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iPayRoadTax continues to set the record straight on "road tax"

Plain English Campaign and Which? Car agree to drop use of misleading term

The iPayRoadTax campaign has claimed a couple of notable victories in recent days in its efforts to dispel misconceptions about how roads are funded as well as use of the term “road tax” itself – it hasn’t existed since 1937, having been abolished in a process begun by Winston Churchill 11 years earlier.

One of the organisations gently admonished for its erroneous use of the term “road tax” was, perhaps surprisingly, the Plain English Campaign (PEC), which had used the phrase in a press release highlighting the confusion and distraction caused to road users by road signs that clutter the streetscape and often conflict with one another.

According to the PEC founder Chrissie Maher, quoted in the press release, “No doubt installing these signs creates work for people and businesses, and it’s all well intentioned, but not well thought out. Any public information should be given in a way that can be read, understood and dealt with in a single reading.

“It does seem odd spending money on simply labelling the roads and giving unnecessary and distracting messages, when the road tax we pay is needed to make roads safer.”

According to, the error was rectified soon after an email was sent to the PEC pointing out the fact that not only does “road tax” not exist, but also that highways maintenance is paid for out of general taxation, although it added that the subsequent removal of the press release itself was “a shame: the release was a good one. It just needed half a sentence to be removed.”

Happily, the press release, which highlights issues such as foreign drivers being confused by signs warning of “adverse weather ahead” when reference to snow, rain or fog might be clearer, or advice to drivers to look at specific websites, has since been republished on the PEC website with the “road tax” references removed.

Meanwhile, Which?, the organisation that campaigns for consumer rights, including fighting against the use of consuming or misleading language, has said that it will now use the term “car tax” instead of “road tax” when talking about vehicle excise duty.

As reported on the cycle trade website BikeBiz, edited by iPayRoadTax founder Carlton Reid, the Spring 2010 issue of Which? Car magazine, an article regarding vehicle excise duty carried the headline “Cut the cost of your road tax” and included a graphic showing no fewer than 14 tax disc roundels, each showing the words “road tax.”

When informed of the error, Which? Car editor Richard Headland initially said that it intended to continue to use the term “road tax,” partly because data from Google Analytics demonstrated that it was still a hugely popular phrase used by those seeking information on vehicle excise duty; by using the phrase “road tax,” Which? Car would therefore be able to ensure that its content appeared in search results, enabling consumers to find it easily.

Subsequently, however, Which? Car has confirmed via Twitter that from now on, it will change the terminology it uses, sending a tweet on the social network that read: “We've explained to @carltonreid why we used such tax terminology, but will prefer 'car tax' in future.”

While to some, using the term “car tax” or, to be entirely accurate, “vehicle excise duty” instead of “road tax” may seem like needless pedantry, from a cyclist’s point of view, the distinction – and the myths surrounding how road construction and maintenance is founded – is an important one.

Besides the fact that most adult cyclists are car drivers themselves, there are many reports of cyclists being told by car drivers to “get off the road” since they don’t pay “road tax,” and it was one such instance that led to being set up in the first place.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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