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It is now more than six months since the tax disc (if not the tax) was abolished. One of the key changes which came in alongside the removal of the physical paper disc means that when a car is sold the tax is cancelled, the seller receives a rebate for any tax outstanding (for full months only) and it is the responsibility of the new owner to re-tax the car.

Unfortunately it seems as if the message has not got through to everyone.

Figures obtained by the BBC Radio 4 Your and Yours programme from the DVLA show that after the change on 1 October 2014 the number of vehicles being clamped for non-payment jumped from the region of 5,000 a month to around 8,000 a month.

No. of untaxed vehicles clamped since January 2014

Month Total
January 2014 5696
February 2014 5115
March 2014 5333
April 2014 5214
May 2014 5549
June 2014 5530
July 2014 5634
August 2014 5384
September 2014 5530
October 2014 5804
November 2014 5756
December 2014 6740
January 2015 8802
February 2015 8741
March 2015 8630

Presuming that the change in the process did not coincide with a sudden upsurge in lawlessness amongst drivers then the conclusion must be that the government’s information campaign didn’t work and normally conscientious car owners are being caught out.

A clue that this might be the case appeared in the weeks before 1 October 2014 when a reported survey of 1,000 drivers showed that some 40% did not know anything was happening and even amongst those that did, many failed to appreciate the full implications.

The DVLA says it is writing to every new vehicle keeper to inform them that it must be taxed before use and also sending warning letters as a reminder to those people who still fail to tax their vehicles.

The DVLA also points out that some 23 million drivers have applied for tax since October so in the grand scheme of things the numbers being clamped for evasion are small. Fine, but not much consolation for those many thousands of drivers who still feel they are being unfairly penalised.

After the 2010 general election there were huge cuts made to the marketing budgets of government departments. Perhaps some of those cuts could be reversed after the 2015 election.

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The most widely available but least read publication in the UK has to be the Highway Code. It cannot be recommended enough for all road users: drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.It’s available for free download at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/222621/dg_191955.pdf

But on BBC Radio Sussex this morning one of its signs was accused of stereotyping older people. The sign alerting other road users to the presence of older pedestrians looks like this:

Older people crossing

No-one suggested removing the sign either from the roadside or from the Highway Code but the question remains, ‘How could this sign be redesigned and still be effective?’

Any road sign needs to be understood in an instant. This particular road sign has been debated before in the context of iconography that stereotypes older people but no-one has yet come up with a better one.

None of us becomes an old person overnight.  Older people do just as well as young adults in many areas of everyday life but chronological age relates at least moderately with changes in sight and hearing – both senses we use to support our safety when using roads.

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme1/olderpedestriansacriticalrev.pdf

Reaching the age of 60, getting a bus pass, or a reduction at the cinema does not suddenly render you incapable of crossing the road safely. But in time, feeling confident to walk in areas where there is traffic may be reduced. And as our sight and hearing diminishes appropriate signage helps to remind the rest of the community that we may take longer to cross the road as we check for traffic, and may not see traffic at all which has approached at speed.

Casualty statistics show that the problem we are talking about is important. Per capita, older people suffer a markedly high rate of fatalities. According to Stats19 and ONS statistics, last year (2013) 5470 children between 5-15 years were pedestrian road casualties 21 of whom died. This equates to 1.5 casualties and 0.03 fatalities per 10,000 children in GB. By contrast 2,503 people aged 65 – 84 years were involved in accidents as pedestrians of which 94 resulted in fatalities. This equates to 0.89 casualties and 0.10 fatalities per 10,000 in GB. A lower rate of casualties but three times the rate of deaths. The outcome of a collision can be serious for the older age group. And as age increases, the percentage who die after such an incident rises alarmingly. So we really need to be reminded that older people are vulnerable and signage can help. The question is: what should it look like?

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What is the most common vehicle defect causing accidents? Braking failures? No – braking comes a close second to tyre defects at 36% (braking defects at 31%).

That was one of the headline messages at a parliamentary briefing hosted by PACTS, TyreSafe and TFI.

In 2013, more than 2.2 million MOT failures were due to tyre defects. TyreSafe found that of tyres tested after removal for replacement 57% where found already to be illegal.

Have motorists become complacent? Are they too reliant on their vehicles to inform them when something is wrong? The majority of cars will tell you when the fuel tank is close to empty, when the oil level is low and when the tyres need air. But – for the moment at least – cars do not inform you about dangerous tread depths.

Checking the tread depth is simple – yet 1 in 5 motorists have never done it. Take a 20 pence piece and place it within the tread of the tyre – coincidentally, the raised edge around the side of the 20 pence piece is 1.6 mm – if you can see the raised edge of the coin than your tyres require immediate replacement.

The sale of part worn tyres was also highlighted at the briefing as a serious problem – the majority of tyres checked for resale as part worn were not found to have been certified as fit for purpose, and many were found to have reached illegal tread depths.

Stuart Jackson from TyreSafe explained that tyre defects were associated with 981 persons killed or seriously injured in the 5 year period to 2013, over £0.4 billion, while the Highways Agency’s Stuart Lovett says 66,500 incidents related to tyre defects occurred on the motorways network in the 18 months from April 2013 to September 2014. This amounts to approximately 100 incidents a day – and that is without considering any roads outside the motorway network.

This is not just a HGV issue either – 63% of motorway tyre breakdown issues involved a car, with only 21% involving a HGV.

The focuses for improving tyre safety include enforcement and education.

Enforcement is not a simple matter – police budgets are stretched. But December will see the start of a project funded by TfL for the enforcement of tread depth regulations, amongst others, on HGVs. Education involves informing people about the real dangers of bald tyres, how often they should be checking them and the 20 pence piece method for doing so. TyreSafe Safety Month, occurring last month is a part of this education process.

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Our experience is that most transport problems are universal: if we are struggling with something then so will drivers and the authorities in other countries.

Today, the Foundation had a visit from the French motoring campaign group: ‘40 Millions d’Automobilistes’, along with a camera crew from the French television channel TV3. They were in London on a fact-finding trip around road safety. What was made clear during the visit was that our neighbours have markedly less safe roads. Using latest comparable data from the International Road Traffic Accident Database (IRTAD):

  • France had 3,963 road user fatalities, while the UK had 1,960 (2011)
  • France had 6.4 road user fatalities per 100,000 people, while the UK had 3.1 (2010).
  • By billion vehicle kilometres, France had 7.1 road user fatalities, compared to the UK’s 4.5 (2010).

It was also interesting to hear that the debate over speed cameras was as divisive as here. The concerns were similar, not least that the cameras are more about revenue raising than road safety.

The organisation concludes that in 2013, some 26 million tickets were issued for such things as parking and speeding offences and that in total this raised 1.66 billion euros (up from 1.6 billion in 2012 and 1.3 billion in 2013) for the French state.

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The notion that Birmingham could one day have a workplace parking levy (WPL) similar to Nottingham’s has ruffled a few feathers in the city’s business community. The concept was set out as a possible option earlier this month in a new ‘green paper’ published for consultation by Birmingham City Council. The council’s Birmingham Mobility Action Plan (BMAP), which considers how the city’s transport infrastructure is to be developed in the next two decades, and also how this development is going to be paid for, says, for example, that Nottingham’s WPL scheme “started off as a highly contentious scheme” but then adds that “as the scheme has progressed and matured, and as tangible by-products of the charge in the form of physical infrastructure on the ground has been delivered (two additional metro lines and the upgrade of the city’s rail station), so attitudes to it have softened”.

A softening of attitudes towards Nottingham’s WPL was not greatly in evidence at a meeting of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Business Transport Group held shortly after the publication of the BMAP, however. Speaking at the meeting, George Cowcher, CEO of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, said the main concern of businesses in the city was that, in terms of inward investment in the long term, the levy could do more harm than good.

Cowcher conceded that few major employers have moved out of Nottingham as a result of the imposition of what he terms “the workplace parking tax” for the fairly obvious reason that companies that have invested in premises and machinery and people can’t just up sticks and move, but he believes the imposition of the WPL has had an impact on inward investment.

Although keeping an open mind about the WPL and speaking on behalf of members, Cowcher said he was not happy with Nottingham City Council and its role in bringing in the WPL, not least because of his belief that the council has moved the goalposts at least once since the WPL was first mooted, in terms of what the scheme is supposed to be for. “The idea was originally sold as a purely traffic reduction measure [as seems to be case in the Birmingham green paper – ed] because it would make employers keen to offer less commuter parking,” he observed. “But the council then changed its tack and started saying that it was introducing the WPL because it wanted to significantly improve public transport and therefore we need this in order to access more government funding.”

This change of course rather backfired, however, as it made the business community’s early opposition more fierce, due to the simple fact that many of the biggest payers get the least benefit from the public transport improvements funded by the levy.

What this means is that a city centre employer with a relatively small number of parking spaces for its employees pays a relatively small amount of WPL but benefits hugely from improvements to public transport, whereas an employer in one of the industrial estates or science parks on the outskirts of the city pays a large amount of WPL because it has a large car park – but the reason it has a large car park is because it needs one, because many of Nottingham’s industrial estates have absolutely no public transport provision at all! Here Cowcher estimates that 20% of the city’s employers are currently paying 90% of the levy.

The practical effect of imposing the WPL on this latter type of employer has already become manifest, Cowcher added, and it hasn’t been the one the council envisaged. “It has had a big displacement effect on car parking as employers have passed on the tax to their employees, which has led to increased congestion on the industrial estates as people started parking on the roads,” he said. “The city council has therefore had to go through this big exercise of adding extra yellow lines on the roads – but at what cost?”

Cowcher concluded his presentation by observing that the introduction of the WPL has hit some of Nottingham’s largest employers hard. “Boots [the city’s largest single employer, which is liable for over £1m per annum in WPL] has actually had to employ a parking charges officer just to keep on top of this,” he noted.

He also suggested that Nottingham City Council could have done more to consult with local businesses before imposing the WPL – a lesson for Birmingham, perhaps – and should have considered other options, including possibly a city centre congestion charge which might have been fairer. “Indeed, road pricing would have been better, if traffic reduction had been the major aim,” he said.

 “Although the Chamber is supportive of the tram and station development as two top transport priorities for local businesses in Nottingham, the Chamber and the majority of its members remain opposed to the WPL,” he added. “However, the focus now is on working with the city council to help mitigate the impact the levy will have on them.”

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The volume of road traffic in Great Britain rose by 2.3% in the third quarter of the year, compared with the same period in 2012, according to new figures released by the Department for Transport. The DfT suggests, however, that this relatively large increase is something of an anomaly caused primarily by the weather. “The same quarter last year saw extremely high levels of rainfall, with the summer of 2012 (June to August) being the second wettest since records began,” the Department points out. “This poor weather may have put people off making trips, and the relatively drier weather this year is likely to have contributed to the growth in road traffic.”

Car traffic rose by a relatively modest 1.9% to 60.8 billion vehicle miles in Q3 2013, the new DfT data indicates, whereas LGV (van) traffic increased rather more sharply by 5.1% to 10.8 billion vehicle miles. Interestingly, this ‘snapshot’ of traffic in a single three-month period mirrors a much longer trend in LGV traffic growth relative to car traffic growth. “Total motor vehicle traffic has grown by 20% over the last 20 years,” the DfT observes. “However, LGV traffic has increased by almost 70% over the same period. The increase in popularity of online shopping, for both food and non-food items, is likely to have contributed to this growth… Car traffic, however, has fallen slightly (0.1%), when compared to ten years ago.”

The DfT makes one brief mention of the economy, suggesting that it “is likely” to have had some impact on what it terms the “fairly flat” trend in motor vehicle traffic volumes since 2008. Looking just at the Q3 2013 data, meanwhile, it is possible that the increase of over 5% in LGV traffic compared with Q3 2012 could be a good sign that the economy has turned a corner. After all, it was surely private car trips for leisure purposes that were most likely curtailed by the bad weather last year, whereas delivery van drivers have a job to do, come rain or shine.

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Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on electric vehicles and vulnerable road users (such as the visually impaired) last week, transport minister Robert Goodwill presented evidence that attempted to counter claims from several backbench MPs that EVs represent a significant risk to such pedestrians because the latter cannot hear the former coming. “Quiet vehicles are not new,” he pointed out. “And there are hundreds more bicycles than electric or hybrid cars on the streets of London. Anyone who ventures to cross the road because they can hear nothing coming will quickly find that they might be hit by one of the bicycles ridden around London at breakneck speed.”

Mr Goodwill then added that: “Our research has suggested that there is no increased pedestrian risk associated with electric or hybrid vehicles in the UK. The published report [from TRL] has shown that, although quieter vehicles are harder to hear approaching, as would be expected, the accident rates for electric and hybrid vehicles are broadly similar to those for conventional vehicles.”

This might seem like a rather counter-intuitive finding but there might be an obvious explanation, which is that conventional, petrol-powered vehicles are nowadays much quieter than they used to be, and are still getting quieter (due to smoother running engines, stop-start systems, low rolling resistance tyres, better aerodynamics, etc.). Indeed, the TRL research found that some visually-impaired people actually thought petrol vehicles were quieter than hybrids/electrics when being played recordings from the real world.

This would tend to suggest that our lawmakers are quite right to be looking at how vulnerable pedestrian road users interact with increasingly quiet vehicles, but possibly wrong to focus so strongly on the noise levels (or lack of them) from electric or hybrid vehicles. This argument found little favour amongst the backbench contributors to the Westminster Hall debate, however, with there being a strong consensus amongst MPs that the Government should legislate to require the mandatory installation of acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) to electric vehicles. Countering this, Mr Goodwill pointed out that this would be premature at the present time, as there is as yet no consensus, either national or internationally, on what evidence is needed to establish standards for such systems.

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