Taxes and fines

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 –

tax |taks|noun

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.

And likewise

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

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11 Responses to Taxes and fines

  1. Ben Bawden says:

    I think it’s unfair that shoplifters are often subjected to extra taxes

  2. Yet more alarmist reporting, designed to make the motorists feel like the war is still on 😉

  3. If driving fines are labelled taxes, then they are taxes on stupidity or incompetence.

    I think the government should reduce the fine to zero, but increase the penalty points significantly: perhaps two strikes and you’re out. If your driving was below the standard required to pass the driving test, then you should lose your licence for as long as it takes you to re-pass the driving test.

    That would remove the ability for anyone to claim that the fine is an “unfair tax”.

    It would also mean that owning a driving licence an indication that you are actually able to drive according to the rules. Currently a driving licence only means that you managed to drive to the required standards once in your life, usually many decades ago.

  4. Don says:

    Its hard to conclude that these idiotic comments (from Mr Glaister) are anything more than marketing spiel, designed to attract more members to the RAC. It is after all, purely a business and plenty of drivers seem thick enough to swallow the line.

  5. Kim says:

    The shear arrogance and stupidity of the motoring lobby is breathtaking, they never stop to think about the number of lives which are shattered every year by bad driving. It is amazing that we haven’t had a Stop de kindermoord style campaign here, there is a strange acceptance that the continues rate of attrition is in some way inevitable, when in reality it is avoidable. The Swedes have a policy of trying to reduce road deaths to zero, the Swiss use and make the fines proportional to earnings, but here we allow the Association of British Drivers to claim they are a “road safety” charity!!

  6. Dr C. says:

    I heard about a chap who had to pay tax because of an indecent exposure trap. It’s a shame to see flashers being used as trench coat-wearing cashpoints by successive governments.

  7. Paul M says:

    The people who argue against increasing the severity of motoring penalties (like Daily Mail leader writers or John Junor) are the same people who argue for more or longer custodial sentences for petty crime, bring back the birch, the noose etc.

    Fact is that severity of penalty won’t necessarily impact the incidence of the offence. £60 or £100 makes no difference to most drivers if they are (a) wealthy enough or (b) assess the risk of being caught as low. You can probably assume (b) where the penlty is really severe – the US implements the death penalty for murder in about half its states and yet their murder rate is much higher than ours.

    I think France has the right idea. Recently they announced that all speed cameras would henceforth be unadvertised – not hidden, as such, but no more warning signs or daubing with bright yellow paint like we have here. The measure was not well received but the government only conceded to the point of providing more of those speed detectors which simply flash a warning of your speed if you are over the limit.

    I once asked a German why you never saw anyone speeding on speed-limited stretches of the autobahn. Answer – if you’re pulled over, you have to pay a fine on the spot – in cash. If you don’t have a couple of hundred Euros on you, they take you to a cash machine. You leave your car on the hard shoulder, and have to get a taxi back. If your car still has wheels on it when you get back, you’re lucky.

    Pretty effective, I would say.

    • I like that, trusts the Germans to come up with such an efficient idea! Mind you with unlimited autobahns to “get their freak on” for their high-speed kicks the speed limited sections are probably a welcome fuel saver 😉

      • Har Davids says:

        Germany is not what it used to be, for those people who think it’s a free for all on the Autobahn. They introduced speed-limits, too, and if you’re in an accident whilst speeding, you on your own as far as insurance goes. Besides, they have a point-system as well, and it’s being overhauled, making it tougher for offenders, who don’t need to fear the penalty-points if they’re over 25 yo. On the same note, over her in Holland fines have been going up, this in spite of the fact that motorists have been getting better-behaved. Fines are a cash-cow, I’m afraid, and I’m a pretty law-abiding motorist, cyclist and pedestrian.

  8. Har Davids says:

    Correction: in Holland we don’t have penalty-points for over 25 yo motorists.

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