October 31, 2006


Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6101058.stm

It’s not been a good couple of days for petrolheads. In the last 48 hours, we’ve had the above from the Transport Select Committee calling for more speed cameras and traffic police, the arrest of Nick Freeman (which I’ve already covered) and rumours of ill-directed government plans to price us off the roads.

Dealing with the linked article first, the Transport Select Committee are actually talking some sense. One of their statements for example, that technology must support road police officers, not replace them, I wholeheartedly agree with. Technology can be made as fancy as you like, but it lacks the ability to judge circumstances; it will only measure something against a fixed criteria and implement fixed actions accordingly. To then contradict themselves quite brilliantly, they call for yet more speed cameras. To which I shrug. I’m afraid motorists are just going to have to accept that we aren’t going to win this one – consider it an extra tax on you all. If you want to keep your licences, instead of giving the money to the government in fines I suggest you all go and get a subscription to a GPS based speed camera alert system. I run a Snooper S6-R myself, they’re perfectly legal and invaluable in alerting you when you’re paying attention to the road instead of concentrating solely on your speedo and the hedges in the road. Units cost from a couple of hundred pounds and subscriptions are reasonable; mine costs me £60 a year and for that I get peace of mind that I’m not going to get points and also that my insurance will go on a downward rather than upward trend. As to more police officers on the roads, well I’ve noticed an upward trend in police on the roads, especially on motorways. Fair enough I say – it’s where most of the traffic is and it’s where people generally drive badly and dangerously the most. Motorways aren’t fun unless you have relatively low volumes of traffic and get up to Autobahn speeds, conditions that rarely happen in the UK anyway. I’ve given up on trying to win on motorways for these reasons – much more fun to take the deserted backroads where you never see a cop. Of course, police rarely stop you for driving badly (i.e. weaving about, tailgating), so it would be good if the TSC would make some noises about increasing police crackdowns on bad driving period rather than concentrating on the notion that speed is the sole killer on our roads. And an increased number of police checks on checking drivers for being intoxicated on alcohol or worse is also a good thing. So the TSC are slightly misguided perhaps, but nonetheless making at least not totally discouraging noises.

So what about the environmentalist racket? Well schemes being mooted to save the planet include road charging per mile (which I disagree with on principle, since I don’t want the police to have a tracker on my car. It’s not like they’ll ever use it to find my car if it’s nicked anyway), increasing road tax, disproportionately for better cars, and whacking on fuel duty. Now of the three, the only one that makes sense is fuel duty, a move which I would support (in moderation). Road tax in itself is an annual payment that has naff all to do with how much carbon you emit. For example, people I know who run classic cars. Now, these have large, inefficient engines, but are only driven maybe a couple of thousand miles a year. 1,000 miles at 20MPG is equivalent to 0.53 tonnes of carbon (using www.carbon-clear.com), yet a family hatchback averaging 40MPG doing 12,000 miles a year is equivalent to 3.19 tonnes of carbon – 6 times as much. So why does the person who releases a sixth of the carbon have to pay much, much more road tax? (We’re talking about massive hikes for road tax here, not just the odd £50 on Range Rovers like has been implemented thus far). It’s ridiculous. The only fair way is to whack it on fuel and leave it at that. How much will this cost? Well again referring to carbon clear, 1 tonne of carbon (released by about 425 litres of petrol) costs £9 to offset (i.e. neutralise). So at current rates for carbon offset costs, we should have to pay a whopping 2.11p a litre extra on our petrol to completely neutralise the effects of us driving. I think I can cope with that. Remember that figure when you see prices going up by 50p a litre in the name of saving the environment.

- 21 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. I endorse more police and less cameras because as you say the officer can make a fair and balanced decision. I also endorse prosecution for dangerous driving (weaving) or negligent driving (middle lane hog), neither of which speed cameras catch. I don’t believe the police are bad at their jobs however, we do in a relatively crime free society compared to some other nations.

    As you know I also agree with all the extra duty on fuel, as the infrastructure is already in place to achieve this while the alternative involves mass disruption, huge costs and achieves little. The trouple with only 2.1p a litre more, aside from making the fuel price a round number of pence is that people will just grin and bear it, so it will have little real effect on how much we drive. The highest fuel taxes in Europe haven’t stemmed driving, but then 60%+ of journeys are probably not done for pleasure anyway so why would it make a major difference? Oh wait perhaps the rail network could do with some investment. Me? I’m taking the sensible option and taking the train from Skipton to Derby, it takes less time than driving and is more efficient too. That’s a journey and a set of emissions saved every couple of weeks. In reality the reason people drive tiny distances is laziness and because they can afford it because it uses peanuts. Peanuts all add up though. I’d support say a 10p rise in fuel prices as long as it all went to investments in improving energy efficiency through engineering as well as renewables. Politically though putting up fuel prices is hard due to the 2000 fuel riots etc, and it needs to be done across Europe not just in the UK so that the UK isn’t seen as the ‘evil’ country to hauliers. Mind you it does make more sense than trying to track foreign cars here with their rediculous satellite scheme…

    31 Oct 2006, 20:15

  2. But why should we be discouraged from driving? That cost completely neutralises the CO2 produced from the petrol. It sounds ridiculously low, but it really is that cheap to do. As the easy ways of reducing CO2 run out and so costs per tonne rise, this figure will go up too, but not horrendously. Any changes that would make driving prohibitively expensive wouldn’t happen anyway or there’d be riots – it’s only going to be enough to make us poorer, not give up our cars. Perhaps the government should provide better transport for the millions of people who don’t like driving that much instead of trying to price us all off the roads. And you can bet your bottom dollar that increased fuel taxes would not result in reduced taxes elsewhere, or anything like a proportionate increase in investment on alternatives.

    31 Oct 2006, 20:47

  3. Chris May

    we should have to pay a whopping 2.11p a litre extra on our petrol to completely neutralise the [CO2 emissions] effects of us driving. I think I can cope with that. Remember that figure when you see prices going up by 50p a litre in the name of saving the environment.

    A pedant writes…

    The environment isn’t only CO2, though, is it? It might only cost 2p extra to offset the CO2 emissions, but there are any number of other externalities that aren’t being taken into account. Costs of cleaning up the other emissions, costs of securing a stable supply of oil, costs of maintaining/expanding the road network (not just the construction costs, obviously), and so on.

    So whilst it would be disingenuous to assert that a rise of more than 2p /litre was currently justified on CO2 offsetting grounds, it wouldn’t necessarily be unfair to claim it on environmental grounds. “Environment” covers a pretty broad range of issues, after all.

    Incidentally, how does the cost of carbon offsetting scale? I’d have thought it would get progressively more expensive – right now, there are plenty of very cheap and effective ways to invest to reduce emissions, but sooner or later we’ll have fixed all the easy stuff, and then presumably it will get much more expensive to offset emissions.

    31 Oct 2006, 21:28

  4. Chris May

    oops; just spotted that you’d already alluded to the offsetting costs scaling over time in your comment above. Sorry for the repetition.

    31 Oct 2006, 21:30

  5. Well if there is a fair tax on all CO2 emissions then that stuff won’t be an issue Chris. I forgot to mention in my original post that I would also only be happy with paying the extra tax on the condition that all other emitters of CO2 got slammed with the same levy – aircraft fuel, electricity generation, domestic and industrial gas supply. By that token, the environmental costs of the rest of the infrastructure would also be dealt with. And the idea of offsetting is that overall it’s carbon neutral, thereby giving no net impact on the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. By choosing (or being forced) to pay a bit more, we clean up our act. As to how much things scale I don’t know, but I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that we’d have to be offsetting a hell of a lot of carbon before it would create more than a doubling of cost.

    31 Oct 2006, 21:42

  6. Chris May

    Not sure I follow you. Why would a fair tax on CO2 emissions mean that all the other externalities won’t be an issue?

    If (plucking numbers out of the air) it cost 2p a litre to offset the CO2, but 20p a litre to clean up the cadmium emissions, would you say then that a 22p rise would be fair? If not then your stance seems (to me) a bit blinkered; if so then surely we need a much more complicated calculation of a fair tax level than just the CO2 costs.

    I agree with you that this principle needs to be applied equitably over all energy consumers, though there’s probably a pragmatic case for going after the ‘low hanging fruit’ first – set taxes that result in the biggest benefit to the environment (not just CO2) for the least effort. Whether that means drivers, or power stations, or something else, I don’t know.

    And you can bet your bottom dollar that increased fuel taxes would not result in [...] anything like a proportionate increase in investment on alternatives.

    100% with you on that one, sadly.

    31 Oct 2006, 22:00

  7. There’s a larger issue with CO2 anyway, in that even if the UK were to cut it’s emissions completely, any benefit would be wrecked within 2 years by China (if what I read today in the Metro is correct) so while these taxes might be a good idea, there are larger issues at hand.

    As for more police, I’m going to echo the sentiments posted already in that I too feel that they should be used in preference to cameras, and have long since thought this since cameras are a distraction as people often end up looking at the camera and their speedo rather than the road ahead, which isn’t really ideal.

    01 Nov 2006, 00:23

  8. Lindsey


    So, although I read and am blissfully NOT responding to the topic, you are all named Chris and I think that is nuts so I am therefore offsetting the imbalance!

    01 Nov 2006, 06:34

  9. Boris

    I also welcome (not sure that’s quiet the right word) additional tax on fuel. It seems to be the only fair way to tax people who drive more and/or have cars which drink pertol. Of course as a sane, sensible and widely supported scheme the government will never use it!

    Safety Cameras, no problem with them at schools, blackspots etc, providing they are signposted and highly visible. Surely you want people to see them and slow down rather than catch them and get the money? On motorways they are a cynical revenue raiser, on a recent trip to Glasgow, on the M6 and M74 it was a clear, dry and quiet day. Counted no less than 7 Talivans on the bridges – only catching people a few miles over the speed limit mind you, not drunks, drugged, uninsured, dangerous driving, middle lane 50 mph drivers etc. On the way back a few days later at night and in the wet, no safety cameras as they don’t work in the dark. So don’t try and tell me these are for safety. More police officers great, as has been pointed out they take account of circumstances. A huge thank you to the ones in the Volvo who completely ignored me on the M74 at 90!

    Fully support use of public transport, but please lets have a carrott as well as stick. Took the kids to London last week for day trip, the return cost for family from Banbury would have been £98. As such I drove to Knightsbridge, outside congestion zone, and parked. Cost £20 for fuel and wear and tear, £27 for parking. Half the price of the public transport we are meant to be using!

    01 Nov 2006, 11:23

  10. Chris M – I thought all of these taxes were being discussed with the sole purpose of halting global warming, which I’m lead to believe is caused mostly by CO2 but also to a lesser extent methane and water. Hence the predominant focus on CO2 and not Cadmium (which I’m lead to believe is trace) or other emissions, as I haven’t seen evidence recently that suggests that these things are a problem in the western world since we have 3 way cats and unleaded low sulphur fuel etc. If this can be proved otherwise, then by all means either introduce new cleanup systems or add cleanup charges for those too.

    As to your lowest hanging fruit idea, I sort of agree with that I think. Given that road fuel is already taxed at something like 3.5 times it’s production cost, whereas power stations, domestic fossil fuels and airline fuels are not taxed that I know of (or if they are then certainly nowhere near as much!) I’d suggest that road fuel is the highest hanging fruit. For example, it wouldn’t take a great deal of rise in gas and oil costs to power stations for new nuclear build to become the old sensible option fiscally.

    Chris H – a valid point about other economies. My idea has always been on us enforcing this sort of legislation EU-wide, and putting import taxes on anything outside the EU that doesn’t meet with our legislation. In this case, the import tax would be equal to the offset cost, which we would then spend on offsetting the emissions. In other cases (my favourite one for this argument being agricultural imports) it would go to the treasury of the importing country. That way for my agricultural goods example, we would iron out the competition differences between different countries that don’t have such strict legislation on, for example, pesticide use or animal welfare.

    Boris – hear, hear.

    01 Nov 2006, 13:31

  11. Ian Liverton

    I completely agree with Chris Hawley. Its just not going to make any difference. As for getting the train (Chris Hindes) – most of the time it is not quicker, its damn uncomfortable, it costs more and its generally a right pain in the arse to get to and from the station at both ends. Why on earth would i ever want to take the train?? OK, maybe if i was traveling from London to Edinburgh or some such journey, but over any normal journey a car will beat public transprt every time!

    01 Nov 2006, 19:14

  12. Public transport at present is atrocious, the other week I travelled from Coventry to Leeds, and simply because the train (a Virgin one for whatever that matters) was running too late, they decided to cancel it. Apparently this is because they don’t get fined (or it’s a lesser amount) if they cancel a few stops and then make up the time, rather than being delayed. In the end I caught the same train, but had to get another train to Birmingham in order to do so, and was left thoroughly annoyed.

    01 Nov 2006, 22:14

  13. Chris May

    I thought all of these taxes were being discussed with the sole purpose of halting global warming

    Where did you get that idea from? I think that these kind of taxes are generally aimed at a much broader set of objectives than simply halting global warming. Typically, theyre aimed at reducing traffic volumes on the assumption that a whole host of benefits to society will then accrue. Of course, it might suit some people’s agendas, on both sides of the argument, to simplify it down and say ‘this is simply a measure to prevent global warming’

    It’s tremendously convenient, politically, to blur the distinction between the issue which is the greenhouse effect and that which is ‘the environment’ . Environmental concerns span a much wider range than just greenhouse emissions. The problem is that emissions, and their effects are very measurable, whereas ‘environment’ is just a a set of ideas without even a common definition.

    So by all means one can make the point that a tax rise of more than about 2p/l is currently unjustified on greenhouse emissions grounds, but that doesn’t provide any support one way or the other to the argument that a rise of 50p wouldn’t be justified on environmental grounds.

    01 Nov 2006, 22:41

  14. N

    If you want to keep your licences, instead of giving the money to the government in fines I suggest you all go and get a subscription to a GPS based speed camera alert system.

    Or, and I know this a novel idea, you could obey the law. You may not agree with it, but – unless you also feel it’s fine for, say, anarchists to steal all your possessions – why should you get to decide which laws to follow?

    02 Nov 2006, 20:36

  15. Chris – Well most of these “environmental” measures are being sold to the public as a panic ohmygodwe’reallgoingtodieweneedtostopglobalwarmingnow response to climate change. Therefore, I expect them to be justified on this yardstick. If governments are really intending to introduce these measures on other grounds (broader “environmental” issues, or social changes as you’ve alluded to, or, as I suspect, raising taxes) then these should be more clearly stated so that we can decide if we wish to oppose/agree with them. In my experience, the majority of people want to do something about global warming. The majority of people I meet do not see any reason to support reductions in traffic for any other reason. The way I (and most other people I meet) see it, if we’re not adding to global warming then what’s the big deal about using cars?

    N – the difference is anarchists don’t acidentally nick all your possessions without being aware of it (unless in a deluded state). Speeding remains one of the very few laws I can think of which you can break without ever intending to, or even realising that you’re doing so. For example, there’s a speed camera in a 30mph limit right at the exit of the Park and Ride I use. It’s usually busy, so I tend to have to accelerate briskly out of the site to join the traffic at 5:30 in the evening. Now if I’m in the ST and I accelerate briskly, unless I’m uber-careful watching the speedo whilst making a 90 degree turn to the left and watching for oncoming traffic, which is also often changing lanes, I can very easily be doing over 35mph by the time I get to the speed camera 50 yards down the road. It’s in circumstances like these, where a detector allows you to focus on the road rather than your speedo, that such devices become invaluable in keeping your licence clean and at the same time allowing you to keep your focus where it should be – on the road and traffic around you, not fixated on the speedo all the time.

    02 Nov 2006, 21:46

  16. Max Hammond

    Speeding remains one of the very few laws I can think of which you can break without ever intending to, or even realising that you’re doing so.

    No excuse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_negligence

    I do however agree that a driver’s attention should be on the road rather than the instruments. Guess it’s up to you to resist the temptation to put your foot down quite so hard?

    05 Nov 2006, 23:27

  17. I believe I didn’t actually word my comments to suggest that negligence was an excuse. Rather, I was making a case for technology helping drivers to reduce a driver’s likelihood of being negligent in what can at times be quite a pressurising and difficult environment by way of an example. Surely this is a good thing? If drivers are no longer killing people by driving 0.0000001mph over the speed limit, and technology is helping them do this, then this technology is to be applauded.

    06 Nov 2006, 13:06

  18. Max Hammond

    Rather, I was making a case for technology helping drivers to reduce a driver’s likelihood of being negligent in what can at times be quite a pressurising and difficult environment by way of an example.

    But your Snooper only warns you that you’re exceeding the speed limit when you’re approaching a camera (I think), so it’s not at all about driving legally, it’s about not getting caught.

    Or do speed limits only count when there’s a camera?

    06 Nov 2006, 19:33

  19. The Snooper only warns of speed at speed camera sites, yes. And speed cameras are placed at the most dangerous sites are they not (or are they revenue-earners?), therefore ensuring that you are keeping your speed down and concentrating fully on the road at dangerous sites on the road is a good thing? Or would you rather motorists spent increased amounts of effort monitoring speedometers instead of looking for potential hazards?

    06 Nov 2006, 20:07

  20. Max Hammond

    Or would you rather motorists spent increased amounts of effort monitoring speedometers instead of looking for potential hazards?

    As I said above, I agree that the driver’s attention should be on the road. But my argument is that rather than erring on the side of speed, erring on the side of caution would be a better move.

    07 Nov 2006, 19:30

  21. ella

    i agree with linds there are to many chriss maybe you should make a schooll of keenerish(boffinish 4 all u londoners )chris’s and you can all save the world with my eco warrior/giraffe of a science teacher dr hooker while i skip in the feilds of unknowingness

    08 Nov 2006, 17:11

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