a certain amount of CO2, then yes that VED is currently free, but I would still have to get and display a tax disc in order to use the car on the road.”

But car tax isn’t a fee to use the road, it’s very much a tax on car emissions. Many cars, which use the public road, do not pay any ‘car tax’ because they emit less than 100gms of CO2. If car tax was a fee to use roads, electric cars and low-emissions cars wouldn’t be able to drive on UK roads.

Nor is it true that vehicles that will be driven off-the-public-highway – on private roads – don’t have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

VED is charged under section 1 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended, “in respect of every mechanically propelled vehicle that … is used, or kept, on any public road in the United Kingdom”. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland ‘public road’ is defined in section 62(1) of the 1994 Act as “a road which is repairable at the public expense”; for Scotland a public road is defined in section 151 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, as amended, as “a road which a roads authority have a duty to maintain”. However, the DVLA has powers to clamp vehicles that are not on the public road if they are in breach of the VED continuous registration requirements. The explanatory notes to the Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2266) state:

The policy intention is to prevent evaders of vehicle excise duty from using off-road areas such as unadopted roads, commons, public car parks or roads maintained by Housing Associations to place themselves beyond the reach of the enforcement authorities.

Farmers can get ‘agricultural use’ exemptions from VED for their Land Rovers, so long as they only travel a mile or so on public highways. And in one special circumstance, cars which emit loads of CO2 can still drive on UK public roads without paying car tax. But only for a short distance. When a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) vehicle is going to a pre-arranged MOT test, and the vehicle has valid insurance for the journey, it can be driven on public roads without paying a penny for use of those roads.

Furthermore, if a car is registered in the UK but is never driven in the UK it still has to pay the UK’s Vehicle Excise Duty. So, a UK-bought car driven in France by a UK-born person who’s moved to France permanently, may never drive on UK roads but the car still has to pay VED. This is because it’s a tax on the car, not a fee to use the roads.

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ipayroadtax toastie jersey

Road tax doesn’t exist. The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys.

[UPDATE] Speeding killer driver given lenient sentence; BBC reporter belittles death of the cyclist, says “[cyclists] don’t pay road tax”

Kevin Hill, Assistant Editor of BBC East Midlands Today, has sent out a boilerplate answer to all those who complained about a road death story broadcast in mid-April. He admits that the presenter at fault could have asked the “road tax” question “more carefully” and then gives what he believes to be the more carefully constructed question. This second question is also factually incorrect.

Thank you for contacting us about our story involving Karl Austin who was killed while taking part in a time trial on the A50 in Derbyshire. I was producing East Midlands Today on that day and I’d like to offer some background information which should give you a fuller picture of our decisions.

In the light of recent deaths, the sole purpose of the interview was to discuss the use of busy main roads for cycling time-trials and every question was asked in that context. Many people have judged the entire interview on one selective clip posted on several internet sites including YouTube.

In that clip our presenter puts forward a common criticism many motorists have of cyclists that since they don’t pay “Road Tax” how do they justify using the highway? “Road Tax” was a colloquial reference to Vehicle Excise Duty. With hindsight we accept the question should have been phrased more carefully. It would have been better to ask: “Many motorists will say they’re taxed to drive their car and they’re not allowed to race on the roads – why should cyclists?” [my emphasis]

The interviewee – John Stewart – was given the time to correct the misconceptions about “Road Tax”, pointing out that the tax no longer exists, that VED doesn’t pay for road maintenance and that cyclists pay all sorts of other taxes.

You may not be aware that this was the second time we’d reported on Karl’s death. On March 6, the lorry driver accused of careless driving appeared pleaded guilty when he appeared before Derby Magistrates. In that night’s programme we carried a report on the case, then followed it with a studio interview about the growing demands for greater safety measures to protect cyclists. I believe this sequence put the issue of cycling safety into context for our viewers. It also painted a picture of Karl as a talented, experienced cyclist who would be deeply missed by his family and friends.

On April 12, we featured a report about the sentence given to the lorry driver who caused Karl’s death. This was followed by an interview with Mr Stewart, who organised and took part in the time trial in which Karl was killed. The reason for looking at this subject was simple: many people are just unaware that time trials can be held on almost any public road. At a time when there are high-profile calls for greater safety for cyclists – as discussed at length in our March 6th programme – the idea of using a dual carriageway for a timed race appears to be contradictory.

I have re-examined all our coverage of this story including the interview with Mr Stewart and I don’t believe it was an aggressive line of questioning. It was certainly challenging but Mr Stewart responded calmly and robustly. I do not agree with those people who have accused us of insulting Karl’s memory. On two separate occasions, our court reporters have carefully explained that Mr Austin loved his sport, was highly-regarded as a competitor and would be missed by his family. We have remained in contact with Mr Austin’s widow and father and I will be talking to them again over the next few days to discuss any concerns they may have had over our latest coverage.

Thank you for contacting us,

Regards,

Kevin Hill
Assistant Editor

I replied.

Hi Kevin

Thanks for the reply.

Your second attempt at the question would also be wrong.

A. Motorists are taxed on the emission levels their cars emit. A car can be stood still all year round but the VED would be the same. The common mistake people make is to think that VED is some sort of fee to use roads, when it’s nothing of the kind.

B. Technically, motorists *can* race on the public highway, under certain conditions, see ‘road rally’.

Your presenter voiced a common criticism that’s factually incorrect and he didn’t state it was factually incorrect.

Yes, the guest was then able to correct the presenter but the way the question was phrased showed a lack of understanding of the basic issues of what can and cannot be legally done on roads. The question was also crass and, in the context of a road death, was unsympathetic. More research should have been carried out by the presenter beforehand.

Was the question formulated and agreed in advance or was it asked ‘on the fly’?

Here’s the beef: if this had been a news story about a person being killed when crossing the road while taking part in, say, a sponsored walk, a BBC reporter would not question whether that person had paid to use that road and as pedestrians don’t pay “road tax” they shouldn’t be on roads. The full background to this story is carried below.

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Put a lit rag on a furniture shop sofa: 11 years in jail. Change your Facebook status to “let’s start a riot”: four months in jail. Kill a cyclist with a truck, admit to speeding and dangerous driving: suspended sentence and a two year driving ban. It’s against this background that we should view last night’s ignorant and insensitive question by a BBC reporter, interviewing the organiser of the time trial event at which 47-year old Karl Austin lost his life. More on this below.

The sentence handed down to the 62-year old HGV driver was, in fact, severe compared to similar SMIDSY cases. Many drivers who kill dispute they were driving dangerously (even if they are caught speeding or texting at the wheel) and are often charged with the lesser offence of careless driving, with slap-in-the-wrist sentencing that makes a mockery of the justice system.

Karl Austin was killed in broad daylight, on a long, flat stretch of road with good visibility at the time. His death occurred on the A50 dual carriageway in June 2011. Yesterday the speeding HGV driver who killed him was sentenced at Derby Crown Court. The judge told the driver he had been guilty of “an appalling loss of concentration” but did not hand down a sentence that might send out a message to other drivers, a message that motoring requires 100 percent concentration and that if you kill a fellow human because of inattention you ought to be automatically charged with, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter.

Motor vehicles are heavy, fast and, in far too many cases, deadly. Inattention while operating a piece of machinery that can kill should carry a stiff penalty.

Yet Judge Michael Fowler told the driver:

“Passing a draconian sentence on you doesn’t in any way honour the death of Karl Austin.”

Huh? Sentences are not there to honour the dead, they are there to punish wrong doing and deter others from committing similar crimes.

According to @kayaburgess of The Times, Austin’s father Keith said: “Our hope that a stiff sentence would send out a signal…that more care was needed where cyclists are concerned has been dashed.”

Keith Austin was “quite appalled” at the sentence but had been prepared for such a “lenient” decision.

Lawyer Martin Porter, ‘The Cycling Silk’, has a thoughtful and considered article on sentencing for SMIDSY motorists on his blog.

He writes:

“Motorists must have brought home to them that the consequences of failing to drive carefully around a vulnerable road user could be very severe for them, as well as to the person they endanger.”

It’s not just cyclists who suffer from the consequences of “inattention”, it’s pedestrians and, of course, other motorists, too.

A news report on BBC East Midlands Today [BBC iPlayer link] allowed Austin’s family to make many of these points, and the outside broadcast reporter filed a relatively balanced piece. However, back in the studio, the programme’s co-host asked a guest an incredibly insensitive and ignorant question about the rights of cyclists to ride on roads.

BBC East Midlands Today’s chief reporter Quentin Rayner told John Stewart, a cycling club official: “[cyclists] don’t pay any road tax, how do you justify using the highway?”

Stewart calmly countered with facts, but why did Rayner – he’s no Paxman – ask such a question? Does Rayner genuinely believe roads are paid for by a tax abolished in 1937? And, further, does he really believe cyclists shouldn’t ride on highways if they haven’t paid this non-existent tax?

The use of the phrase “road tax” is no big deal, it’s a term in common use. The Post Office and the AA and other organisations now use the more accurate term ‘car tax’ but, still, it would be mere semantics to criticise somebody for using a colloquial term. However, it’s not semantics when the person or organisation using the term for a tax that was abolished in 1937 believes that payment of this “road tax” pays for roads and gives those who they believe pay this tax more right to be on the road than cyclists, who, it’s assumed, don’t pay this tax.

Car tax, or vehicle excise duty, is a tax on tail-pipe emissions, it’s not a fee to use the road. Many small cars emit low amounts of CO2 so don’t pay vehicle excise duty. Roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not VED. Millions of drivers don’t pay VED. Accusing cyclists of not paying “road tax” is an attempt to assert that cyclists have lesser rights to be on roads, or no rights at all. This is a point of view that endangers cyclists who are often verbally and physically abused by motorists for “not paying road tax.”

Quentin Rayner should apologise to the family of Karl Austin for asking his ignorant and insensitive question. He should also apologise for not questioning why killer drivers seem to get pitifully low sentences.

Projection bias, highway hegemony, and why cyclists rent the road, they don’t own it

Bloody cyclists. Don't pay road tax blah de blah

“They think they own the road”: This is a common criticism of cyclists from a large minority of motorists, a gripe seen on forum postings and letters to newspapers the world over.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t meant so seriously. Do you really think you, a cyclist, own the road? A highway, let’s face it, dominated by speeding hulks of steel, glass and angst?

What the kvetchers mean is this: cyclists get in the way of the real owners of the road, motorists.

Cyclists do get in the way at times, and usually for good reason. Sometimes we have to assert our (equal) right to be on the road, a road knowingly shared with motorised vehicles. This assertion normally takes the form of ‘taking the lane’, such as claiming a bit more roadspace when coming towards a pinch-point like one of those small islands with a couple of bollards on. You know, the sort of road furniture that was installed to slow down drivers but which is often seen as a finishing line, to be reached before the soft, squishy cyclist up ahead.

When we dare to grab, for a few seconds, a little bit of real estate for protection, some motorists view that as an act of implied ownership.

How dare we delay them for two seconds? Their time is worth more than our breath.

Grabbing that real estate isn’t a cyclist demonstrating ownership of the road, it’s more like a fleeting rental. As soon as we’re past the pinch-point, back to near the gutter we go, letting the car speed past (until we catch up with them at the next traffic lights).

We have no exoskeletons, we know our place. Why? Because cars and trucks are bigger than us, we’re really in no position to pick fights with vehicles many times our mass and many times faster than us (in the sales brochures, if not always in urban reality) and many times more bruising and crushing than us. A car roof may get the odd slap now and again, from cyclists who may have just had their life threatened, but, in the grand scheme of things, puny flesh and blood can do little against armoured speed.

Of course, we’re fleet of foot and can jiggle through gaps cars can’t, so is this why it’s said we own the roads, because we can percolate? Probably not. That’s just an irritation for the driver who has been sold a dream of ‘the freedom of the road’ but never gets it because there are too many other road-dreamers out there too, the tragedy of the commons.

Some motorists suffer from entitlement issues and project those feelings on to others, including cyclists. According to psychologists, projection bias is a defence mechanism whereby one ‘projects’ one’s own thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. And it’s not just cyclists who get tarred with this Freudian brush, anybody not the motorist risks being an offender.

A motorist will often say they are stuck in traffic, no inkling that they’re an intrinsic part of the blockage. Motorists in front of them are “road hogs”. Motorists going faster than them are “speed-demons” and hence dangerous. Motorists going slower than them are “slow-coaches” and hence dangerous.

Now, not all motorists are this neurotic, this confused. There are some angelic drivers out there, always ceding the right of way, bending to the weak, happy to go slow near schools, never flooring it at the first opportunity, never to be seen with a phone clamped to their collective ear. It’s the minority of bad drivers who have the chip on the shoulder, the need to project the they think they own the road thing on to cyclists.

Scofflaw Driver License Plate USA

Talking about bad drivers, it’s been a while since Nigel Havers has been featured on a cycling blog. As he thinks all of us – all of us, mind – are “bastards”, it’s always good to wheel him out as a bogeyman now and again.

Naturally, he’s said the projection phrase, and on a number of occasions and in a number of places. Hand in hand with the they think they own the roads schtick, is the they don’t pay road tax gibe.

“Why is it that cyclists think the long and winding road was built specifically and only for them? What gives cyclists the right to flout the rules of the road (which, incidentally, I pay for)?”
Sunday Times, 2007

“They think they are all green and motorists are all ungreen. It’s that holier than thou attitude I hate…I was asked what annoys me most. I said cyclists, because they are all bastards…”
The Sunday Times, June 2006

“Unlike motorists, who individually pay hundreds, even thousands, of pounds a year in road tax and petrol duty, sustaining the upkeep of the network, cyclists get free use of our streets. Just as they pay no tax but use the roads freely, so cyclists are subject to absolutely no parking restrictions. Cyclists have certainly changed in recent years. They think the rest of us are idiots and that they are the gods of the road.”

But here’s the kicker:

“Moral superiority does not lie in boasting of green awareness while marauding around the streets. It really belongs to those who are aware of the needs of others and of wider society, even if they are seated behind the wheel of a car.”
Daily Mail, June 2006

So, there you have it. Motorists are morally superior and are aware of the needs of others.

What colour is the sky in Nigel Havers’ world?

He suffers from motormyopia, a blindness fused with a touch of me-myself-I bigotry.

And because motormyopians believe they’ve paid for the road, anybody who they perceive to be freeloaders on “their” roads must be accused of the very trait being complained about.

And Nigel Havers isn’t alone. Far from it. There’s a Facebook group called i hate cyclists who think they own the road (2289 people have liked it) and a poster to the Digtalspy.co.uk forum said:

“Every cyclist that I see thinks they own the road and can do what they like to hold up motorists even though they don’t pay road tax, if a car is paying road tax to use the roads surely cyclists should pay road tax too given the amount of nuisance they cause.

“Cyclists, horses etc have a legal right to the roads but they should not inconvenience cars, car drivers paying tax get priority on the road IMHO.”

iPayRoadTax.com is a site is all about how motorists do not directly pay for roads.

A motorist has equal rights on the road, not superior rights.

But, for some thinkers, this right to equal space is not carried through to its logical conclusion. Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogata, and creator of that city’s bike path network, recently said:

“If all citizens are equal before the law, a bus with a hundred passengers has a right to a hundred times more road space than a car with one person. This is not communism, this is basic democracy. A child with a tricycle has the same right to road space as a car driver. Equality!”

The ‘they think they own the roads’ projection bias isn’t just a psychological funny, it can have real world consequences. Drivers have been known to target cyclists, aiming their cars at bones that break.

University of Alberta associate professor of Public Health J. Peter Rothe researched projection bias and the tragedy of the commons for his book Driven to Kill: Vehicles As Weapons.

He wrote:

“Self-interest in traffic, from a psychoanalyst’s view, stems from the fact that people are the centre of their own worlds, seeking what they believe is in their best interest and avoiding that which is not in their interest. The search for personal best interest beyond all other goals leads us into competitive situations with others who also seek what is best for them. This is nowhere more evident than on public roadways.”

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The increase in hate comments against cyclists – facilitated and fuelled by the internet – perhaps indicates we’re being noticed. To some motorists we’re still an out-group, but a growing one. This threatens their hegemony of the highways. Expect much more projection bias down the road.

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

Roadies should be stay-at-homeies, says doc

Some drivers think cyclists should not be allowed on roads, roads which they mistakenly believe were designed and built for cars. Some drivers have a ‘Get orff moy laaaaand’ mentality because they feel they’ve paid for use of the roads through ‘road tax’ (they should apply for a rebate, backdated to 1937).

This feeling of ‘ownership’ is a global phenomenon. Many motorists believe only motorised vehicles should be on roads. In the US recently, this woman driving her kids to school ran over four school-children because they were walking on the street (a street with no sidewalks) and wouldn’t get out of her way. Infamously, Ricardo Neis, the 47 year-old driver of VW Golf that drove through a group of cyclists on a Critical Mass ride in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre last week, clearly felt his rights as a motorist trumped the rights of cyclists when on public roads.

In Singapore, where driving is massively expensive and hence the feeling of ‘road ownership’ is also sky-high, a doctor has caused a huge fuss by demanding, in a letter to the Straits Times, that cyclists should be shunted off public roads. Dr Terence Teoh doesn’t mind the odd “poor blue-collar worker cycling to work” but objects to “well-educated recreational cyclists.”

Lycra-clad cyclists should stay clear of public roads: “To those who still insist on cycling, kindly use your stationary bike in your home or gym.”

Dr Teoh’s ire seems to be aimed at packs of roadies who take to the streets in the early mornings to escape heat and humidity, and unfriendly motorists. Organised chain-gangs – such as the ‘JoyRiders’ – go out at 6.40am and, in Dr Teoh’s words “occupy a full lane along Upper Thomson Road and other roads.”

This is a multi-lane highway. According to Singapore highway law (the pic above was taken from a Singapore Land Authority poster), cyclists shouldn’t ride more than two abreast, but they clearly do so when riding in the road gangs, partly as a safety measure.

Dr Teoh said: “It takes only a single cyclist with his ‘reasonable’ appeal for a 1.5m safe distance from a motorist to disrupt optimum usage of a public stretch for other users.”

For other users read cars.

“It does not make sense to encourage recreational cycling on public roads,” said Dr Teoh. “It is safer and in the best interest of the public.”

In a follow up article, the Straits Times had a poll based on suggestions left by readers. Cyclists banded together to vote for the most cycle-friendly suggestion but the other ideas are chilling and also received lots of votes.

The ideas included:

“Cyclists should be allowed on the road at stipulated times – from 1.30pm to 3pm and from 9pm to 5am.”

“Ban cycling in large groups of more than 3 cyclists as such groups hog road lanes and make it difficult for other road users. Permits should be made mandatory for group cycling.”

“A direct ban of bicycles on roads meant for motorised vehicles will solve all problems and safety issues.”

“Have a system of signal lights to tell all road users when cycling is not allowed, eg. during restricted hours, heavy congestion, etc.”

Receiving most votes – phew! – was this one:

“Promote bike commuting. It is green, reduces car population and usually involves lone cyclists travelling at a slow safe speed.”

On a Singapore-based Yahoo forum, ‘MLNW Murli’ said: “The bicycle was invented before the motorcar and cyclists were on the roads before drivers…[but] the roads are public property and no one person has any larger claim on them than any other.”

This is true for Singapore, and true for the UK, too.

Motorists – the Johnny-come-latelies of public highway users – do not have more rights than other road users, except on motorways. Nor are motorists traffic. According to the Highways Act 1980, traffic also includes pedestrians and animals…and cyclists.

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

“Even though I pay me road tax they treat me like a clown”

Stewart Topp, AA’s Patrolman of the Year, has taken Ireland’s famous ‘Pothole Song’ and married it to bunch of roads-in-disrepair – and clown – images. The iPayRoadTax fake ‘road tax’ roundel has been placed into the video. It’s slightly out of the original cycling context of the logo but, hey, it gets the message out there to non-cyclists, so what the hell.

The Pothole Song was written and performed by Irish folk singer Richie Kavanagh. The lyrics mention ‘road tax’. As the song is set in Ireland’s it could be accurate about Ireland’s way of paying for roads? Nope. Irish roads are paid for out of general taxation, just like in the UK. Ireland’s version of car tax is ‘motor tax’. It’s not a ‘graduated vehicle excise duty’, based on CO2 emissions, it’s based on engine size.

POT HOLE SONG
(Richie) Heres a little song about the holiest country in all the world  ”Holy Ireland”  Is’aint  that right Johnny?
(Johnny) ”Thats Right Thats The Truth” you start an I’ll join in  
(Richie) Right Johnny here we go
 
Now they call us holy Ireland great big potholes everywhere

If your going out a driving make sure and bring the spare

Ah me little back suspension  goes bobbing up and down

Even though I pay me road tax the treat me like a clown

There’s big ones there’s little ones there’s some a duck could swim

And if you hit a bad one you’ll soon be on the rim  

You can go and get your puncher fix’ed there’s no one from to claim

You can ask your county counselor but he wont take the blame    
So they call us holy Ireland great big potholes everywhere

If your going out a driving make sure and bring the spare

Ah me little back suspension  goes bobbing up and down

Even though I pay me road tax the treat me like a clown

Etc etc

Page, turn a new leaf, learn about how roads are *really* funded

Through the centre of traffic

Lewis Page is an intelligent bloke. He writes for The Guardian, Prospect and is a staffer on tech site The Register.

An officer in the Royal Navy from 1993 to 2004, he’s siwritten books, such as Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs, a forensic polemic about financial waste in the armed forces.

Page, then, is bright. He isn’t yer typical Daily Fail forum looney.

Which makes it even more worrying that an intelligent, bright journalist, who feels he can write about transport matters, doesn’t appear to know the first thing about how roads are funded.

In a piece for The Register on a traffic light report from the RAC Foundation, Page swallows the RAC Foundation line that congestion isn’t caused by lots and lots of cars but lots and lots of traffic lights:

…the past decade’s push to increase convenience and safety for pedestrians (especially disabled ones), while at the same time an effective UK moratorium on new road construction has crept in, is largely responsible for the escalating road congestion seen by motorists in recent years.

He continues, and reveals his ignorance of how roads are funded:

This might justifiably annoy motorists, as it is they who pay for the streets and roads. So far from helping pay for the infrastructure they use (and destroy, and block up), buses are heavily subsidised: cyclists and pedestrians use the facilities for free. But the roads budget (no more than £15bn annually) is dwarfed by the revenues received by the government from road tax and fuel duty (£46bn as of last year).

Commenters on The Register are pointing out Page’s error about roads funding but the piece remains uncorrected.

So, for Page’s benefit, here are two articles that will bring him up to speed on the topic he’s chosen to dabble in.

History of ‘road tax’ and why it was abolished in 1937.

Why isn’t beer tax used to build better pubs, or tobacco tax used to tart up newsagents?

Those articles are quite long and detailed. If he prefers, Page could watch this short video instead. Bonus: it includes a debunking of the tired and inaccurate £46bn stat.

Good Motoring mag gives columnist the heave-ho for ‘road tax’ gibe

Top marks to GEM Motoring Assist for its speedy retraction of the anti-cyclist article in the latest issue of the organisation’s membership-only quarterly magazine. 60,000 members were treated to a diatribe in ‘Good Motoring’ that was as inaccurate as it was distasteful.

Columnist Jane King hated on both cyclists and horse-riders for daring to take space on roads she believes are paid for by motorists. She wrote:

“Harsh weather conditions…serve to highlight exactly how little understanding most of us have of our driving space…You’d think that cyclists, being at one with the elements, would be able to deal sensibly with [passing motorists]. Unfortunately, certainly of late, this group seems to consist of real and exacting enthusiasts who behave as if every training trip is a stage of the Tour de France. And, as such they have a narrow blinkered vision of how the road should be used at that moment – which is purely for them. The motor vehicle must, and will, take at least second place. Sorry – who pays road tax, exactly?”

GEM Motoring Assist has just 68 followers on Twitter and doesn’t get an awful lot of @ messages or retweets. This morning the person responsible for the organisation’s Twitter account was on the receiving end of 40+ messages from cyclists, angry at Jane King’s article. GEM Assist’s CEO David Williams also received a number of emails. He reacted quickly:

“I can only apologise and agree with you that Jane King’s article was ill-informed and at total odds with the aims and objectives of GEM Motoring Assist.

“Regrettably due to an error on our part the article was not checked nor edited in our normal way. Again I can only apologise for this error and assure you that Road Safety for all road users remains our prime aim and we continue to promote a courteous and considerate approach for all those sharing our roads. Jane King has been advised that her contributions to Good Motoring Magazine will not be required in the future.”

If only the BBC took the same approach with Jeremy Clarkson.

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

When motorists believe they’ve paid for use of the road, they can be dangerous

Some motorists believe cyclists are lesser beings, and shouldn’t get in the way of cars. Why? Because of the shockingly widespread belief that cyclists don’t pay for roads.

In fact, we do. We all do. Everybody pays. Every tax-payer, that is. Road maintenance, road building and road design are all paid for out of general and local taxation. Motorists do not pay for roads. Road tax does not exist, has not existed since 1937. It’s now car tax, vehicle excise duty, a tax on emissions.

In the Spring edition of ‘Good Motoring’ from GEM Motoring Assist, columnist Jane King said cyclists were “itinerant road users.”

Hating on horse riders, too (they also ‘get in the way’ of cars), King wrote:

“You’d think that cyclists, being at one with the elements, would be able to deal sensibly with [passing motorists]. Unfortunately, certainly of late, this group seems to consist of real and exacting enthusiasts who behave as if every training trip is a stage of the Tour de France. And, as such they have a narrow blinkered vision of how the road should be used at that moment – which is purely for them. The motor vehicle must, and will, take at least second place. Sorry – who pays road tax, exactly?”

Such ignorance of what and who pays for roads can lead to violence against anybody not in a motorised vehicle. There are legions of examples of motorists abusing cyclists for “not paying road tax.” (Although horse riders don’t get tarred with the same brush: it’s obviously a money thing. Some motorists assume anybody on a bike is a pauper, and can’t possibly own a car, too. Which is daft because cars can be pretty cheap, a lot cheaper than decent top-flight bikes, for instance).

In Brazil on Friday, one motorist took the law into his own hands and smashed into a peaceful, beautiful Critical Mass ride.

This helmetcam footage is horrific, showing a speeding VW Golf ramming its way through 150 cyclists.

Brazilian drivers pay Imposto sobre Propriedade de Veículos Automotores or IPVA, our equivalent of VED. However, this site for Brazilian newcomers calls it a ‘road tax’.

Who knows what went through the mind of the 47-year old male driver seen causing the carnage in that footage? He was held up for a few minutes by folks on bikes and he suddenly lost it, rear-ending unsuspecting cyclists in a few seconds of madness. Apologist commenters on YouTube videos of the incident have said he had a sick passenger in the car and was desperate to get past the cyclists, who were blocking just one road among many in this Brazilian city.

Do those who decry Critical Mass as “irresponsible” say the same about fuel protestors who block roads? Or how about taxi drivers blockading London for an hour? “We are sorry that we have to block the streets to make our voices heard, but we feel we have no other option,” said a London cabby last year, who very possibly rants when he sees the few minutes of disruption caused when Critical Mass rides past.

Thankfully, it appears none of the hit cyclists were killed, but they could have been. Many were badly injured and there was an ugly, sickening pile of smashed bikes. The driver absconded, but not before reportedly removing his number plates. So, did police chase him down? No, they are waiting for him to turn himself in, a promise made by the 47 year olds lawyer. In Brazilian media reports, the police are still calling the carnage an “accident.”

Back to the UK…
Motorists do not own the roads, nor do cyclists, or equestrians. We all have the right to pass and re-pass on public roads. Those motorists who truly believe their annual car tax payment is a fee to use roads are 100 percent wrong. Some who believe this, begrudgingly allow cyclists to “share the roads, paid for by motorists” but who knows how many close-shaves – the buzzing of cyclists – is due to this mistaken belief? Too many. Way too many.

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

Jeremy Clarkson: be a man, offend a Middle Eastern religion [UPDATED]

Jeremy Clarkson Rides a Bike

On Top Gear, aired 6th February, Jeremy Clarkson made one of his deliberate errors in order to annoy a minority. Now, if he can get away with slanders about whole countries (France, Albania, Mexico etc) he’s sure as hell not going to lose any sleep over “jokes” about killing cyclists who “don’t pay road tax”. In fact, he wants cyclists to rant and rave about his loopy libertarian tosh. Ranting and raving equals higher viewing figures, and more dosh for him.

While Ross and Brand can be jettisoned by the BBC when they’re offensive, Clarkson is too important to the corporation. Top Gear is one of BBC Worldwide’s biggest grossing properties.

Now, Clarkson is a professional buffoon, a controversialist, a comedian, not to be taken seriously. But many petrolheads do take him seriously. When he jests about running over cyclists, a goodly proportion of his audience absorb such vitriol and this can influence their driving, paying less regard to those not propelling heavy steel boxes along highways paid for by all.

Clarkson has form on believing ‘road tax’ pays for roads. He’s often touched on the subject in his columns for the Sunday Times:

“Trespassers in the motorcars domain, [cyclists] do not pay road tax and therefore have no right to be on the road, some of them even believe they are going fast enough to not be an obstruction. Run them down to prove them wrong.”

He also jokes that cyclists are paupers and that it’s right and proper to run them down:

“Some people, usually on bicycles, bang on your roof as you go by and say they find your conspicuous consumption offensive. What I want to do at times like this is bang on their cycling helmets and say I find their poverty offensive. But I’m made from stronger stuff so I turn the other cheek and run them down.”

After the 7/7 bombings got more people on bikes, Clarkson wrote:

“Handy hints to those setting out on a bike for the first time…Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I’m coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun…Do not pull up at junctions in front of a line of traffic. Because if I’m behind you, I will set off at normal speed and you will be crushed under my wheels.”

All knock-about stuff and we know he doesn’t mean it. “Come on, it’s just a joke,” is the standard riposte, from the BBC and from those who believe he’s harmless.

He’s funny, but is he harmless?

Stand-up comic Stewart Lee has a 15-minute routine digging in to the harmless humour of Clarkson:

“[Clarkson] is either an idiot, who actually believes all the badly researched, lying, offensive sh*t he says, or he’s a genius, who’s worked out exactly the most accurate way to annoy me.”

Lee points out that Clarkson’s gibes are often callous and bullying.

And Lee isn’t the only comic to think Clarkson is less than funny. Steve Coogan, who has been a guest on Top Gear and was once a fan of the show, believes Clarkson’s stereotyping is now beyond a joke.

So, should cyclists complain to the BBC about Clarkson? It’s a tough call. On the one hand, his paymasters ought to be told his oafish offensiveness could lead to real-life endangerment of cyclists; but on the other hand you know that shock-jocks thrive on complaints. Indeed, if enough complaints are received that gives Clarkson another opportunity to joke about “road tax refuseniks” (even though he well knows that ‘road tax’ was abolished in 1937).

Clarkson has a thick skin. This is the man who thinks 3200 road deaths a year is a price well worth paying for mass motoring:

“Then there’s the PR issue. We need to get the message across that 3,200 deaths a year is tragic but not excessive. With 30 million vehicles on the roads it’s nothing short of a bloody miracle.”

He’s also not bothered about accuracy. He’s a joker, he’s not reading the news:

“When I get a letter from a reader saying I’ve made a factual error my first reaction is rage…And it’s a bit of a bubble burster when someone points out that I haven’t checked my facts. That’s like strutting around with a telltale wet patch on the front of your trousers. Because in the big scheme of things, when I make a mistake, especially one I’ve made on purpose, the world keeps on turning.”

Complaints are his oxygen. There’s little point complaining about Clarkson. He’s not fussed about facts, or whether his trollish views are believed by stupid viewers and readers. Complaints equal ker-ching.

Ignoring him is hard but here’s what he says about politicians. Replace ‘leaders’ with ‘Clarkson’.

“The best thing we can do is treat our leaders as bluebottles. There’s no point waving our arms about and getting agitated because it’ll make no difference. They will continue to buzz about being annoying.”

Whether we complain or not (UPDATE – see below for Top Gear producer’s answer to those who complained), Clarkson will continue to be mock offensive. But check out who he targets and see him for the playground bully that he is.

He vents his spleen on soft targets. He’s never written anything deeply offensive about the religious texts or founder of a certain Arabian religion. That would be reprehensible and truly controversial but Clarkson doesn’t have the balls to be provocative about a religion that has an extreme, unrepresentative element who would kill him. Funny that.

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TRANSCRIPT

Richard Hammond: You know Breakfast News on the television?

Jeremy Clarkson: No?

Hammond: Come on, you must? Earlier this week they were running this story about cyclists wearing videos on their crash helmets so they can video examples of road rage and people cutting them up on their bikes

Clarkson: Yes, but cyclists deserve it

Hammond You can’t say that

Clarkson: They do deserve it. Just the other week, no honestly, there I am sitting in a traffic jam in London and a Frenchman, he was, tried to cycle between the pavement and my car, and after he’d removed most of the paint with that brake handle thing he came round to the driver’s door to tell me off in that silly accent French people have.

Hammond: A French accent?

Clarkson: Yes, that. And I said to him, ‘Listen if you just work harder you can have a car’.

Hammond: You see? You see you are exactly the reason why I want a camera on my bicycle helmet when I cycle

Clarkson: Why?

Hammond: So when idiots like you get out of their car having cut me up…

Clarkson: Who pays the road tax?

Hammond: Well…

Clarkson: You see I don’t mind if cyclists want to come on the road with their silly Victorian distractions I am not bothered, OK, but they must behave themselves

Hammond: There are a few militant cyclists I’ll agree

Clarkson: But you are are one of them

Hammond: I am not I am not a militant cyclist…

Clarkson: On a bicycle you are a peach. You are a peach most of the time. You are a big peach.

Hammond: You are just another fat car in his Mercedes who has a pop at me for riding his bike to work

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BBC producer replies to those folks who complained about Clarkson’s ‘road tax’ gibe

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

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.

Bloody tax-dodgers! (And there’s millions of ’em)

Bloody Tax Dodgers

Some motorists feel they own the road because “they pay for it”. Some hate on cyclists for being ‘tax-dodgers’ even though roads are paid for by general taxation not road tax, which was finally abolished in 1937, a process started by Winston Churchill in 1926. [It’s car tax, not road tax].

Those motorists who think road tax still exists must be awfully confused by cars which pay £0 VED. Here’s a class of car which looks like any other class of car but which, like cyclists, “doesn’t pay for the roads.”

Warning Tax Dodgers

In 2006, there were just 350 of these tax-dodging cars on the roads of the UK. Now there are nearly 50,000. According to a report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (New Car CO2 Report, March 2011), there were 40,000 vehicles on Britain’s roads which emit under 100g/km so are exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty. According to the latest registration stats from the Department for Transport, there are 57,000 cars in VED band A.

Additionally, 38.2 percent of new cars have emissions of less than 130g/km so that’s 474,000 vehicles which pay no VED for the first year of ownership.

This means there are an awful lot of ‘road tax’ dodging cars driving about. Perhaps they might like our iPayRoadTax jerseys? But wait, there are many more ‘tax-dodgers’ out there. Millions, in fact.

Cars built before 1973 are classified as historic and are exempt from VED. In 2006, there were 307,407 such vehicles on the road.

Those ex-soldiers in receipt of war pensioners’ mobility supplement, are exempt from VED, and there are at least 18,340 individuals who have a VED-waiving WPA442 form.

Disabled drivers are also exempt from VED. in 2007, 1.12 million Vehicle Excise Duty exemptions were granted to disabled people.

American soldiers operating in Britain pay no VED on their imported cars. Emergency vehicles don’t pay VED, either. And that includes police cars, fire-engines, and ambulances and other health-service vehicles, of which there are 450,000 on the roads.

Road construction vehicles and gritters are also exempt from VED.

And guess what, QEII pays zero VED. It’s not just the Queen who gets away with it, other Royals do, too: no Crown vehicles pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

Ministerial cars don’t have to cough up, either. The entire fleet of vehicles operated by the Government Car and Despatch Agency (873 cars in 2008, 30 of which would be in the highest, most CO2-emitting car tax bands) is exempt from paying Vehicle Excise Duty.

Even been stuck behind a farm tractor on a rural road? That tractor doesn’t pay VED. In fact, agricultural vehicles are supplied with free tax discs. There are about 17,000 new tractors sold per year in the UK, with many thousands of older ones on farms across Britain.

All this means there are millions of officially-sanctioned “road tax dodgers” out there, benefitting from Britain’s road system yet not paying a penny of road tax. [There are unsanctioned “tax dodgers”, too. According to The Times, more than a million motorists choose to use a loophole in the DVLA’s payment system to skip some of the annual payment].

And these “road tax dodgers” are heavily subsidised by those who pay full whack for VED. According to a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the cost of a tax disc is £1.47 for those bought at a Post Office, and 95p for those bought online.

Let’s keep it simple and say the cost to print, distribute and sell each VED disc is a quid. There are about 2 million vehicles which don’t pay VED. That’s two million quid of subsidy to get tax discs to those who don’t pay for them. Those motorists who want cyclists to “pay road tax” need to realise that bicycles, as non-polluting vehicles, would be classified as Band A vehicles and hence would have to pay nowt. With 25 million bicycles in ownership, that would be £25m to get each bicycle a valid tax disc. Do motorists really want to pay a lot extra for their VED to subsidise registration and duty compliance for millions of bicycles?

Of course, the Queen, disabled people, war pensioners and Government ministers do pay for roads. All UK tax-payers, not just motorists, pay for Britain’s roads. Gulp, even cyclists.

Roads are paid for from general and local taxation. This site aims to get organisations which ought to know better to stop calling VED, road tax. They should call it ‘car tax’, because that’s what it is.

So, why call the site iPayRoadTax.com? The reasons are here. And why does this all matter? Because a minority of mindless drivers don’t just vent their spleen online, they sometimes take out their aggression in the real-world, with their heavy, lethal vehicles. Motorists often swerve in front of cyclists; part of this is rage against the non-motorised machine but some of it is due to a nagging feeling that freeloaders should pay, or should get off the damn road!

THE OLD CHESTNUT: ‘ROAD TAX’ IS A FEE TO USE THE ROAD
Those who believe VED is fee to use roads sometimes use the seemingly-convincing ‘off-road’ argument:

“Doesn’t matter what you call it, VED/car tax/’road tax’, it’s a fee to use the public road because if you don’t pay it, you can’t drive on the public road. For instance, if I elect to use a vehicle off-road, I don’t need to pay VED. If I then choose to use the vehicle on a road, I would have to pay VED. If the vehicle emitted a certain amount of CO2, then yes that VED is currently free, but I would still have to get and display a tax disc in order to use the car on the road.”

But car tax isn’t a fee to use the road, it’s very much a tax on car emissions. Many cars, which use the public road, do not pay any ‘car tax’ because they emit less than 100gms of CO2. If car tax was a fee to use roads, electric cars and low-emissions cars wouldn’t be able to drive on UK roads.

Nor is it true that vehicles that will be driven off-the-public-highway – on private roads – don’t have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

VED is charged under section 1 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended, “in respect of every mechanically propelled vehicle that … is used, or kept, on any public road in the United Kingdom”. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland ‘public road’ is defined in section 62(1) of the 1994 Act as “a road which is repairable at the public expense”; for Scotland a public road is defined in section 151 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, as amended, as “a road which a roads authority have a duty to maintain”. However, the DVLA has powers to clamp vehicles that are not on the public road if they are in breach of the VED continuous registration requirements. The explanatory notes to the Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2266) state:

The policy intention is to prevent evaders of vehicle excise duty from using off-road areas such as unadopted roads, commons, public car parks or roads maintained by Housing Associations to place themselves beyond the reach of the enforcement authorities.

Farmers can get ‘agricultural use’ exemptions from VED for their Land Rovers, so long as they only travel a mile or so on public highways. And in one special circumstance, cars which emit loads of CO2 can still drive on UK public roads without paying car tax. But only for a short distance. When a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) vehicle is going to a pre-arranged MOT test, and the vehicle has valid insurance for the journey, it can be driven on public roads without paying a penny for use of those roads.

Furthermore, if a car is registered in the UK but is never driven in the UK it still has to pay the UK’s Vehicle Excise Duty. So, a UK-bought car driven in France by a UK-born person who’s moved to France permanently, may never drive on UK roads but the car still has to pay VED. This is because it’s a tax on the car, not a fee to use the roads.

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NOTE: The cartoon included in the graphic at the top of the page – click for large version – is from Punch magazine, 1920.

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