Britain's "beleaguered" motorists slam cost of driving - but are more car dependent than ever, says RAC

25th edition of RAC's Report on Motoring calls for overhaul of way motorists are taxed

by Simon_MacMichael   June 11, 2013  

Car wheel at speed copyright Simon MacMichael.jpg

Britain’s motorists are “battle scarred and beleaguered” due to the state of the roads and the cost of motoring, but are more dependent on their cars than ever before, according to the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2013, published today.

Now in its 25th year, the report examines not only motorists’ attitudes towards current issues such as the extent of fuel duty, but also how opinions have changed over the past quarter century.

It calls on the government to look at new ways of raising revenue through motoring, as well as urging that a greater proportion of the £40 billion it says flows into the Treasury each year should be spent on the roads.

In part, that is due to the condition of the roads themselves, with the long winters and poor summer weather in recent years seeing potholes becoming one of the principal concerns on the part of car drivers.

The top bugbear remains the cost of motoring, cited by 46 per cent of motorists, with maintenance of local roads and motorways in second place at 41 per cent.

There’s a strong perception that the state of the roads is getting worse – some 84 per cent of respondents say the condition of their local roads is getting poorer, while 75 per cent share that opinion when it comes to motorways and other major roads.

There appears to be a lot of resentment about the government not ring-fencing money raised through taxes on motoring such as fuel duty and vehicle excise duty to be spent on maintaining the roads – fully 78 per cent feel that such revenues aren’t spent properly by the government on local roads.

The RAC itself says that “without this investment the Government will be responsible for overseeing a massive decline in the state of our highways which negatively affects consumers and businesses alike, stalls the economy and stores up a huge ‘problem’ bill for future tax payers.”

However, it’s impossible to tell from the survey – conducted for the RAC by Quadrangle among 1,542 current driving licence holders who drive at least once a month – just how many of those respondents are fully aware of the taxation regime surrounding motoring and the roads.

Road tax itself was abolished in 1937, with roads financed out of general taxation, and funding coming from a variety of sources – in England & Wales, the Highways Agency for motorways and major trunk routes, for example, with local authorities typically responsible for roads within their area.

As the recent furore surrounding the tweet from Emma Way in which she admitted hitting a cyclist but said he shouldn’t be on the road because he “doesn’t pay road tax” demonstrates, there is a widespread misconception among some motorists that vehicle excise duty, also known as car tax, is spent exclusively on the roads.

In fact, along with other revenues raised by the Treasury, it goes into a central pot, and some roads funding comes back out of that.

The RAC says that with the money raised from fuel duty continuing to fall each year, due to a combination of people cutting their annual mileage and switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles – both meaning they use less petrol – “there is a real need for a new way of taxing motorists.”

Many respondents to the survey said they would be happy to pay motorway tolls (29 per cent) or city centre congestion charges (33 per cent) if that led to a significant reduction in the price of fuel, as well as vehicle excise duty.

Some would make the counter-argument that if such schemes were extended beyond their current limited presence, it would be hard to see them resulting in a pound for pound reduction in those existing revenue streams, potentially resulting in even greater costs for motorists who chose to pay them.

Highlighting that 89 per cent of drivers are now more reliant than ever before on their cars for day-to-day journeys and more than 77 per cent say that they struggle to make ends meet due to fuel costs, the RAC says the government must “take urgent action to review the nation’s outdated motoring taxation model.”

The report briefly examines alternatives to car use, saying “drivers continue to see the car as an integral part of their lives, with more than three quarters (78 per cent) admitting they would find it very difficult to adjust to a car-free lifestyle.

“However,” it adds, “motorists seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand they are being squeezed financially, but on the other they feel the public transportation system just isn’t up to scratch and doesn’t meet all of their travel needs.”

That view seems more entrenched among older motorists; 21 per cent of those aged 17-24 disagree that it would be difficult to adjust to life without a car, compared to 11 per cent of all motorists, and as would be expected, those who live in cities are much more willing to use public transport as an alternative, due to its wider availability.

The possibility of using a bike for short journeys, for example, many of which are still made by cars, isn’t discussed.

The behaviour of other motorists is also an increasing concern; some two thirds of respondents (65 per cent) believe road rage has got worse during the past five years, and 62 per cent that the courtesy of other drivers has worsened during the same period. Meanwhile, 76 per cent highlight other drivers using a hand-held mobile phone as a cause for concern.

Commenting on the report, RAC technical director David Bizley said: “Our Report on Motoring shows that Britain’s motorists – and roads – have been left battle-scarred after a further 12 months of bearing the burden of extreme financial conditions.

“Despite this, motorists are willing to pay their taxes, but want the balance of levies to reflect how they live and how the use their vehicle. The report suggests that motorists would prefer to see a higher share of motoring taxation levied on those things over which they have greater control – such as whether or not they choose to drive into city centres or use a particular motorway.

“Our research shows that the UK motorist isn’t being unreasonably demanding – all he or she wants is for more of their motoring taxation to be spent on roads. Our message to Government on the back of this landmark 25th edition of the RAC Report on Motoring is that it doesn’t need to be this way – if we make simple changes today we can ensure tomorrow’s generation of motorists can enjoy the UK’s roads for years to come.

“What’s needed is an in-depth review of the overall motoring taxation model and for a reasonable percentage of money raised from drivers to be ring-fenced for roads – that way the ‘unlucky’ motorist can be rid of the 2013 plague of the all-year-round pothole,” he added.

21 user comments

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Would be very worrying if the government followed motorists' requests and did use money raised from fuel and excise duty to fund road repairs.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [193 posts]
11th June 2013 - 13:52

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Roads are too congested, hey? And making motoring cheaper will fix that how?

As amply evidenced by William Plowden's 'The Motor Car and Politics in Britain' (1971), the motor lobby, including RAC, has been clamouring for cheaper motoring since early 1900s. The position of most motoring orgs has long been that taxation should be placed on fuel, not motor vehicles.

However, Gov'ts have long taxed "luxuries". Back then (and today) motorists said cars were not luxuries. Gov't knows luxuries when it sees them. Cash cows? Not really. Negative externalities of motoring means driving is subsidised.

Mind you, RAC is spot on about road maintenance. Forget building new ones, let's fix the existing ones first.

Carlton Reid's picture

posted by Carlton Reid [108 posts]
11th June 2013 - 13:55

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Isnt there acres of research to show that the cost of owning a car has actually dropped over the years?
Im sure i could reference it and provide a link but frankly i cant be bothered.
For such a oppressed part of society their seems to be an awful lot of people still doing it. Driving i mean.

As Carlton says - for the cost of a brand new (unnecessary) by pass most local authorities could probably fix their entire road network.

posted by Some Fella [706 posts]
11th June 2013 - 15:33

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I am almost in tears; but, my driving costs have plummeted in the last few years. I have simply sold one of my cars and now I am off to 'cycle' to work. Maybe if they put fuel duty on cream buns Angry
But the roads round here are falling to bits and all I read about is that we should build more roads.
Bearing in mind that most roads are/were paid for by borrowing money -from where?- (meaning that many roads have not even been paid for yet)it would be interesting to know how much our roads actually cost this country. Even before you take into account the cost of thousands of deaths and serious injuries per year Thinking

posted by SideBurn [763 posts]
11th June 2013 - 16:34

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I run a 10yr old car, £90 for a full tank of diesel per month, £22 insurance, £11 for excise and i put away another £10 for tyre replacements etc (all per month). Not to mention the lump sum if something goes wrong.

So all in all it costs me £133.00 per month to run a car which is already paid for as no finance or loan. If i had to replace my car with a one of the same model etc it would be £27,000.00 (audi a4 2.0tdi) which would then be something stupid like a £500 per month loan.

All in all its bloody expensive hence why i ride my bike to work more often than not which ultimately saves me about £40 per month.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2638 posts]
11th June 2013 - 17:26

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cavasta wrote:
Would be very worrying if the government followed motorists' requests and did use money raised from fuel and excise duty to fund road repairs.

Why?

Think all road users are in agreement that govt should spend more on road repairs, aren't they?

posted by 700c [538 posts]
11th June 2013 - 17:52

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cavasta wrote:
Would be very worrying if the government followed motorists' requests and did use money raised from fuel and excise duty to fund road repairs.

That is EXACTLY what they need to do.

I'm not a motorist, but they HAVE to put money in to get the whole countries roads up to scratch, even just to a half decent state is going to be billions, because they don't invest enough year on year

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posted by Gkam84 [8639 posts]
11th June 2013 - 21:19

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cavasta wrote:
Would be very worrying if the government followed motorists' requests and did use money raised from fuel and excise duty to fund road repairs.

This is what should be done, with all the duty that is payed on fuel, the road are in a real bad state; so poor value for money for the driver; better road have a benefit for cyclists, as they are smoother, safer and faster, guess you don't ride on UK roads or you would have seen this, a lot are pretty nasty to ride on now.

posted by jimc101 [56 posts]
11th June 2013 - 22:07

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I think what 'cavasta' is getting at is the whole ownership problem. If we (car drivers) are made to feel that we are actually paying for the roads then the whole "cyclists shouldn't be on the road, I pay for them you don't" situation has a strong back bone.

The reason cycling has the little bit of legitimacy that it does is due to the fact that 'road tax' doesn't exist and when we pay our VED we're paying for the right to use our vehicle and not directly for the road.

Directly using fuel and excise duty to fund the road network would quickly sort out the state of the roads, but would cause massive problems. People with bigger, more expensive VED-rated vehicles would think that they own more of the road than somebody in, say- a Smart car. And haulage companies with their massive costs would run riot.

It won't happen, they need to keep the application of funds hidden.

Chiggety check yourself before you wreck yourself

posted by therealsmallboy [85 posts]
12th June 2013 - 9:39

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In my opinion scrap the excise licence and add the cost onto petrol. It means the people who use the roads the most pay for the roads through tax on fuel.

Its been a long standing bugbear of mine that people, like my parents, who do about 2k miles a year in their car pay the same as and sometimes more in excise duty than a salesman or similar ilk who does 40k a year ?

If it was added to the fuel costs then car users would surely think twice about nipping to the shops, dropping the kids off at school etc.

And it would cut out the added cost of producing the excise licence and we all know there are a lot of people who dont even bother to get an excise licence !

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2638 posts]
12th June 2013 - 10:52

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therealsmallboy wrote:
I think what 'cavasta' is getting at is the whole ownership problem. If we (car drivers) are made to feel that we are actually paying for the roads then the whole "cyclists shouldn't be on the road, I pay for them you don't" situation has a strong back bone.

The reason cycling has the little bit of legitimacy that it does is due to the fact that 'road tax' doesn't exist and when we pay our VED we're paying for the right to use our vehicle and not directly for the road.

Directly using fuel and excise duty to fund the road network would quickly sort out the state of the roads, but would cause massive problems. People with bigger, more expensive VED-rated vehicles would think that they own more of the road than somebody in, say- a Smart car. And haulage companies with their massive costs would run riot.

It won't happen, they need to keep the application of funds hidden.

Correct. My sentiments precisely. You made the point before I've had chance to re-post. There are enough f***wit drivers as it is who believe cyclists shouldn't be on the road. Why give legitimacy to their bigoted views by paying for road maintenance out of vehicle-based revenues? The roads infrastructure benefits the entire country not just those who use it directly.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [193 posts]
12th June 2013 - 11:21

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Sure they should ring fence fuel duty and vehicle excise duty. Use it to pay for the cost of lung diseases, global warming and obesity.

posted by Actium [37 posts]
12th June 2013 - 11:52

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stumps wrote:
In my opinion scrap the excise licence and add the cost onto petrol. It means the people who use the roads the most pay for the roads through tax on fuel.

Its been a long standing bugbear of mine that people, like my parents, who do about 2k miles a year in their car pay the same as and sometimes more in excise duty than a salesman or similar ilk who does 40k a year ?

If it was added to the fuel costs then car users would surely think twice about nipping to the shops, dropping the kids off at school etc.

And it would cut out the added cost of producing the excise licence and we all know there are a lot of people who dont even bother to get an excise licence !

there's big problems with that though, the obvious one being that the VED renewal is also a primary mechanism to check that vehicles are MOTed and insured.

also, do you *really* think it would change people's habits? i don't. i see a lot of moaning about fuel costs but the reality is many people are tied to their cars and not offered a viable alternative.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7227 posts]
12th June 2013 - 12:18

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Dave, you could be right about people's habits.

As for insurance the dvla have no control over this other than no isurance / mot produced then no vel. Most insurance companies have joined the scheme whereby they update the PNC which shows full ins, mot's and authorised drivers with dob. The PNC is the primary tool used by Police to check your vehicle through officer checks and the anpr cameras fitted to most Police vehicles.

If a vehicle gets flagged up via the anpr or the officer check for no insurance we can also contact MIB (not men in black Big Grin ) who have a computerised list of all insurers and they can check to see if the policy has just been taken out within the last few days and is yet to be updated on the PNC.

Sorry if thats long winded, thought it might explain things a bit better. But i digress, your original comment about there being no viable alternative is spot on. There is nothing else other than local trams / undeground / metro systems which are purely for short distances. Trains and planes are far to expensive for long distances and the bus systems are to slow.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2638 posts]
12th June 2013 - 12:46

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long winded is good, thanks for explaining that system. if you stayed out of trouble though, would you ever be subject to a PNC check? VED is good because everyone gets chased up, every year. not everyone pays, which i guess would be the major benefit of fuel-based taxation. you don't pay, you don't drive. it still shouldn't be ringfenced though, ever.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7227 posts]
12th June 2013 - 13:26

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We carry out pnc checks regularly on cars which are driving a bit erratically, full of young uns, or just an old banger.

The ANPR system basically constantly runs and if a vehicle drives past in either direction which does not have an mot, ins, stolen or just one of note used by local toe rags it comes up on the screen in the car and the cop can see what it is and if necessary stop them.

So for example mrs canny body who forgets to renew her ins will get flagged up and stopped just like anyone else.

For those who dont know ANPR - Automated Number Plate Recognition.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2638 posts]
12th June 2013 - 13:38

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cool, cheers for clarifying.

another point: since road repairs are necessary due to vehicle damage, and the amount of damage seems to be proportional to axle weight raised to the fourth power, should we not be charging haulage companies around 10,000 times as much as motorists to use the roads? meanwhile, bikes would pay 1/10,000th of what cars pay

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7227 posts]
12th June 2013 - 14:02

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cavasta wrote:

Correct. My sentiments precisely. You made the point before I've had chance to re-post. There are enough f***wit drivers as it is who believe cyclists shouldn't be on the road. Why give legitimacy to their bigoted views by paying for road maintenance out of vehicle-based revenues? The roads infrastructure benefits the entire country not just those who use it directly.

That's a cynical and short sighted view, in my opinion.

You'd rather suffer on crap roads with the status quo, than have extra money spent from some of the billions raised in fuel duty, because you think it would further the 'them and us' attitude.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face!

And anyway, this bad attitude is already prevalent, most notably in the strong views you've expressed on this forum topic!

posted by 700c [538 posts]
12th June 2013 - 19:25

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I wouldn't say 'cutting your nose off to spite your face', don't forget we're all in this together and we all want better roads.

If the trade off for better roads is that those drivers with extreme views are then literally told "you pay for this now" then it can only be a bad thing for us. Not them.

Do you really want to have a situation where you can't say "there's no such thing as road tax" etc. to people when they start ranting out of their window at you? This is the exact reason it was disbanded in 1937.

What they could do is increase alcohol and cigarette taxes, they'll always sell well. Then just publicly ring-fence some of that?

Chiggety check yourself before you wreck yourself

posted by therealsmallboy [85 posts]
12th June 2013 - 22:04

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All road users have minorities within them who are idiots, or who hold ignorant or bigoted views.

General taxation will probably always be used to fund roads, but supplementing this with things like fuel duty would clearly be acceptable to drivers, in fact they want it. It would seem fair to the majority of road users

Its only a few people on special interest forums, eg road cc or whatever the equivalent is for lorry drivers, ,who might put inter-road-user divisions and and petty conflicts ahead of sensible, improved and increased funding for road maintenance.

I've hit potholes in both my car and on my bike. From both perspectives I know how crap it is.

Most serious cyclists also drive. So please everyone stop creating more division and antagonism simply based on prejudice related to mode of transport used. It is, in the main, artificial and unhelpful

posted by 700c [538 posts]
13th June 2013 - 10:14

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I wonder how many times this spineless government will have to cancel fuel tax rises (while closing libraries and surestart centres) before the whining car lobbyists get down off their soap box?

I say this as the owner and driver of a car.

posted by pmanc [112 posts]
13th June 2013 - 13:49

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