I don’t pay road tax

The I Pay Road Taxcampaign has done an excellent job of reaching out to cyclists.  Every cyclist now knows that “road tax” was abolished in the 1930s, that what motorists pay is “vehicle excise duty”, and that VED goes to the treasury and not directly to the highways agencies.  So when a white van man cuts them up and shouts something about paying tax at them, the cyclist can shout back something about zero-rated bands, carbon emissions, and Edwardian legislation.  Which is the perfect response to a dangerous nutter who is shouting at you: make yourself look more dangerously insane than your opponent.

Of course, the campaign completely misses the point — especially from the Motorist’s point of view.  Which is why, in all the bottle-throwing videos, the cyclist’s cringe-inducingly earnest attempts to explain the detailed content of treasury memos from 1926, are met with blank stares and swear words from the Motorist.  What matters to the Motorist is that they are paying a lot of money to drive — and they are paying a lot of money to drive — while the cyclist is paying a negligible amount to cycle.  The Motorist doesn’t care about the exact terminology of the fees that they’re paying, or which government department is processing the payment.  These details are irrelevant to the issue.

As a campaign to educate cyclists in historical legislative trivia, it’s brilliant.  As a campaign to change the attitudes of dangerously childish and spoilt Motorists, and facilitate peaceful considerate coexistence, it is, at best, useless.

Here are some suggestions for things to say when a Motorist tells you that they paid for the road:

  1. Oh?  I hadn’t actually put it up for sale –or– so I can shit on your doorstep if I pay the government £5?
  2. Not nearly as much as it’s worth.
  3. No, 97% of that was the wanker tax, you’re still behind on the road payments.

The first encapsulates an issue that is rarely raised: that these are our streets, the neighbourhoods and environments in which we have to live and work.  If you think you’ve “bought” them from the government then you’ve been conned: they were never the government’s to sell.  Motorists are a minority of London commuters — perhaps it would be fair for their subscriptions to pay for some sort of limited segregated infrastructure for motor vehicles, proportionate to their community.  But the rest of the streets, the majority of the streets and streetspace, should belong to the majority of the population — a majority who are not trying to fill it with inappropriate transport.  I Pay Road Tax seems in places to be struggling to vocalise exactly these points, but doesn’t quite seem to be able to get it out.

The second is that Motoring and Motorism doesn’t have a single cost.  Talk about “road tax” and people will say that they’re paying for road construction and repair.  Talk to the slightly more sophisticated Motorists about “vehicle excise duty” and they will say that they’re paying for carbon emissions.  Nobody will ever say that they’re paying for particulate pollution — the fines our cities pay, and the thousands of economically active people who are killed by it every year.  Nobody will say that they are paying for the thousands of people who die on the roads; for the operations, the years of physiotherapy, and the lifelong disability support for those who are maimed.  Nobody will say that they are paying up-front for the later-life care for the obesity-related diseases that their sedentary lifestyle will bring upon themselves.  Nobody will say that they are compensating us for the breakup of communities or the closure of the village shop, the deleterious shifts in developmental patterns that affect us all.  The issue is not whether the taxes that Motorists pay cover the cost of road repairs: it is whether any amount of money could ever come close to making up for the many and varied destructive forces of car dependency.

The final one recognises the futility of attempting to change the behaviour of dangerous and abusive Motorists.  Here at At War With The Motorist we make no attempt to engage with the hardened Motorist himself.  People rarely change: Motorists especially so.  It took thirty years for Motorists to work out what seatbelts were for.  It took thirty years for drink driving to become a faux pas.  We probably have at least another fifteen to go before mobile-phone use goes the same way.  It takes thirty years to change our culture and practices because it takes thirty years for one ruling generation to die out and for a new one to grow up in a world where seat belts and not drink driving are the norm.  The solution to abusive drivers is not to attempt to reason with them about the history of our tax system.  Give up on them.  Shout wittier abuse back and move on.  If you’re feeling optimistic about participatory democracy, engage with those who have the power to order proper enforcement of dangerous driving laws and a reform of planning.  Otherwise, focus your efforts in those generations who will be the ones to determine what is and is not socially acceptable over the next 30 years.

I don’t pay road tax: it’s irrelevant.


40 thoughts on “I don’t pay road tax”

  1. All points well made. And all points that can be found on iPayRoadTax.com

    Sure, it will be hard to shift the opinion of motorists but the site doesn’t try to do that (the jerseys sort of do that). The site is aimed at policy makers, journalists and other opinion formers. In that respect it’s had some good wins, making some journals – such as Which Motoring and others – promise to get the terminology right.

  2. I am a non-motorist myself, living in the Netherlands, so this blog has a bit less to do with my situation than a British non-motorist.

    But, man, is this well-written. Every now and then you read something you don’t want to end, this was such a time.

  3. I usually shout “I have a car too, and I probably drive fewer miles than you, so I’m paying your road tax. Thank me later”.

    Actually I just mutter it to myself.

  4. Very good and well reasoned. And funny. You can thank Ben Goldacre on twitter for spreading the word. (I’ll be mostly using option 3)

  5. Cheers, dudes.

    @Carlton — thanks for responding. I am indeed being a bit unfair — my issue is not entirely with the campaign, more with those cyclists who think that the point is to try to apply it to reasoning with motorists (as in the bottle-throwing video amongst others), and who think it will magically achieve peaceful coexistence.

    In terms of educating the Phillip Hammonds and Simon Jenkinses on its specific points, it does seem to be a good idea — though I haven’t explored its efficacy in that particular field yet.

  6. Suggestions for wittier abuse

    M: “You don’t pay road tax”
    C: “Nor would you if you didn’t have to, so don’t pretend you’re any better” – best when stationary, it’s a bit long to shout when they’re passing

    M: “You don’t pay road tax”
    C: “At least I pay VAT, though” – try this with self-employed-looking White Van Man

    M: “You don’t pay road tax”
    C: “I don’t pay for sex either” – this is a also a good time to call them fat or ugly

  7. What I would love to see is lobbying for legislation to remove this generation of drivers from the roads sooner, combined with legislation to prevent the next generation from picking up the habit as young as they can now.

  8. Interesting post. As a non cyclist I don’t experience the dangers on the road the way you guys do. I am careful around cyclists (and motorcyclists) as you don’t have the luxury of a metal shell around you. If only more cyclists were aware of this fact too. Here are some pointers that would have kept the cyclists round Oxford that I have seen this summer a little safer:

    If there is a cycle lane, use it.
    If you are turning right, look over your shoulder and indicate clearly before you swerve across in front of me.
    Red lights apply to you too. Especially if there are pedestrians crossing at them.
    Ask yourself once in a while “is it really sensible to be on THIS road at THIS time of day?” (I know you have the right to be there, but there are occasions when common sense would suggest another route or another form of transport).
    If I am passing a row of parked cars at 15mph and have left you 3/4 of the lane to get past in the other direction, then you have enough room to do so without ranting and swearing at me. If you take it slowly too, and concentrate on steering instead of being indignant, you stand a greater chance of getting home safely and with lower blood pressure.
    Let’s all just use a bit of common sense and please remember that you guys do not “own” the road either!

    1. As a non-motoring cyclist I would like to present the following advice to motorists:
      If there is a cycle lane, use it.

      If I am turning right, look over my shoulder and indicate clearly, let me in

      Red lights apply to you too. Especially if there are pedestrians crossing at them. This includes red lights which have only just turned red.

      Ask yourself once in a while “is it really sensible to be on THIS road at THIS time of day?” (I know you don’t have the RIGHT to be there, you are merely licensed but the general public has been very accommodating of you on our roads. There are occasions when common sense would suggest another route or another form of transport, rather than using a congested road in rush hour and being a part of the problem).

      If I am passing a row of parked cars at 15mph and have left you 3/4 of the lane to get past in the other direction, then you have enough room to do so without ranting and swearing at me. If you take it slowly too, and concentrate on steering instead of being indignant, you stand a greater chance of getting home safely and with lower blood pressure.

      Let’s all just use a bit of common sense and please remember that you guys are amazingly well catered for, subsidised and have been given a virtual license to kill. Being in this situation makes it a bit rich to complain about the shortcomings of other road users ;)

  9. @Chris B – cycle lanes are often very narrow and the markings imply that drivers can overtake without moving out. Therefore where the cycle lane is narrow it is best to ride just outside of it. Also, using a cycle lane to filter past lorries at traffic lights on the left is a BAD idea and it is best to go around the outside or wait behind in the centre of the lane.

    Running red lights is silly. Go and find the Land Rover driver I saw doing that earlier.

    Also, next time you sit in a traffic jam, ask yourself if driving a car on that road at that time of day is a good idea…

  10. I was unaware of this campaign but I’ve always shouted “I pay more road tax than you do! Look it up!” on the basis that a) they probably won’t, and b) anyone that *does* take a moment to think about it will work out where I’m coming from, ie:

    I pay tax, they pay tax; taxes pay for road upkeep; they’re wearing away the road, I’m not.

  11. Hello again chaps.
    Mr. Colostomy- deal! I’d like to think we would be a perfect model of courtesy when we encounter each other on the road! I would however, disagree with the idea of motorists being “amazingly well catered for” and the implication that we are all trying to chalk up another cyclist for our tally. And when the shortcomings of the other road user are dangerous, damn right I should comment on them – you would!

    The reason I bring up the choice of road was because I do see cyclists on some roads and my reaction is -Christ, he must be mad doing that along here, especially in this weather/this light/ In those dark clothes with no lights. There must be some roads that readers of this blog consider unsuitable or unsafe to ride on, yet people do so anyway. I just don’t understand why you would take the risk. The moral high ground and the right to be there would be little comfort to me if I had just lost a confrontation with 3tons of volvo.

    And traffic jams? I tend not to get them on the way to my weird shift pattern (which is also why I can’t take the train), but I hear they are quite unpleasant.

  12. Good points about dealing with abusive drivers. I regularly cycle to work in London, though, and generally if a driver is being abusive, there is a swarm of cyclists around who aren’t going to take sh*t from anyone, and give back far more than than they get. BTW, yesterday’s swarms of cyclists was really nice to see: It is this sort of volume of cyclists that forces motorists to pay attention.
    However, I do have a bit of an issue with the turn that your post took later in the article painting all motorists as fat, lazy, inconsiderate, unable to change, destroying the environment, and so on. I do have a car, which I use to travel longer distances, particularly to countryside areas that don’t have train services, or whose train services are so inconvenient that using them is impractical. And I do even, occasionally, drive in London. I am not fat, I do try very hard to be considerate in the way that I drive, and since I bike nearly every morning 3 miles to work, I am well aware of other road users. I don’t like the ‘at war with motorists’ tone, which is neither constructive nor reasonable, and risks dogmatically painting all motorists with the same brush, and also ignores the fact that outside of densly populated areas such as London, public transport is often patchy to non-existent, and people often have no choice but to drive.

    1. Thanks, Nik. I guess you’re lucky enough to have escaped the British tabloid newspapers — see the “About” page for an explanation of the “War On The Motorist”.

      What do you think would be “constructive”, and why do you propose that being “constructive” in this way is something that AWWTM should do?

  13. Cars are ‘inappropriate’ transport for roads? Must be a new meaning of the word I haven’t previously come across. And there are possibly one or two small benefits to cars to compare against their ‘many and varied destructive forces’

    Cyclists too can clog up the commute and are frequently dangerous to vulnerable pavement users – Mr Even-Holier-Than-Thou Pedestrian

    1. Absolutely cars are inappropriate for a great many roads. Why do you think so many have been closed to them? Cars are inappropriate for 90% of the roads in central London, and the majority of Londoners recognise this fact. The fact that the assertion “many roads are inappropriate places for motor-vehicles to be” sounds absurd to you, is exactly the sort of problem that the IPRT campaign seeks to address. (I happen to think that a more effective way to correct the mistake would be to make those who think otherwise walk down Oxford Street at 5:30 on a weekday afternoon.)

      1. I guess this question is more for you than me:
        If you want to have the blog as an outlet for a rant against motorists (with all that ‘rant’ includes, including unconsidered comments, anger against entire groups of people (car owners), and consequent justification for this anger by painting them with the same brush) then I guess that you don’t need to worry at all about being constructive.
        If you would prefer to be more than an outlet for yours or others’ rants, then I guess that accepting a more nuanced view of things would be ‘constructive’. One part of this nuanced view might be that many motorists may actually also be cyclists, but have a hard time agreeing with your portrait of them as the cause of all evils in London (especially when many, like me, have made a concious decision to avoid motoring in London).

      2. So it’s a central London thing? Most roads and cars go together very appropriately across the country and indeed the cities, almost as if they’d been designed for each other.

        Surely if you’re talking about roads closed to traffic then the Cyclist is ‘inappropriate’ too – I’m sure the majority of Londoners would agree with that fact too. Though it may take some time to persuade the hardened and destructive Cyclists of this.

        Mr At-War-With-Any-Dangerous-Mechanical-Contraptions

  14. Like wot Nik said. Some Motorists are twats, because some people are. If you’re wanting a rant, fine, but if you want to make a point… not sure what it is yet. ‘We’ may have various rights to use roads but under various rules; arguing about who ‘owns’ the road or paid more tax for it seems a bit sideways.

    Add convenience of cars: if you’re frail or injured, sitting in a traffic jam for a bit is much more preferable to standing around stops and getting off and on buses/tubes.

    1. I’m going to make a broad statement: most people are twats, be they in cars, on foot, on a train,bus, tram or on a bike. In recognition of this I have devised a hierarchy of where I would most like the twats to be, so as to protect as many people as possible

      1. On foot
      2. On a bus, train or tram
      3. on a bike

      Ideally I would like my twats to be not driving at all, but being pragmatic, it most definitely deserves to the least preferential option. Sadly most people drive and as we have established that most people are twats, most people driving are also twats. Most cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users are also twats, but I feel a lot safer with them on the top 3 choices of transport than I do when they are put in charge of a fast and heavy vehicle designed to protect them more than those who will become their victims.

      Also, sorry for gratuitous use of the word, “Twat.”

  15. Interesting that you believe it is us setting up the us-versus-them argument here, given that you have both just made an awful lot of assumptions (largely reminiscent of those made by readers of tabloid newspapers) about the points we are making. You seem, for example, to have read some sort of anti-pedestrian message somewhere in the site, despite this being quite the opposite of the site’s purpose.

    Again, the “About” page outlines the purpose and position of this site. This post discusses a specific issue in evidence-based transport policy and campaigning — that of the efficacy of a specific public information campaign. I suggest reading a bit more widely if you want to know what we think (and what our aims and target audience are), rather than just deciding for us. (That might also help with some of the sarcastic in-jokes — “justification for this anger by painting them with the same brush”, “many motorists may actually also be cyclists”…)

    1. Joe,
      I’m sorry, did I accidentally make a joke, a joke that is such an ‘in-joke’ that I myself didn’t get it? I stated a fact, taken directly from your post:

      Is this evidence of painting people (and not only motorists) with the same brush? Yes! What exactly about this or most of the rest of your post is ‘evidence-based transport policy’? And how, exactly, is saying that many motorists may also be cyclists in any way a joke? Perhaps I should have said it the other way around? Many cyclists are also motorists? There should definitely be evidence of that.
      Nowhere do I say anything about you being anti-pedestrian. You quote someone else to suggest that I said that, which is simply not the case.
      You suggest that I have a look about your site, which I had already done. You compare me to the reader of a tabloid newspaper (which is simply not the case) because I draw the conclusion from your own words that you are painting motorists with very broad strokes (very similar to the broad strokes you are using to paint tabloid newspaper readers), and that this type of communication can be divisive.
      So, it is your blog, so you are definitely free to shoot the messenger, but if you have no desire to be ‘constructive,’ what is your purpose? As stated on the ‘about’ section it is:

      Clearly this indicates that having a voice and having influence are important. If you want to have influence, perhaps it would be useful to not alienate those that may agree with your aims.

  16. This is a brilliant piece of writing and a really concise summary of issues that so many of us muddle up.I only wish our cycling campaign groups might get their own heads around some of this sort of stuff instead of failing to take a clear stance on, well, pretty much anything…..

  17. I’m astonished that so many of you can pick up what’s being said.

    The stuff shouted at me from cars usually sounds like “blarrgh arg blarrgh” (at low, then increasing, then decreasing, then low volume). I usually assume it’s something along the lines of;
    “Wow, that’s a nicely chosen and practical set up you have on that Surly Long Haul Trucker – I really like 2009’s “Olive” frame too, although it’s not as nice as the Cherry Red, is it?”

    “Nice arse!”

  18. Automobilist; “You don’t pay road tax”
    Velocipedist “Explain this” – points to tax disc.
    Automobilist “that’s my f%$£*& road tax disc”
    Velocipedist “My dear fellow, I am allowed to use my bicycle on the road by Statute, that is by the law of the land. You on the other hand have to purchase a Disc and your use and enjoyment of the road is conditional on its purchase – rather like buying a ticket at the cinema – but here I digress – Now see here is the distinction; I really do own the road, by the law of the land, while you only rent it.”

    @Idontpayroadtax; is your angry man video Twyford road Beastleigh Eastleigh?

  19. Dear At War With the Motorist.

    First of all, excellent site and a good argument: Motorists should be apying a LOT MORE, and even then would not cover all their costs. Partly because the economuic costs are so gerat, and partly ebcasue some of us thinkt hat things like road dnager and global warming are things that should not be reduced to monetised values.

    One point of disagreement: Suggesting that the use of seat belts is a a good thing = not for cyclists and pedetsrians. Se my “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” (1992) for the eviodence. Also take a look at the Road Danger Reduction Forum website http://www.rdrf.org.uk . And not drink driving? Plenty still going on, with ther elated issue of drig taking and driving MORE of a problem than twenty/thirty years ago.

    All the best,

    Dr. Robert Davis

    1. Thanks, Robert. I make no comment either way on seatbelts at this point (I like your argument, but have not had a chance to explore it in any depth yet), only that it took a long time for those who wanted seat belts to be widely used to succeed in their campaign.

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