The War On The Motorist



On 13 May 2010, the new Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said

We will end the war on motorists’.


Have these good intentions been matched by action?




Current situation


Fuel duty

Limited relief after repeated increases that have had knock-on effects on the price of goods in shops. (Increasing price inflation also has a role in making public transport fares go up)


The threatened 2012 and 2013 increases were canned after public pressure, but VAT on fuel was increased to 20% and no action taken over speculators. Though duty is now frozen until May 2015, above-inflation (RPI or RPI + 1%) increases were only prevented by public disquiet.


The type of fuel duty stabiliser that Philip Hammond spoke of has not happened; David Cameron even hinted at lowering fuel taxes – before the 2010 General Election.




Although there has been some increased funding, the overall sum (about £3.2bn over 4 years) is inadequate to contain the mess let alone clear it (est. nearer £10Bn needed). In Action for Roads/Investing in Britain's Future £6Bn is earmarked for 'local roads' between 2015-21, but would still be inadequate.


This threatens the safety of road users and expensive repair bills for drivers who contribute around £50Bn a year in taxes (that’s over £5 million an hour). 


Parking charges

Although non-binding guidance encouraging higher charges has been abolished, councils have been allowed to propose and even levy damaging increases in charges.


Westminster City Council has started charging motorcyclists and only abandoned charges for parking on Sundays and evenings after a sustained backlash of public protests.


Another council has targeted disabled drivers.


Legal costs (reimbursement of cost of proving innocence in court)

The government is reviving Labour’s discredited proposals that ministers fought when in opposition! These might deny drivers getting back ‘reasonable costs’ – see the official notes on the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill’.


As a cost-cutting measure this is excessive and hardly just, noting as many as 1 in 5 CPS prosecutions can fail because they are defective. Is it the intention that innocent people should plead guilty as this might be cheaper?


Parking abuses – bailiffs and clampers

No action on bailiffs yet, but talk of a future Ministry of Justice consultation.


Potential for abuse in clamping could actually increase under the ironically-named ‘Protection of Freedoms Bill’.



Speed camera quangos

The discredited speed camera regime continues, even though the Roads Minister saw evidence that most cameras were ‘cash cows’.


Central funding for new speed cameras was ended, but quangos (‘camera partnerships’) still exist in many places, despite promises to abolish them in 2009. Thames Valley’s has resurrected as a private company – welcome to the ‘Big Brother Society’?


Average speed cameras


In 2009, we were given assurances that the rollout of these cameras would stop, and they only would only have a limited role, such as in policing motorway roadworks. However, a new type, the SpeedSpike, has received approval for general use. This will enable wider journey tracking and could be a threat to civil liberties.


Speed awareness courses

Some drivers have been pushed onto paid-for courses as an alternative to licence points, although this may not save them from insurance premium rises. The courses have been described as ‘grovelling sessions’ – any marked dissent and the driver is liable to pay for both the cost and a fine in court. So hardly surprising that the feedback has been great!


Penalties for minor road traffic offences (‘careless driving’)

A consultation threatens to dramatically increase penalties for some quite minor offences while trivialising the more serious offence of driving without insurance. Again, there seems to be an agenda to push courses.



Road pricing (for HGVs/lorries).

A coalition commitment, however the Jan 2012 consultation implies that none of Britain’s hard-pressed hauliers might be better off and a minority will be worse off.


The only relief provided for will be that foreign-based hauliers will have to pay something (from 2014-15 approx). The beneficiary will be the government, who will take more tax. It is likely that any costs will have to be passed onto consumers.


Germany is looking at tolling all lorries, not just 12 ton HGVs, so there is a possible indirect EU impact for smaller 3.5+ ton lorries.


Road pricing (for cars).

Ruled out at first ‘before 2030’, then ‘in this Parliament’ (i.e. before 2015).


In 2011, the Treasury added ‘demand management’ (a euphemism for charging) into how it will assess transport investment.


Follow up studies to the Cook Report threaten major road lease-offs and the prospect of operators charging tolls to increase profits. The debate is shifting from ‘new capacity’ to ‘improved roads’ (however defined).


The 2012 Budget sought to use drivers to make up the shortfall in wider tax revenue.


Although the EU has its own eyes on revenue to pay for its Galileo satellite, Angela Merkel has ruled out road pricing for cars in Germany, making imposition less likely at EU level in the short term.


However there are moves at EU level that sound like tolling ‘all vehicles or none’, and the EU is set to adopt greater majority voting after 2014.




Congestion Charge (in London)

Mayor Boris Johnson has abolished the West London ‘Kengestion Charging’ zone, although those needing to go into the smaller zone typically have to pay 25% more (£10), or 12.5% more (£9) plus a registration fee for the Autopay discount.


However, in July 2013, the Mayor’s Roads Task Force has proposed consideration of tolls for the future, with TFL’s response in agreement.

(NB Several documents, the response is the most useful).



Dartford Crossing charges

The original deal was that charges would only be levied until the cost of construction was covered. To the embarrassment of Tory MPs elected on abolishing Dartford Crossing charges, the charges are staying and rising!


The government said it needed the money, and even proposed increases! These were suspended after a public backlash in 2011.


Charges will be suspended only in case of emergency or if the tailback is about 12 miles!


Humber Bridge charges

In 2011, DFT offered the possibility of halving the charges from £3 to £1.50, depending on local authority flexibility over finances.



M4 bus lane

Hardly a priority, more a gimmick. A very short stretch of M4 bus lane was suspended before the 2012 Olympics and it was announced that it might go permanently. However this just changes the merge point of the two outer lanes, and using the section is only really of much value if another lane is blocked.


Motorway speed limits

Modern cars are far more capable of travelling safely at speed than when the 70mph speed limit was set. The promised consultation on raising the speed limit was a small step in the right direction, although a 10mph increase in the limit might only see a 2.5mph rise in typical speed (based on the established ‘85th percentile’ rule - see  .


However the consultation was dropped as a sop to anti-car groups, and motorway speed limits have been regularly cut in ‘Managed Motorway’ areas to 50mph on the strength of non existent congestion, when only 1/3 of space used.


Action on drink-driving

The Blood-Alcohol Content limit has been kept at ‘80mg’, with action being targeted at those well over the limit.  This is sensible – there are already offences of careless & dangerous driving that can be used against anyone driving unsafely at a lower BAC level (e.g. some drink combined with tiredness).


Localism (‘Power to the People’)

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles spoke of ending ‘Whitehall’s war on the motorist’, but the ‘localism’ solution seems to be devolving the battlefield without protecting drivers. Councils may get new sources of income, but democratic safeguards such as referendums are not guaranteed!


Restriction of car parking space


PPG13 planning guidance limiting car parking has been abolished, but it was practically obsolete anyway, so this may not be of great benefit.


In London, scarce car parking spaces have been removed from use to provide spaces for the hyped ‘Boris Bikes’.


20mph zones

The government is making it easier for local authorities to waste money on bringing in blanket 20mph zones. The reasoning is hyped – the priority should be on road users to behave sensibly and for pedestrians to cross at approved places. Local authorities are ignoring expert/police advice.


Anti-car campaigners are hiding behind a flag of ‘road safety’. Main roads used by buses will be kept at 30mph - despite the fact that if a pedestrian is hit by a heavier bus, the impact will be far greater – we never hear calls for buses to be restricted!


Political correctness

Health minister Anne Milton amazed by suggesting banning cars from residential roads on Sundays ‘to fight obesity’… earning much ridicule on popular newspaper websites.


The Department for Transport’s 2011 local transport White Paper talks of ‘nudging’ – subtly prodding drivers in the government’s chosen direction, for instance to restrict choice…




This page was maintained between 2011 and 2015 only to benchmark the performance of the coalition government





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