Last weekend’s Sunday Times poses the question
Are drivers being used as a cash cow?
with reference to the government’s proposal to increase the standard motoring penalty charge from £60 to £100.
Given – for instance – the substantial danger posed by driving while using a mobile, and how little apparent effect the current £60 fine is having on offending levels, this strikes me as a prudent measure – to say nothing of how the potential extra revenue might end up being spent.
But the use of phrase ‘cash cow’ in the sub-title of the piece gives us a clue as to where we are heading. Via a reference to comments made by Conservative MP David Ruffley that ‘the previous government treated the British motorist like a massive cashpoint on wheels’, we arrive at the opinions of Professor Stephen Glaister –
Motoring groups accuse Clarke of unjustly increasing taxes on drivers. Stephen Glaister, the director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Clearly speeding motorists are law-breakers but their punishment should fit the crime, not turn into a tax paid only by this group of offenders simply because it is easy to collect.”
A curious statement in several regards, the foremost of which is the claim that a fine for breaking the law is a ‘tax’. From the Oxford English Dictionary –
a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.
fine |fīn| |faɪn| |fʌɪn|noun
a sum of money exacted as a penalty by a court of law or other authority
It’s not really that difficult to tell the two apart. A fine is a penalty. A tax is not. Benjamin Franklin was not, I think, a serial law-breaker, and therefore did not utter
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and fines.
because fines, specifically the ones Stephen Glaister imagines to be ‘taxes’, are avoidable, through the simple expedient of actually doing up your seatbelt, or not using your mobile phone while driving.
Professor Glaister also thinks that cyclists should ‘address their “cavalier” attitude towards the rules of the road.’ Whether he believes compelling cyclists to do so is best achieved by some form of taxation or, instead, fines for red light jumping and cycling on the pavement is a matter for speculation, although I think the answer is probably quite obvious.
This isn’t, of course, the only recent example of imaginary taxes – campaigners against double yellow lines in Westminster evidently believe them to be a ‘stealth tax’, presumably on the basis that they simply can’t stop themselves from parking on them