Sack Bob Crachit

HondaAside from the fact that driving any fossil-fuel vehicle is an assault on the environment, owning two cars is not that much of an extravagance. Honestly. In fact, it’s relatively ecological, given that I can only drive one at a time, whereas, if I sold one, then both could be generating fumes simultaneously.

And anyway, omitting meat from my diet more than compensates for the carbon emissions from my driving. Stick that up your public transport exhaust pipe.

Since the cost of driving is largely governed by distance, (fuel, obviously being the largest expense; but also oil, tyres, wear and tear), the number of vehicles is not a major factor. Only tax and insurance are “per capita” costs. Insurance can be mitigated by several means, such as being old; both the car and the driver. The tax situation is more fixed.

MercedesWhen Gordon Brown (remember him?) was Chancellor, he changed the road tax system in an attempt to encourage drivers to opt for more efficient, lower-carbon cars. Originally the price had been a flat rate for all cars, then it had been split into small and large engine sizes, but Gordon introduced a far more complicated ladder based on the grammes of carbon per kilometre. The very lowest emission cars need no payment at all, but the gas-guzzlers in Band M cost £435 per year.

Both my cars fall into the penultimate emissions group, Band L, (sorry), and would be liable for £425 each (ouch) except that both are older than the limit of the scheme, having been registered before March 2001. Although Gordon was bitterly criticized for retrospectively applying the band system to existing cars, he did set that age limit. It means that I need to pay less than half, at £205 each.

Which, of course, encourages me to do exactly the opposite to what Gordon wanted. I keep driving the old cars. The new equivalents are more efficient, but they would still fall into Band J or K, costing me a little more in annual tax than I pay now. Anyway, I can’t afford to buy new cars. Nothing that you could fit a 4×10 speaker cab into anyway.

All this was in my mind today because I need to re-tax the Honda in order to be able to use it. The way it works is that you need insurance and a roadworthiness certificate in order to get the tax disc, meaning that the necessities are all tied together. I think that is quite sensible.

ScroogeBut what is totally, staggeringly, utterly stupid is how the system works in practice. It must have been invented by someone with the mind set of the Victorian accountant, because it’s all based on pieces of paper. You have to actually send them not only the insurance certificate, but also the test certificate issued by the very same government agency. They do have computers, I know this, but finding out if a car has been tested must be beyond the authority of a car tax clerk. Today, because there’s been a break for a month with the car untaxed, I’m also having to send them the registration document issued by the very same government agency. It proves that I own the car. If that fact wasn’t on the fucking computer already.

In Northern Ireland, it’s compulsory to display both the tax disc and the road test disc on the car (other countries often require evidence of insurance too). But that’s so nineteenth-century as well. Given the quality of modern photo printers, it’s laughably easy to knock up and print a fake disc of either variety; something that would pass cursory inspection. But that’s not important, because the police actually check cars for tax with a computer vision system that reads the number plate and looks it up on the computer. The paper discs are entirely superfluous.

Call me a visionary, but I believe that, one day, computers will hold records of car tax, insurance and roadworthiness. It’s bound to happen.


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