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 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.


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