The former Labour government may have been accused by the Conservatives of waging a “war on the motorist,” but proposals being considered by Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle suggest that the party is looking to position itself as the driver’s friend, with plans potentially including rewarding those who drive within the speed limit.
The about-turn in the party’s motoring policy, outlined by Ms Eagle in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, comes as Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband seeks to win back voters from what he terms the “squeezed middle.”
Eagle accepts that the party had become unpopular among motorists while it was in power, saying, “By the end I think there was a perception among motorists that we were not their friends. The perception was that we were about soaking them for money. It was felt that cameras were about catching them on the hop and fining them, money raising arrangement rather than a road safety arrangement.”
One example of how the party’s policy could be repositioned as being more focused on road safety comes through the use of average speed cameras, which record the speed between two points, says Eagle.
"The speed cameras are capturing the data, the speed and number plates of the cars that go through,” she explained.
"I have seen lately this idea actually if you were to use the information you get from them to have a lottery, have a draw of those who drive under the speed limit,” she continued.
"It's not just seen as a way of catching people who drive too fast. It might make people understand there is a point to it.
"There is an incentive for good behaviour which is perhaps better psychologically than a disincentive for bad behaviour,” Ms Eagle added.
Another approach could be giving a discount to drivers renewing their vehicle excise duty if it could be shown that they had remained within the speed limit.
Since coming to power, the coalition government has withdrawn funding for new speed cameras and the reduction in the road safety grant has also forced a number of councils to turn their cameras off, but Ms Eagle believes they have a valuable role to play in road safety.
"I think in some cases speed cameras can make a vital contribution to road safety.
“If you live in a village with one street which people go through really quickly and have a kid with a propensity to run through the gate, you might quite like a speed camera.”
The politician acknowledges that in devising policies that could appeal to motorists, she risks drawing fire from environmental activists within her own party, but Ms Eagle maintains, “I don't myself start with any ideological position over motorists.”
She continues, "Like most people use all forms of transport. I don't myself believe it is the job of government to be telling people what forms of transport they should use in their everyday lives.
“If you have two or three kids and they don't all go to the same school and you work, it is just not sensible to tell people like that to wait for the bus,” she continued.
"In those circumstances it makes sense to have a private car.”
Parking is another area in which Ms Eagle is keen to draw up policies that would appeal to motorists, moving away from the current system in which they can be fined for technical issues such as failing to display a ticket properly, even when they have bought one.
"They don't mind paying for parking so long as it is reasonable, they don't mind controlled parking, but what they don't like is that people are trying to catch them out,” insists Ms Eagle.
Not everyone is pleased by Labour’s apparent volte-face over its motoring policy, however, which previously sought to try and discourage car use by higher taxes.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, told The Daily Telegraph: “Anything the government does influences behaviour and if it is to tackle climate change and congestion it will have to do something and this can be done by smart taxation.”
Andrew Howard of the AA was more receptive to Labour’s apparent change of strategy, however, saying “I think we have to be pleased that the penny has dropped,” particularly since the news came as motorists faced not only increased taxation from the government but also higher petrol prices due to “the increased price of oil on the world market.”
Simon joined road.cc 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.