Car Tax versus Road Tax – get it right

If you cycle at all regularly, you would be a rare man or woman who has not had the complaint that goes something like this:

“You blooming cyclists never pay road tax – get off the road”.  Not unrelated to this is the one I had last week. When I asked a driver why he was waiting for the traffic light to change within the cycle stop area (the red bit, which has an advance stop line) he said “you cyclists just hold the traffic up”. Both betray the same sentiment: cyclists are not valid users of the road. Cyclists are not traffic.

So a very helpful cycling industry chap called Carlton Reid has usefully set up a site to remind everyone that car, van and lorry drivers do not pay a road tax, or road fund licence, and therefore do not have sole rights to the road.   It’s here: Drivers actually pay Vehicle Excise Duty, or car tax. It’s a tax incurred because of having a car, not in order to get access to the road network. Roads are paid out of general (both local and national) taxation.  Why so?  It’s because the societal impact of our driving is so high, particularly in areas such as:

  • Congestion – estimated to cost the UK economy in the region of £22bn a year.
  • Pollution – which has both an impact on the cost of massive counter-pollution measures, and dealing with its health effects – asthma for instance.
  • Accidents – notwithstanding the incalculable cost of the trauma of losing a loved one, accidents cost a lot of money.  THe cost of medical emergency services for UK accidents (fatal and non-fatal) comes to £0.52bn a year. That’s just to get people to the hospital. The cost of a fatal accident is £1.7m each.  That’s over £5bn for the 3,000 or so lived a year that our road network claims. Typically, cyclists may cause the deaths of 1 person every couple of years. That’s less than death by cows.
  • Wear and tear on roads which increases disproportionately with vehicle weight.  If a car weighed just twice as much as a bike, it would cause 16 times as much damage.  Clearly a car weigh more than that, so it causes hundreds of times more damage than a bicycle. (Thanks to cyclinginfo for this.)

Even if you never have a bump that requires police intervention, or an ambulance to help out, we still cause three of these four. So it seems fair for those that incur these costs to redeem them to society.

It really annoys me that cyclists pop red lights, drive on the pavement, cycle at night without lights.  I mean, really annoys me. Many of them do, and it’s right to pull them up and remind them that they are as much breaking the law as cars are.  It also helps justify drivers who equally break the law.  Christian cyclists who do this in particular, shame on you (see Romans 13:1-5, Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-17).   But there are big differences between drivers and cyclists, and it is this: that when car drivers pop red lights, people frequently die. So too when cars are driven on the pavement, and so too when they are driven without lights.

Cars and cycles are not equal: the consequence for an accident between the two is almost always that the cyclist rather than the driver is injured or killed.  I’ve lost too many friends and acquaintances in car accidents, even where the driver was being careless, rather than dangerous. When I drive a car I need to be perpetually aware that there are people on the road, people who make mistakes, who daydream and are a bit foolish.  Just because they are walking, or on a bike, and not in a car, does not mean they are more deserving of my scorn, anger or even death. So this is why the licence duty is not a road fund licence, but a vehicle excise duty.  When we’re in cars we don’t have any more right to the road than anyone else, but we do have a greater duty of care than many other road users.

Feel free to join Otherwise, feel free to mull on this when next driving. I shall.


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