I was particularly saddened to hear that another cyclist had been killed through the negligence of another road user, and that yet again the responsible party was shown excessive lenience by the courts. What saddened me further was the distatseful and offensive way in which this was handled by BBC East Midlands Today reporter Quentin Rayner. Cheapening a tragic death by spouting anti-cyclist bigotry is not something I would expect from a well-respected organisation such as the BBC, especially not on a current affairs programme, through references to a non-existent tax which some ill-informed motorists believe gives them a greater degree of ‘ownership’ of the roads than other users; Vehicle Excise Duty.
Vehicle excise duty is commonly referred to by the misleading name ‘Road tax’ in order to further the aims of the motoring lobby. It does not pay for the building or maintenance of roads, let alone the other external costs from motoring. The term ‘Road tax’ only persists in order to make it easier for the motoring lobby to lobby for ever greater subsidy of motoring, through measures such as infrastructure and tax changes. I use the word subsidy quite correctly, the external costs of motoring are at the very least £9.6 billion per year than the sum total raised through motoring-related taxes. This shortfall is paid for in part by the 25% of British households which do not own a car. These households include some of the poorest families in the country, and represents one of the most regressive forms of subsidy imaginable.
Roads are funded through general taxation and council tax. The persistence of the myth of road tax has paid dividends for the motoring lobby, with the Minister for Roads, Mike Penning MP himself having been mislead by the persistence of this misinformation. I would expect that a news outlet such as the BBC should be aware of how roads have been funded since 1937 rather than helping to perpetuate misinformation which specifically benefits a vested interest.
The myth of road tax has a darker side though; it helps contribute to a road culture where some motorists don’t behave with the duty of care they owe more vulnerable road users, at the back of their mind is the idea that they paid for these roads and somehow have a greater ownership of them. The duty of care owed to more vulnerable road users is replaced with a culture of SMIDGAF.
Sadly, it doesn’t end there. Some cyclists (myself included) have been victims of intimidation, abuse and even assault from motorists. Whilst these individuals are a minority, their behaviour is encouraged by the myth that they have a greater right to the road than other road users like cyclists, a myth which has no basis in reality. It is completely irresponsible for a BBC programme to encourage this behaviour by perpetuating the myth and validating it with the question:
“[Cyclists] don’t pay any road tax, how do you justify using the highway?”
This sort of questioning would be crossing a line for a current affairs programme, even if it wasn’t based on a non-existent road-funding scheme. The non-existence of road tax makes it completely inexcusable.
All of this discussion of the technicalities of how taxes pay for infrastructure is somewhat missing the point, a person died because of the negligence of another road user. Instead of treating the death of an innocent person through the actions of another person with the respect such an incident deserved, it was used by BBC East Midlands and its reporter, Quentin Rayner, as a platform for anti-cyclist bigotry. What an absolute fucking disgrace.