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.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.