Don’t call it ‘road tax’, call it ‘car tax’. (AA, Post Office & DVLA now do)


This site is called but quickly stresses there’s no such thing as ‘road tax’. It was abolished in 1937, a process started by Winston Churchill ten years previously. ‘Road tax’ might have been pushing up the daisies for 74 years but it’s a term still in widespread, erroneous use.

The correct term is VED, Vehicle Excise Duty. VED is a tax on the vehicle, not a pot for collecting monies to be spent on road building or road maintenance. The distinction between ‘road tax’ and VED is very important, much more important than most people think. It’s possible that lives have been lost because of the use of an antique phrase. Some motorists believe ‘road tax’ pays for roads so cyclists, as freeloaders at best, tax-dodgers at worst, shouldn’t really be on “their” roads at all. This sometimes leads to ugly and dangerous aggression against cyclists, with some motorists taking the ownership of the roads fallacy a little too literally.

Which is odd, really, considering other “tax dodgers” include members of the Royal family, disabled drivers, and owners of electric cars.

It’s but a short step from “ownership” of the roads to “protection” of said ownership. Many cyclists have been nudged by cars; steered at by bus drivers. Much of the aggression is no doubt fuelled by gridlock-induced frustration but at least some of it is fuelled by the belief that cyclists have less rights to be on roads paid for by motorists. In fact, roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not ‘road tax’.

But, then, in such a car-dominated society it’s easy to continue using terms such as ‘road tax’. According to some motorists, it’s colloquial, there’s no harm in it, it’s a “term understood by all.” Changing the public perception of the phrase ‘road tax’ will take many, many years. But shouldn’t major publications, large organisations and official Government departments use the correct term? It seems not.

Here’s a collection of screenshots (click, via Flickr, to make bigger) from organisations and publications which ought to know better. The AA, police forces, the Highways Agency, Which?Car, and the BBC ought to use ‘car tax’. So should MPs, but some don’t.

Vehicle Excise Duty is a mouthful but ‘car tax’ is six letters (road tax is seven) and has the distinction of being both short and understood by all. ‘Car tax’ doesn’t confer “ownership” of the roads to motorists.

Post Office calls VED 'car tax'

Even though motorbikes, vans, and trucks pay VED, the Post Office calls VED ‘car tax’ and this is understood by all.

DVLA Directgov

The DVLA – via Directgov – also now refers to VED as ‘car tax’, and for all motorised vehicles, not just private motor cars.

The Daily Express, in 2008, used ‘car tax’ in an article and lost no meaning by doing so. It’s time for the mainstream media and organisations-which-ought-to-know-better to do likewise.


Which? prides itself on its independence and its accuracy. Independent it may be; but accurate it ain’t. A car tax article in the Spring 2010 issue of Which?Car goes large on the tax abolished in 1937. The headline and the graphics get it majorly wrong. Some of the panels use the correct, up-to-date term but the article’s final sentence uses ‘road tax’ and ‘car tax’ within just a few letters of each other:

“Use our easy-to-read car tax chart to compare rates of road tax…”

AA: but road tax was abolished in 1936

The AA is hedging its bets here, using Car Tax and Road Tax in the same headline. The AA clearly knows all about VED and the distinctions between ‘car tax’ and ‘road tax’ but nevertheless chooses to use ‘road tax’ as a catch-all phrase. UPDATE: The AA has now changed that page: it now refers only to ‘car tax’.

AA car tax

Green Flag's new iPhone app gets it wrong on VED

Green Flag
The road rescue organisation has a great new iPhone app. It’s bang up to the minute, with traffic alerts and other such wonders. But, in the reminders section, the company proves it’s 74 years behind the times when it describes VED as ‘Road tax’.

The RAC – like the AA – is all over the place when it comes to VED. In one part of the RAC website, VED is correctly labelled as ‘car tax’ but, for the most part, the RAC calls it ‘road tax’. In the 2009 Cost of Motoring Index [PDF], the RAC also seems to claim that paying ‘road tax’ gives motorists “their right to be on the road.”

Other significant differences include Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax), which costs nearly £135 or 130% more for a people carrier compared to a small car. As this tax is now calculated based on CO2 emissions, higher powered, less economical and hence more polluting cars will continue to face a higher bill for their right to be on the road.

BBC: but road tax was abolished in 1936

‘Road tax’ features in the BBC headline and in the text of the article.

Jeremy Clarkson Rides a Bike

In the BBC show Top Gear, broadcast on 6th February 2011, Mr Motormouth himself used ‘road tax’ as a gibe against Richard Hammond, a cyclist.

Complaints to the BBC resulted in replies from Andy Wilman, the executive producer of Top Gear.

He said:

“We do know that Road Tax doesn’t exist. However, we used the term Road Tax because it’s a colloquialism for the Vehicle Excise, the same as quid is for pounds, and in a chatty news such as ours, we’re not going to come out with a formal mouthful such as Vehicle Excise Duty.”

You don’t have to, Andy. Use car tax.

“We’re also fully aware that the VED is based on vehicle emissions, and that cyclists don’t produce emissions, but Jeremy’s point was that if motorists are paying into the government coffers for the act of motoring, (and even if that money does not necessarily go into road building they are still paying a tax before they go on the road), then motorists should be given due respect by militant cyclists on the road. It is an extreme view, but it’s hardly going to shape any serious policy on road use.”

Parker's: but road tax was abolished in 1936
What Car: but road tax was abolished in 1936

Parker’s and What Car
It’s not terribly surprising that car publications get it wrong. In fact, it would be more surprising if Parker’s and What Car didn’t use ‘road tax’. That doesn’t mean it’s right to continue using such an antique phrase.

DVLA: but road tax was abolished in 1936

A press release sent out by DirectGov mentioning DVLA uses ‘road tax’ in the headline and in the text.

“Road Tax evasion figures published…Figures out today on road tax evasion show that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) collected an estimated 98.5% of all potential revenue from road tax in 2007.”

The release did mention the correct term – Vehicle Excise Duty – but then puts the wrong one in the mouth of Transport Minister Jim Fitzpatrick:

“Using ANPR technology gives us a much clearer picture of the level of road tax evasion. I am pleased to see that this survey indicates a low level of evasion – the DVLA is working hard to tackle road tax evasion. However, there is no room for complacency and we will be increasing the pressure on those who fail to properly license their vehicles. There is no way out for road tax evaders.”

DirectGov used the offending term twice more: “The DVLA has put in place a package of measures which means that road tax is now easier to pay, but harder to avoid… making it more convenient for people to pay their road tax.”

Looking on the bright side, the DVLA’s Policy and External Communications Directorate knows its VED from its elbow. In a 2009 Freedom of Information request, the DVLA said: “There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”


However, DVLA hasn’t always been so strictly correct when it comes to describing VED. For instance, a few years back the organisation broadcast TV ads urging motorists to pay their ‘road tax’, including the famous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang spoof from 2002. And the DVLA once produced all sorts of trinkets featuring the long-dead tax, such as this paper bag:

Laurence @brumcyclist

The paper bag was found in a skip by reader Laurence.

Scot Cops' Road Fund Boo-Boo

In a FAQ, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary mention the ‘Road Fund’, abolished in 1937.

ipayroadtax HMRC

Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue
The VAT service may know how to tot up the pennies but it doesn’t know its history. Amazingly, HMRC refers to VED as ‘road fund licence’, something not seen since 1937. It even uses RFL. This is a TLA, a three-letter acronym used – wrongly – by many motor traders.

The VAT treatment of a road fund licence (RFL) with a car will depend on the nature of what was agreed to be supplied.

1. Has the customer agreed to buy a taxed car (a single supply)?

2. Has the customer agreed to buy the car and asked the dealer to obtain the road fund licence on his behalf (the road fund licence then being supplied separately and capable of being treated as a disbursement subject to the normal conditions)?

ipayroadtax Mazda

Car companies
Renault, Peugeot, Mazda and others think there’s such a thing as a Road Fund Licence.

ROAD FUND LICENCE (Optional) & INSURANCE We can arrange this for you if required. Alternatively the vehicle can be delivered without a valid road fund licence.

Dartford Crossing in Cloud Cuckoo Land has 'Road Fund Tax'.

Highways Agency
Pay at the Dartford Crossing toll booths and you’ll see this badly worded sign. ‘Road fund tax’? Wossat? Yet the amazing mistake can also be found on the website of the Highways Agency: “A10. To qualify your vehicle needs to be exempt from Road Fund Tax as result of clauses 18 or 19 of Schedule 2 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act.”

The Government’s info website doesn’t seem to know the difference between road tax and VED. In the official video below, the actresses call VED, ‘road tax’.

The Taxman song
Last, and fine because it’s OK to skirt the truth in a song lyric, even the Beatles got it wrong! Stung by the fact some of his royalties was pocketed by the Government of the day and not him, George Harrison penned his famous lyrics against tax collecting. ‘Taxman’ was released in 1966 on the album, Revolver.

It featured this verse:

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Does the wilful misuse of the term ‘road tax’ bother you? Wear the iPayRoadTax jersey and tell the world!