One of the more stupid statements made by motorists to cyclists is “you don’t pay tax”, sadly this is just not true. We all pay tax, as the old axiom has it: there are two things in life which are unavoidable, death and taxes. However, when challenged on this point, they go on to say that they alone pay something called “road tax”, and that the payment of this gives them a greater right to use the roads than anyone else. Again this is not true, here in the UK there is no such thing as “road tax”, there used to be a form of tax called the “Road Fund Licence”, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, this was abolished in 1936! We all pay for the roads through our taxes, so effectively we all pay “road tax”. Despite this, there is a widespread perception among motorists that they are somehow unfairly taxed, unlike those free loading cyclists and pedestrians who dare to use their roads.

So just how true is this perception that motorists are so unfairly taxed? Well in the financial year 2006-07 £28.43bn was raised from taxes on fuel and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). In the same year around £8.78bn went toward maintenance and £11.91bn new road building, but that is not the whole story. The cost of policing the roads and the expense incurred by the judicial system has been estimated to be £3bn. Also, the cost to the NHS of injuries due to road accidents crashes, according to figures from collated by RoSPA, was £9.93bn. So the total cost to government was £33.62bn, meaning there was a short fall of £5.19bn, which had to be covered from other non-motoring related taxation.

In addition there is the cost to businesses and other drivers due to delays caused by congestion, estimated by those rampant greens, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), to be about £19.1bn.

Even this does not cover the whole cost of motoring to the nation as a whole, there are a large raft of hidden costs borne by all UK tax payers, these include –

  • Noise pollution: in the form of lowered house prices, spoilt semi-natural areas, ill-health and disturbed sleep, estimated to cost £3.1bn. One case study was based on over 3500 property sales in Glasgow, suggested that property prices were depressed by 0.20% for each decibel increase in road noise. (also see Roads: traffic noise)
  • Air pollution (not including CO2): estimated to be between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year and this is likely to be an under-estimate! [Update: A conservative estimate for one type of air pollution (particulates) is that it reduces average life expectancy in the UK by around six months, worth £16 billion a year. DEFRA 2015] When looking at the costs associated with global warming, the figures are more difficult to pin down, but have the potential to dwarf our entire economic system. Transport contributes about 23% of UK domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and road transport is responsible for 93% of this.
  • Water pollution: in the form of run-off into rivers and drainage of leaking oil, break fluid, exhaust and soot from vehicles, rubber particulates from tyres and salt used in winter. Again estimated costs are uncertain, but are somewhere between £1bn and £16bn per year.
  • Costs to health due to lack of exercise: the British population is one of the fattest in Europe. The direct cost of obesity to the NHS is £0.5bn per year, the indirect health impacts of physical inactivity, estimated to be £10.7 billion per annum, and on top of that the indirect cost to the UK economy is at least £2bn per year.
  • Insurance: Car insurance is a competitive business. Figures released by the Association of British Insurers show that the payouts to road users were not covered by their premiums. The average shortfall for the five years from 1988 to 1992 was £626 million per year. In other words, insurance companies are charging more on other kinds of insurance to subsidise motorists.
  • The cost of repairing pavements damaged by illegal parking: this has been estimated to cost in the region of £234m a year and that does not include the cost of policing, installing bollards and other devices to stop vehicles parking illegally or the cost of compensation claims for trips and falls caused by this damage.

The simple inconvenient fact is that it is 18% cheaper to run a car now than twenty years ago. This shows that “the motorist”, far from being unfairly taxed, is being heavily subsidised by the non-motoring tax payers. So it is motorists that are the free loaders on Britain’s roads, not the long suffering cyclists and pedestrians.

Now I really must get back to filling out my tax return, if only I could get a rebate for not owning a car …

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