Motoring falsehoods, myths and tropes: Debunked

driverless cars to avoid global gridlock

My car needs enough power to accelerate out of trouble

Speed limiters have existed for as long as cars themselves, but while legislators are happy to use technology to cap the speed of electric bicycle and e-scooters, despite a very strong relationship between speed and crash risk, cars and motorcycles remain exempt from such restrictions.

The ‘I need the power to accelerate out of trouble” trope is a mark of an incompetent driver. Just ask anyone who’s driven a modestly powered car like a Citroen 2CV or it’s spiritual successor, the electric Ami.

To drive at 20mph I need to keep my eyes focussed on the speedo

If you’re unable to maintain a particular speed without your eyes glued to the speedo, it’s important you book a course of refresher driving lessons. One of the things learner drivers master early on is the ability to keep to a particular speed while occasionally glancing at the speedometer to check their speed hasn’t crept up. It’s a basic skill that’s assessed by examiners as part of the driving test. After all, driving steadily at 20mph is no different from maintaining 30, 40 or 70mph.

Road safety 20mph

20mph speed limits force me to drive in a lower gear

This might be the case if you’re driving a high-revving classic sports car, but if you’re behind the wheel of a modern car you’ll be able to comfortably maintain 20mph in third or even fourth gear.

Roads were built for cars

How many miles of road would you guess crisscross this little island of ours? 100,000? 200,000? According to the Department for Transport there are 245,000 miles of roads in Britain; a distance equivalent to circumnavigating the earth 10 times. Even more surprising than the size of our road network is the relatively tiny proportion of it that was designed and built for cars and lorries; for every one mile of motorway, there are 95 miles of roads conceived originally for non-motorised traffic.

After the railway killed off stage-coach traffic in the 1830s, it was another 50 years before cyclists took to the roads and pushed for high-quality sealed surfaces and were the first to lobby for national funding and leadership for roads.

1819 velocipede

Rees Jeffreys was a proponent of safe road design and although he might have been an early advocate for motorways, he started his career campaigning on behalf of cyclists for the improvement of what he referred to as “despaired and neglected roads”, lobbying for the of spreading tar on Britain’s roads long before cars became a form of mass transport.

Drivers pay for the roads

Motorists do not pay directly for the roads, which are paid for via general and local taxation. ‘Road tax’ was abolished in 1937 – the process having been started by Winston Churchill because he didn’t want motorists to think a token payment gave them ownership of the road.

VED, 2020 road tax, car tax

In 1926, by which time the direct use of taxes collected from motorists to fund the road network was already opposed by many in government, the Chancellor, Winston Churchill wrote: “Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed … and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the tax on motors devoted to roads? This is an outrage upon …common sense.” Today, road users pay vehicle excise duty (VED) based on the emissions of their vehicle.

Drivers are a cash cow

A report by the Dresden Technical University in Germany calculated that external costs associated with motoring amount to £303bn per year across the EU – the equivalent to €750 per man, woman and child. This figure is not currently factored into the cost of driving.

According to the authors of the report: “It must be stated that car traffic in the EU is highly subsidised by other people and other regions and will be by future generations: residents along an arterial road, taxpayers, elderly people who do not own cars, neighbouring countries, and children, grandchildren and all future generations subsidise today’s traffic.”

The study said UK drivers accounted for £48bn of costs, or about £815 per person per year. This figure did not include costs from resulting from congestion or ill health caused by sedentary lifestyles.

Motoring related taxes are not hypothecated, but even if they were, at the time the report was released there would be a £10bn shortfall between revenue from motoring taxes and the £48bn costs.

The ethical choice

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The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.

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  1. Velodrone


    I’m mostly in agreement, but I do think there is a point about the 20mph issue – but it’s to do with the way that cars are made, particularly automatic cars. Many of them – including my distinctly unexciting Toyota Auris – are definitely calibrated to a minimum cruising speed of 30mph – and to keep them at 20mph requires significantly more effort than to keep that at 30mph. The amount that you need to depress the pedal to get it to 20mph is so minimal that it’s literally difficult to press it lightly enough. The difference between enough to get to 20mph and enough to go over 20mph is so infinitesimal that you have to spend more time with your foot on the brake than on the accelerator.

    Now, that’s not to say that it can’t be done – of course it can, and I do it. But it says to me that many car manufacturers are calibrating their vehicles to make it easier – or even to outright encourage – drivers to achieve and maintain higher speeds than for them to go at low speed. That’s something that can and should be changed, possibly be regulation.

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