If an Englishman’s home is his castle, what does that make his car?

road rage driver

There’s a widespread delusion that cars occupy pockets of private land – like an automotive foreign embassy. And it’s one of the reasons UK roads feel so inhospitable.

The enduring road tax fallacy doesn’t help.

‘Road tax’ was abolished in 1937 and yet, almost 90 years later, many motorists continue to feel a sense of moral ownership over the roads – unaware they’re paid for from general and local taxation.

VED, 2020 road tax, car tax

The problem is one Winston Churchill tackled in the 1920s when he started the process to abolish Road Tax. He was concerned it was giving drivers a false sense of entitlement.

Fearing motorists would lay claim to roads by dint of paying for a small portion of their repair costs, he wrote: “It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

Today, road users pay vehicle excise duty (VED) based on the emissions of their vehicle.

We’ve forgotten roads are public space

For many decades, streets have been used as a free (or heavily subsidised) way to store private cars. We’ve forgotten that streets belong to us all. The fact that the use of street space is a financial free-for-all has led some to sublet cars as storage units.

Nearer to home, the example below shows the extent to which we subsidise the storing of private vehicle in public space. Brenda Puech pioneered the use of parklets in the London borough of Hackney.

The right-to-park issue here in the UK is so politically toxic that despite increasingly congested streets, we’re unlikely to introduce measures as radical as those adopted in Japan. In order to register a car, or when changing address, motorists need to obtain a parking space or garage certificate. With the exception, of kei cars (tiny city cars similar to the two-seater Smart), if you don’t have access to a parking space of your own, you’re unable to register a car. To reinforce this legislation, overnight on-street parking is outlawed in many areas. Metered car parking spaces may be free to use in the evening, but at 3am any cars that remain are towed away by police.

How the Dutch built equitable road space

Dutch infrastructure may be the envy of the world, but it was not always so. Post-war Netherlands saw a nation with a strong cycling tradition take to the car en masse.

The price was heavy. The Netherlands earned itself the dubious title of most dangerous place in the world for child traffic casualties. By 1971 road deaths had reached 3,300. Amongst the 450 child victims that year was six-year-old Simone Langenhoff who was killed by a speeding driver as she cycled to school.

The events that followed Simone’s death were depressingly familiar at a time when 25 children a day were being injured by vehicles. The driver received a paltry fine equivalent to £20; Simone’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown and the marriage fell apart. The family’s life was shattered.

However, Simone’s death was different in one respect. Her father was Vic Langenhoff, a journalist at the De Tijd, a Dutch daily newspaper. His grief and anger prompted him to write a full-page article entitled ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (‘Stop the Child Murders’).

Langenhoff called for the formation of a group to break through ‘the apathy with which the Dutch people accept the daily carnage of children in traffic’.

road danger, protest, people power

People Power: Dutch folk protesting against road danger in the early 1970s

Much of the changes arose from a redefining of streets as public space.

The Dutch now have 33,000 to 35,000 kilometres of dedicated cycling infrastructure. 70 per cent of all urban streets in the Netherlands have a speed limit of 30 km/h and traffic calming measures are widespread. The result is that in many areas, people are prioritised over people – all ages and abilities are able to walk or ride their bicycles in safety.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

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

ETA cycle insurance no-claims discount



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