Category Archives: Motoring News

FUSO eCanter electric truck

HGV taxes pay for most road maintenance, says FTA

FUSO eCanter electric truck

Rapid growth in electric vehicle could spell trouble for the Treasury, as fuel duty payments could plummet. 

Here’s an interesting snippet of information about tax and spending.

Between 2015 and 2016, the UK’s central and devolved governments and local authorities spent around £4.7 billion on road maintenance.

How was this paid for? According to trade body the Freight Transport Association (FTA), one way of looking road funding is that HGV operators contributed most of this cash, as they paid a total of £4.4bn in vehicle-related taxes over the same period.

That’s three times more than the estimated £1.5bn of infrastructure damage HGVs are thought to have caused over the same period.

You might wonder how much the rest of us pay  in motor vehicle-related taxes. The answer is that the total UK tax take from motor vehicles during that period was £33.5bn. That’s more than seven times the total road maintenance budget.

Is this for real?

I should point out a couple pf things. The first is that the figures I’ve quoted above include not only vehicle excise duty (road tax) and the HGV road user levy, but also fuel duty.

Another point is that maintenance isn’t the only cost the government must bear. New roads and substantial upgrades cost many billions more. I assume this spending falls outside the scope of the maintenance budget.

Finally, I’d argue that fuel duty isn’t only intended to fund the road transport infrastructure. It’s a tax on pollution and energy consumption, and also an incentive to reduce fuel usage.

Not everyone will agree with this view. But it does seem very likely that the taxes provide by motorists make a contribution to the national budget which stretches far beyond road building and maintenance.

One thing I would point out is that if electric cars and vans do start to gain a significant market share, then be prepared for a new type of tax for these vehicles. They may be tax-favoured at the moment, but there’s no way — in my opinion — that the Treasury could afford to lose a significant chunk of fuel duty if we all start to drive electric.

VOSA van enforcement checkpoint

Speeding drivers face tougher penalties from April

Speeding fines are set to get tougher in April, and van drivers could face harsher sentencing as a result of their professions.

A VOSA/Police checkpoint

The penalties for driving while using a phone have also been increased. Offenders will receive a compulsory 6 points and £200 fine.

The new guidelines have been issued by the Sentencing Council, whose role it to provide sentencing guidelines for the courts in England and Wales.

There will be several major areas of change:

  • Tougher penalties for speeding with mandatory points and temporary disqualfication
  • Speeding fines for most serious offences increased from 100% to 150% of weekly income, although the upper limit remain fixed at £1,000 or £2,500 on a motorway.
  • The court will consider aggravating factors, such as whether the offender is a licenced professional driver from whom higher standards should be expected. Other examples of aggravating factors include bad weather and being near a school.
  • The penalty for driving while on the phone will be doubled to £200 and six points, with no option to avoid points by taking a driver education course

Here’s a summary of the new sentencing bands for speeding offences. Note the more severe penalties for serious speeding (the second column):

Speed limit (mph) Recorded speed (mph)
20 41 and above 31 – 40 21 – 30
30 51 and above 41 – 50 31 – 40
40 66 and above 56 – 65 41 – 55
50 76 and above 66 – 75 51 – 65
60 91 and above 81 – 90 61 – 80
70 101 and above 91 – 100 71 – 90
Sentencing range Band C fine (125-175% of relevant weekly income*) Band B fine (75-125% of relevant weekly income*) Band A fine (25-75% of relevant weekly income*)
Points/disqualification Disqualify 7 – 56 days OR 6 points Disqualify 7 – 28
days OR  4 – 6 points
3 points

Source: Sentencing Council (

*Upper limit remains unchanged at £1,000 or £2,500 on a motorway.

The Sentencing Council’s goal with these changes is to “to ensure that there is clear increase in penalty as the seriousness of offending increases”. The point here is that the risk of injury to pedestrians or other drivers rises dramatically with speed.

According to road crash victim support charity RoadPeace, the chance of killing a pedestrian in a 20mph speed limit rises from 1% at the speed limit to 83% at 41mph.

Historically, the difference in penalties between the different bands of speeding has not reflected the increased likelihood of causing death. These changes, which come into force on 24 April 2017, are aimed at redressing this imbalance.


Can we do it? A European Day Without A Road Death in 2016

TISPOL Project EDWARDVirtually all of us have pushed our luck behind the wheel at some point. Driving when tired, distracted, on the phone or even after a few drinks. Risky overtaking manoeuvres.

But the reality of this kind of behaviour is that it can lead to tragic and avoidable road deaths — and shattered lives for those who are left behind.

That’s why we are supporting the Europe-wide initiative by TISPOL, the European Traffic Police Network, to work towards a European Day Without A Road Death (Project Edward) on 21 September 2016.

Anyone wanting to support Project Edward is simply asked to take and keep the pledge below:

  • Remind my family, friends and colleagues to take extra care on the roads.
  • Put my lights on for safety.
  • Drive as safely as I can and follow the rules when behind the wheel or riding a motorbike or bicycle.
  • Be extra vigilant and attentive to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, children, older people and horse riders.
  • Drive at speeds that are both legal and safe.
  • Pay particular attention when driving near schools, and where there are lots of children.
  • Never drive after drinking alcohol or taking drugs/medicines that could impair safety.
  • Look as far ahead as possible and not tailgate other drivers
  • Always wear my seat belt and ensure that everyone with me wears theirs.
  • Not use my mobile phone while driving.
  • Ensuring I am not distracted by anything inside or outside the car, or inside my head.
  • Set a good example to my passengers by driving calmly and safely.

To take the pledge yourself, visit the Project Edward website — click here.

Mercedes-Benz's new OM654 diesel engine

All-new Mercedes-Benz diesel engine will cut emissions

Mercedes says that its new four-cylinder OM 654 diesel engine will ensure the diesel is “future proof” while helping the firm to achieve “challenging global climate targets”.

Mercedes-Benz's new OM654 diesel engine

Leaving aside the fact that no technology in history has ever turned out to be future proof, this does seem to be an impressive new engine.

Made from aluminium, this four cylinder , two-litre engine will make its debut in the E-Class E 200d later this year, but will eventually be used across the firm’s range of cars and vans. There are plans for several output variants as well as longitudinal and transverse installation in vehicles with front-, rear- and all-wheel drive.

The new engine replaces the current 2.1-litre model and is the first all-aluminium four-cylinder diesel engine. Despite its lower capacity it promises to deliver and increase of power from 125kW to 143kW. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions should both fall by around 13%.

One of the big challenges with diesel engines in recent years has been managing the more noxious emissions produced by these engines. Two stages of exhaust treatment are required to meet Euro 6 standards, EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) and SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction, which is what AdBlue is used for).

Unlike existing Euro 6 models, the new engine will include all of this exhaust treatment technology. Until now, this has tended to be bolted on, rather than built in. Mercedes says that this will improve fuel efficiency on short journeys and remove problems related to temperature management during cold starting — exhaust treatment systems such as catalysers generally only work properly when they have warmed up.

In fact, the exhaust gases will receive nearly all of the necessary pollution control treatment before they leave the engine, as Mercedes explains:

The exhaust gas from the turbocharger is sent first to a diesel oxidation catalyst. It next passes the downdraft mixer, in which AdBlue is added by means of a water-cooled dosing module.

Thanks to a specially developed mixing area, the AdBlue evaporates over the shortest possible distance in the exhaust gas stream and is distributed very uniformly on the surface of the downstream sDPF (particulate filter with coating to reduce nitrogen oxides).

Positioned behind the sDPF is an SCR catalyst for further catalytic reduction of the nitrogen oxides. Only then does the treated exhaust gas enter the exhaust system.

I’m not sure I’d fancy owning something this complicated when it starts to get old, but this integrated setup does sound like a worthwhile improvement on the current crop of diesel engines.

Last ever Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top

Last ever Land Rover Defender rolls off production line in Solihull

It may not exactly be a van, but it is a pretty special vehicle in automotive history — and many of them have been configured as vans over the last 68 years.

The last ever Land Rover Defender rolled off Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull production line today, marking the end of 68 years of continuous production. The vehicle in question was a Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top model:

The last ever Land Rover Defender

The last ever Land Rover Defender rolls off the JLR production line at Solihull, ending 68 years of production.

Last ever Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top

Land Rover Defender Heritage 90 Soft Top

At the same time, Land Rover announced a new Heritage Restoration Programme, which will be based on the site of the existing Solihull production line. A team of experts, including some long serving Defender employees, will oversee the restoration of a number of Series Land Rovers sourced from across the globe. The first vehicles will go on sale in July 2016.

The Defender Celebration in Solihull saw more than 25 unique vehicles from Land Rover’s history come together in a procession around the Solihull plant, featuring the final current Defender vehicle off the line.

Land Rover associates were joined by a number of previous employees from the past 68 years to help celebrate this historic day. The last of the current Defender vehicles includes an original part that has been used on Soft Top specifications since 1948 – the hood cleat. The vehicle will be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Collection.

Is urban “killer diesel pollution” really that bad?

London Low Emission Zone sign

I’ve been a bit hard on diesel in recent months. Headlines such as Government must act to combat killer diesel pollution in cities” may have given the impression that emissions from diesel vehicles are on a par with untreated nuclear waste.

They’re not of course, although I suspect that diesel particulates probably do cause more health problems than nuclear power stations.

The main targets of my criticism were the EU and Euro 5.

The EU because it has chosen to focus myopically on reducing CO2 emissions while ignoring equally dangerous NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) emissions.

Euro 5 because it doesn’t work properly. The latest-but-one emissions standard turns out to have been a spectacular failure at reducing harmful emissions in our towns and cities. That’s because the pollution control technology used to meet the Euro 5 standard doesn’t actually work in stop-start, low-speed conditions.

However, things are improving with Euro 6. In the interests of balance I thought I should highlight some recent commentary from used vehicle price bible, Glass’s.

Glass’s view appears to be that imposing new restrictions on diesel vehicles in urban areas would be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Rupert Pontin, Glass’s head of valuations, points that while some older diesel vehicles undoubtedly pump out too much nitrogen oxide and other potentially harmful substances, those that meet the latest emissions standards are virtually as clean as petrol. He said:

“We have no argument against the findings of the various reports on air quality that are pointing the finger at diesel. The science appears to be very robust. However, they are reporting an historic picture. The latest diesel emissions standards are very stringent and newer vehicles are unlikely to have the same kind of impact on the air that we breathe.

Mr Pontin is probably right. Euro 6 is a big step forwards, in that it should actually deliver the benefits we were promised for Euro 5.

However, I’m not sure Glass’s motives are as pure as they would have you believe. Remember that this is a company funded by people who sell cars for a living. Mr Pontin clearly understands what his customers need:

“There is a general assumption that, for example, a hybrid is always cleaner than a diesel but the picture is not always that straightforward and we are potentially engineering a move away from diesel without looking at all of the facts.

“Of course, there will also be an impact on car and commercial vehicle values if there is general governmental move against diesel. Current and predicated residual values will undoubtedly fall thanks to higher running costs.”

The problem is that the last thing Mr Pontin’s customers (car dealers) need is any weakness in demand for nearly-new and used diesels, of which there is a vast supply.

There is already evidence that car drivers who don’t do high mileages are switching back to petrol, in order to avoid the higher purchase prices and costly mid-life repair bills which increasingly characterise modern, low-emission diesels. Some friends of mine did exactly that recently.

For the van market of course, petrol isn’t a serious contender. Anyone covering any distance will continue to use diesels. However, concerns over the harmful effect of diesel emissions remains.

Electric vans are now proven to be a viable solution in urban environments and operations where their daily mileage is predictable and includes one or more returns to base. Vans should also be able to play a role in reducing urban pollution and the resultant health problems.

14,550 London cyclists can’t be wrong: Met Police launches new Merc safety truck

Met Police Exchanging Places cycle safety truck

The new Mercedes-Benz Actros that will be used by the Met Police as part of the Exchanging Places cycle safety programme.

Although van blind spots are pretty trivial compared with those that can exist alongside an HGV, awareness of what you can — and cannot — see is an important part of being a safe driver.

Far too many accidents happen in UK cities each year because cyclists get into the blind spots of large commercial vehicles — and then get injured, sometimes fatally.

Of course, other road users, especially cyclists, have a responsibility in this regard too — and that’s where the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Cycle Safety Team comes in. The MPS team have been running a programme called Exchanging Places since 2007.

Today, the team launched its new Mercedes-Benz truck today, which will be used as a core part of the Exchanging Places programme.

One of the main highlights of this award-winning programme is the opportunity it provides for cyclists to sit in the driver’s seat of a truck and realise exactly how difficult it is to see cyclists who may be slipping down the inside of a truck in heavy traffic.

Collisions involving a heavy goods vehicle are the most common cause of serious injury and death to cyclists. The programme gives cyclists the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat of an HGV to see for themselves how difficult it can be to see a cyclist riding close to the truck. Experienced traffic police officers explain how this type of collision often happens, and talk through several ways of avoiding them.

Police Sergeant Simon Castle, Roads and Transport Policing Command, said:

“The feedback from these events is overwhelmingly positive with 97 per cent of cyclists saying they would change their riding as a result of sitting in the driver’s seat, and 99 per cent would recommend it to a friend.

“I urge cyclists to watch the Exchanging Places film on the MPS Youtube website and also arrange to attend an Exchanging Places event. It is invaluable and a potential life saver.”

More than 15,000 cyclists have taken part in the programme since 2007, which my maths suggests means that 14,550 have understood that their behaviour — as well as that of HGV drivers — is key to keeping them alive and safe.

Here’s the video Sergeant Castle refers to above:

You can find out about planned Exchanging Places events here.

Note: In case you’re wondering, the Mercedes-Benz Actros is funded by Mercedes-Benz and Transport for London and is not costing the Met Police anything except fuel costs. This truck will only be used for demonstrating the issues around cyclist and pedestrian safety, and will not be used for patrols or enforcement.

45% would rather admit to watching porn than drink driving

Crashed carFifty years ago, the government launched the UK’s first ever anti-drink drive campaign.

Back then, drink driving was widely accepted — if not taken for granted: a 1979 survey found that half of male drivers and nearly two-thirds of young male drivers admitted drink driving on a weekly basis.

Today, drink driving is still a problem, but social acceptance of drink driving has fallen, to the extent that new research from THINK! has found that 88% of people say they would think badly of someone who drinks and drives, and 45% of people would rather tell their partner they watch porn regularly than admit to having been caught drink driving.

In a similar vein, 61% of those questioned would prefer to reveal their internet search history to their employer than admit to a drink drive conviction. Completing this not-so-sexy trio of statistics is the interesting finding that 24% of people would rather tell their partner they’ve had a sexually transmitted infection, than admit to having been caught drink driving.

There’s no doubt social acceptance of drink driving has changed, but frankly, I also think that these figures say as much about changing social attitudes to sex and pornography as they do about drink driving, which is still too widely accepted, in my opinion.

Still a problem

In 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, 230 people were killed by drunk drivers, and 1,200 were seriously injured.

Admittedly that’s a big improvement on 1967, when 1,640 people died as a result of drink driving, but it’s still too many, given that unlike sober road traffic collisions, crashes caused by drink driving are effectively caused deliberately by the driver who chose to drink. If they hadn’t, the collision — and death — would probably have been avoided.

Drink driving is still a regular occurrence for many, and while it’s not so openly approved of, I know from personal experience that there are still many drivers who think it’s ok, as long as you’re not actually drunk. This misses the point that even a small amount of alcohol impairs the highly complex and rapid motor skills needed to drive safely on today’s busy roads.

Limit too high

The UK’s archaic 80mg limit practically encourages a culture of drink driving, as it permits a surprising amount of alcohol to be drunk legally before driving. The EU’s recommended 50mg limit would be better, but far better still would be for us to adopt the 20mg limit used in Sweden, Poland and Greece, amongst others.

It’s for this reason that is a long-standing supporter of Brake and the THINK! campaign: far too many personal tragedies are caused by dangerous and uneccessary behaviour on our roads.

Finally, for a touch of nostalgia, check out the UK’s first ever road safety video — from when men did the driving and women did the nagging (strangely, that situation hasn’t changed as much as you might think — today, men account for 77% of drink drive casualties):

Drink Drive Office Party from BFI on Vimeo.

Vans targeted in ‘crash for cash’ claims

White van man’ is increasingly being targeted by criminals running dangerous crash for cash fraud rings, according to new research.

According to law firm Hill Dickinson, which has a fraud database with 200 million records and details of 10 million insurance claims, only one van — the Ford Transit — appears in the top 20 for general insurance claims, but five vans appear in the top 20 vehicles targeted in ‘crash for cash’ scams in the last 12 months.

As a result, light commercial vehicles have been involved in almost a third of all deliberate collisions caused by ‘crash for cash’ gangs in a worrying trend that has emerged in the last 12 months, suggesting vans are being deliberately targeted.

Fraudsters target professional vehicles like vans because they are most likely to be fully insured, and their drivers are often working to a tight deadline and are therefore less likely to dispute liability, according to anti-fraud firm APU’s team of former Police officers and forensic investigators.

One in seven personal injury claims – some 69,500 a year – are linked to suspected crash for cash scams, costing the motor industry £392 million annually. Neil Thomas, APU’s Director of Investigative Services and a former Detective Inspector of West Midlands Police, said:

“This is yet another example of how criminal fraud gangs are becoming more sophisticated – they are thinking quite hard about exactly who they target on the roads and it’s based on solid logic.

“Britain’s LCV drivers are a hard-working lot and are very often pushed for time, so they are less likely to stand by the side of the road arguing the case about a collision. The criminals are banking on the fact that they will simply exchange insurance details and move on. It’s cynical but it works.”

Indeed, these figures suggest that the Transit is the most frequently-targeted vehicle in induced accidents, and along with the Mercedes Sprinter, Vauxhall Vivaro, Citroen Berlingo, Volkswagen Transporter and tipper vans, account for 31% of induced claims.

No Induced % No General Insurance Claims %
1 Transit 15.2 1 Focus 10.21
2 Astra 11.4 2 Astra 10.2
3 Vectra 9.1 3 Corsa 8.9
4 Corsa 6.9 4 Fiesta 8.6
5 Focus 6.82 5 Transit 7.3
6 Golf 6.8 6 Golf 6.94
7 Sprinter 6.1 7 Mondeo 4.75
8 Punto 4.55 8 Clio 4.6
9 206 3.8 9 Megane 4.3
10 Fiesta 3.79 10 Zafira 4.2
11 Vivaro 3.78 11 206 4
12 Discovery 3.03 12 Vectra 3.85
13 Megane 3 13 Polo 3.64
14 Mondeo 3 14 Civic 3.25
15 Berlingo 2.3 15 Micra 3.18
16 Transporter 2.27 16 Passat 3
17 Range R 2.2 17 Punto 2.9
18 Land R 2 18 307 2.2
19 106 2 19 Avensis 2
20 Tipper 1.52 20 Yaris 1.94

With an average value of £30,000, the crash for cash scam is when a vehicle driven by a member of the fraud gang causes a deliberate collision with that of an innocent victim. Traditionally, this involves the fraudster pulling in front of his chosen target and slamming on the brakes, allowing little time for the innocent party to avoid a collision.

Last summer, APU revealed the worrying new tactic, which it dubbed ‘Flash for Crash’, which involves innocent drivers being beckoned out of a junction by the flash of headlights, only to be hit by the criminals’ car. The almost undetectable tactic makes it harder for an innocent driver to prove fault in the resulting ‘their word against mine’ dispute.

Highways Agency unveils A14 development proposal

The Highways Agency has published details of its proposed improvement scheme for the Huntingdon – Cambridge stretch of the A14, a topic I first looked at here and then here (when the idea of tolls was scrapped).

The new plans are will now form the basis of a public consultation that’s expected to last until 15 June 2014, after which the Highways Agency hopes to begin the Development Consent Order application process, with a view to starting work in late 2016.

What’s being proposed?

You can find full details and maps of the proposed scheme on the GOV.UK website here, but here’s a summary of the changes being proposed:

A14 Huntingdon - Cambridge proposed route

The Highways Agency’s proposed route for the A14 improvement scheme between Huntingdon and Cambridge (click map to expand)

  • Widening the A1 between Brampton and Alconbury over a length of approximately 3½ miles, from the existing two lane dual carriageway to a three lane dual carriageway. This would be achieved between Brampton and Brampton Hut by constructing a new road to the west of the existing A1, with the existing A1 road becoming part of the new A14 Huntingdon Southern Bypass
  • A new Huntingdon Southern Bypass of approximately 12½ miles in length, which would provide a two lane dual carriageway between Ellington and the A1 at Brampton and a three lane dual carriageway between Brampton and Swavesey; this would remove a large proportion of traffic from the section of the existing A14 between Huntingdon and Swavesey as well as Brampton Hut and Spittals interchange. The new bypass would include a raised viaduct section of road running across the river Great Ouse and a bridge over the East Coast Mainline railway. it would include junctions with the A1 at Brampton and with the A1198 at Godmanchester
  • Downgrading the existing A14 trunk road (de-trunking to county road status) over approximately 12 miles between Ellington and Swavesey, as well as between Alconbury and Spittals interchange
  • Huntingdon Town Centre improvements; to include the demolition of the A14 rail viaduct over the East Coast Mainline railway and Brampton Road in Huntingdon. A through route would be maintained broadly along the line of the existing A14 through Huntingdon, making use of the Brampton Road bridge to cross the railway line and by constructing a new link road from Brampton Road to connect with the A14 to the west
  • Widening of the existing A14 over approximately 5½ miles to provide three lanes in each direction between Swavesey and Bar Hill and to four lanes in each direction between Bar Hill and Girton
  • Widening of a 1½ mile section of the Cambridge Northern Bypass between Histon and Milton
  • Improvement of existing A14 junctions at Swavesey, Bar Hill and Girton; to improve the capacity of the road, ensures compatibility with adjacent proposed developments such as Northstowe, and connections for non-motorised users
  • A new local access road, approximately five miles in length, to be constructed as a dual carriageway between Fen Drayton and Swavesey and as a single carriageway between Swavesey and Girton. The road would provide a route for local traffic between Cambridge and Huntingdon as well as providing access to properties and businesses along the corridor.

Full details on the GOV.UK website — and anyone wishing to submit comments online can do so here.