The beeb had a report out recently about how motorists were being hit with bills from the Highways agency to cover the costs of accidents that befell them when on the motorway.
A BBC reporter told about how she skidded on some liquid, which sent her spinning across the carriageway, finally ending up on the hard shoulder facing the wrong way. She did the right thing, rung 999, and the cops helped to slow down traffic such that she could right herself and carry on ..Only for her to get issued with a bill for £3,000 for supposed repairs to the road!88| Another reports talk of individuals who suffered oil leaks and were forced to pay hundreds of pounds for the leaks to be cleaned up.
As an environmentalists, its rare I take the side of the driver, but I am forced to ask in this case, isnt that thing we pay called road tax supposed to cover these sorts of costs?
Now while you could argue that if someone fails to maintain their vehicle and it leaks oil all over the road, then okay, they should pay something towards that. But charging for labour costs, considering that the highways agency will generally have teams on 24 hr standby (i.e. were already paying for those labour costs via road tax so this amounts to double charging), wouldnt be appropriate. The BBC report notes that the consumables cost to clean up some oil would run to maybe £12.50. Of course one has to then question if the paperwork and administration costs are worth pursuing somebody for 12 quid. As far as a genuine accident, as occurred to this BBC journalist, clearly that should be covered by the highways agency, as after all she could well argue the accident was their fault for failing to maintain the road properly.
Clearly what these charges highlight is how budgets for government agencies are getting tight (thanks to the Tory cuts) and public bodies are forced into taking all the more elaborate means to claw back money from the public, charging for things that have generally been supplied free of charge. Indeed, I seem to remember the Tories themselves complaining about labour “stealth taxes” when they were in opposition!
Of course what really worries me about this story is the long term plan of the Tories to privatise the road network, as I discussed before in a prior post. Naturally this form of charging of motorists with bills for accidents presents a profit hungry corporation with all sorts of opportunities for mischief making. One can envisage them putting just enough grit on roads in winter to avoid being sued, but not enough to prevent a few motorists spinning off, who promptly get hit with bills for theyre trouble. Or being very slow to fix potholes until a couple of crashes had paid for the repair.
Of course the real danger is that such hidden charges could cause people to start avoiding the motorways altogether. I went for fully comprehensive insurance and am I glad now that I did! If I was on third party, Id be giving serious thought to sticking to B roads from now on. Of course, if youre going to go to the trouble and expense of ripping up the countryside to build motorways, the worst thing you can do is leave them unused. Motorway travel is generally the safest, fastest and most fuel efficient way of travelling long distance by motor vehicle (well assuming you drive sensibly and at a reasonable speed!). Motorways also keep smaller roads free of cross country traffic. Do the Tories what to see motorways underused while small rural UK towns get shaken to bits by artic lorries pulling through them?
Furthermore, these sort of charges means some motorists will now begin to take risks. As that BBC journalists pointed out she could have easily got back on the road without the help of the police. No doubt the danger is, somebody without fully comprehensive insurance will end up in a similar position and not wanting to get charged thousands of pounds for something that wasnt his fault will risk it, try and extricate himself without police help and cause a motorway pile up that kills a large number of people. And well have government penny pinching to thank for it!
Of course I have long argued that motorists need to accept that they are getting a very sweet deal on the roads. The combination of petrol duty and road tax simply does not cover the true costs of motoring (when you factor in maintenance, construction costs, paying of debt on the loans to fund construction, police and emergency cover, climate change related costs, etc.). But even so, imposing arbitrary charges that are unreasonable and unworkable (and frankly dangerous!) is not a solution.
These new government charges highlight to me the need for a rethink. I would propose the abolition of road tax and petrol duty and replace them with road pricing and a carbon tax. This would directly relate how much you drive and the carbon footprint of ones car to how much it costs to drive.