Everything about “Road Tax”, Motoring and Cyclists

This is going to be a long and evolving blog post covering that number one bingo card issue of cyclist and so-called “road tax”. So first things first – what is road tax, or more to the point – what isn’t road tax, and if it hasn’t existed since 1937, why do people still talk about it?

What is road tax?

Road tax, like window tax, is an historic tax which has long since been abolished in the UK. It hasn’t existed since 1937.

So what do I pay?

You might pay VED, which can also be known (correctly) as car tax. But it’s not road tax. Why does this matter? Because it’s a tax that’s based on your car’s ability to pollute. It’s a tax on the car, it’s not a tax which pays for the roads in any shape or form. Roads are paid for out of general taxation, with a few notable exceptions, ie toll roads.

What about fuel duty then?

Fuel duty is also a tax that’s based on pollution, not the cost of the roads. If it was merely an energy tax (because the amount of energy used is roughly proportional to the damage caused to the roads), then the government would have found a way by now to tax electricity used to charge cars. If you think they can’t do that, then have a look at how smart meters work and how they can very easily determine what sort of appliances are being used.

But don’t these taxes together still pay for roads?

No, roads are still a net drain on society. There are various ways that this can be calculated, and although many of these figures are open to interpretation (simply because when dealing with very large numbers to assign costs and benefits, there are always wide margins of error), the net result is always the same – despite fuel taxes and the money raised from VED, and despite the urgent need to respond to the climate crises, we are still subsidising the motoring industry to the tune of billions of pounds per year.

Free Parking

Most parking in most towns and cities is free. Even in London, there are plenty of free parking spaces around the edge of the city. Parking permit zones only tend to cover limit parts of outer London boroughs – usually this is because there is parking pressure around district centres, or because commuters would otherwise park all day for free and take the tube.

Motoring receipts

The following are ways in which the government directly brings in money from motoring:

  • Fuel duty
  • VED (Car tax)
  • VAT on new car sales, servicing and also on fuel
  • Insurance premium tax
  • Parking fees and permit costs (this is usually a matter for local councils)
  • Parking fines, traffic offences

Indirect income

  • Income tax paid from jobs within the car industry
  • Economic activity supported by motoring

This sounds like a long list, doesn’t it? I’m quite deliberately not going ot itemise each one, because others have already done this, and because this is also an evolving set of sums. I’ve added some useful links at the end which show how others have calculated this.

Motoring costs

Motoring imposes huge costs on society:

  • The cost of building and maintaining the roads themselves
  • The cost of dealing with crashes
  • Direct health costs of pollution
  • Stress caused by noise pollution
  • Severance to communities caused by traffic
  • Indirect impacts of lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles caused by road danger
  • Policing the roads, court costs and similar in respect of dealing with traffic offences and crashes
  • The cost of running the DVLA, the DVSA etc



What about Speed Tax and Parking Fines?

Some drivers complain they are victimised because they are “constantly” having to pay parking fines, or even what they might call “speed tax”. The answer to this one really is very simple – just obey the law and observe parking fines and you really won’t have to pay a penny.

The media might be full of “gotcha” stories of so-called clamping cowboys (thankfully now heavily regulated) and “over-zealous” councils, yet still fly parking is a menace almost everywhere apart from our town and city centres. How often do you hear of careful drivers getting speeding tickets or falling foul of parking regulations. Yes it happens, but it’s rare.

Speeding fines, other fines for traffic offences and parking fines are all entirely voluntary. Even parking charges are voluntary in most cases. If you don’t want to pay a fortune for parking, find a cheaper spot and walk to your destination. There are websites devoted to doing just this.




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