Sunday, 19 October 2008

Actually, it's my car

Via that quiet man Mr Kitchen, his friend Mr Smoker has drawn my attention to a campaign by ASH (the Association of Snooping Hypocrites, or something like that) to prevent me smoking in my car. At the moment the proposal is that smoking in cars should be a criminal offence if there are any children under 18 in the vehicle but only a half-wit would imagine they want to stop there. It made me look at life as a car owner in modern Britain.

I bought my current car four years ago directly from the manufacturer, it had been used by one of the directors as his company car and was a year old with only 12,000 miles on the clock. It is a fine piece of engineering, large and comfortable with the capacity to go fast if the urge ever struck me. If my memory is correct I paid £16,000 for it, a very substantial saving on the price of a new one. By an interesting quirk of our tax law, VAT is not payable on sales of second-hand cars which made it even more of a bargain. Since then what I have had to pay to run it has gone up and up while the use I can make of it has been restricted over and again.

The central London Congestion Charge was already in place in 2004 but it has been extended to cover a larger part of the city and has increased from £5 to £8 a day. Over a modest working year of 45 weeks that comes to £1,800. Then there is parking at work (averaging about £1,200 a year), steadily increasing petrol prices, ever increasing amounts of duty on petrol (with VAT charged on both the price charged by the filling station and the duty charged by the government), road tax has increased way above inflation as my punishment for driving a nice car rather than a baked-bean can, for the same fatuous reason the cost of parking outside FatBigot Towers has more than doubled in the last year and insurance never seems to go down in price. Just owning the thing and keeping it outside my house costs over £1,200 a year, actually driving it costs a lot more and driving it in central London has become punitively expensive.

It's not all about cost, of course. Speaking again as a resident of London, for a decade or so we have been slowed by new one-way systems, obstructive programming of traffic lights and the closure of a huge number of side roads which previously freed pressure on the main routes. There can be good reasons for some of these changes but the majority seem to have been instituted for no purpose other than to increase inconvenience and force drivers out of their cars. And it is not just in London, when driving outside London I am constantly amazed by the number and positioning of speed cameras and the extraordinary speed limits imposed. Just recently I was pootling along the A13 towards darkest Essex. Once you get past the Blackwall Tunnel the road has three-lanes for many miles, including a new section through Barking and Canning Town. The speed limit on part of it is 40mph going up to 50mph as you get a little further out. It is a major road, a motorway in all but name, and there is no obvious reason for these limits other than as an opportunity to gather money in fines from those frustrated by the absurdity of the restrictions. At the point where the limit changes from 40 to 50 you can see the large "50" sign ahead and nothing in the design of the road makes it inherently dangerous to accelerate early, yet there is a speed camera about 200 yards before the sign. No harm would come to anyone if that camera were removed, indeed no harm would come from the limit being 60 where it is 40 and 70 where it is 50.

As a doddery old fart who has been around since before they invented cheese I am not a speeder by inclination, so my licence remains unsullied by penalty points. I could tut tut and say "if I can keep to the limit, so can you" but that isn't the point. The point is that speed limits should be imposed for reasons of safety only, they should not be money-gathering tricks nor should they cause frustration and annoyance. Like all matters connected to government they should serve the legitimate interests of the people. Owning and driving a motor car are legitimate activities, they serve the very useful purpose of enabling a degree of freedom to travel which was unimaginable just a few decades ago.

What troubles me most about the way drivers are treated is the feeling we have of being put-upon, of being used as a cash machine when the government runs out of money and of being subjected to inconvenience on our journeys simply because those who set speed limits and decide on traffic light sequences have the power to do so. Some tiny degree of comfort can be obtained from knowing that there might be a good reason for these restrictions and I simply haven't worked out what it is, it gives me a straw to clutch at in the vain hope that I am not being bullied.

A ban on smoking in my own car whilst driving myself on a lawful journey to undertake lawful activities goes one step further. No third party can possibly be harmed, therefore turning me into a criminal is not for the protection of others. No road safety issues arise that are not already fully covered by the law against driving without due care and attention. The only thing such a ban can achieve is preventing me from smoking in my car.

Yes, I said "my car". I earned the money to buy it. I earned a lot more besides but only had a certain amount to spend because I had paid vast sums in income tax and national insurance. I pay to maintain my car, I pay for the petrol, I pay the congestion charge, I pay the road tax, I pay the insurance, I pay to park it. At every stage of that one-way payment procedure government takes a cut. And soon they will want to make it a criminal offence for me to sit in my car and smoke a highly-taxed cigarette or cigar (which I will also have paid for out of taxed income). I feel very put-upon already, goodness knows how I will feel when this new ban comes into effect.


Anonymous said...

You are living in a socialist state. Don't kid yourself that you own something just because you worked for it and paid for it. Everything is state property, including you.

Anonymous said...

a very true and well put argument....however the reason for that cameras position is the bust stop immediately after it, as there is no safety fence there to prevent a car hitting pedestrians....that said, it was a bloody silly place to put a bus stop (TFL)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Government thinks that driving whilst holding a fiery stick is, erm, I don't know, dangerous?

Anonymous said...

"By an interesting quirk of our tax law, VAT is not payable on sales of second-hand cars"

It is generally assumed that ownership of a car will do little to increase its value, and therefore there will be little to tax. Usually, as was the case with your car, value was actually subtracted rather than added from the original sale (where VAT was paid) to when ownership was transferred to you.

A glint of good news in an otherwise depressing story?

TheFatBigot said...

The same would apply to second-hand tellies, fridges, furniture and everything else, Mr Meakin, but they are not excluded from the evil tax (unless you pay cash, guv).