/ Motoring

Fuel duty – a tax we should all welcome

Fuel pumps

Fuel duty is an emotive subject, as demonstrators have proved in the past – remember the Fuel Price Protests of 2000? But is a tax on fuel an effective way of limiting CO2 output?

Manufacturers are spending millions in research and development to design cars that use less fuel. But for me, there’s no better incentive than high fuel prices to encourage greener driving.

More fuel duty rises are planned for us Brits – an increase of 1p per litre this autumn, followed by an increase of 0.76p in January next year. And even before any oil price fluctuations have been accounted for, this will push prices towards £1.32 a litre.

Driver training will improve fuel consumption

I’ve undertaken driver training, and although I’ll admit I don’t necessarily follow every nuance of the techniques, you can save a fair amount of fuel with some very basic pointers.

Plus, if a fuel price increase forced everyone to drive more efficiently, there could be gains in safety. One of the best ways of improving fuel consumption is to drive defensively and think ahead – which clearly has benefits for safety, too.

Additionally, lower speeds generally mean less fuel consumption. So, if driver anticipation improved, and average speeds dropped, then accident and injury rates ought to follow the same trend.

Are our cars really ‘necessary’?

There are those that claim a car is a ‘necessity’ – particularly those in rural areas who can’t (or won’t) use public transport. Any fuel prices rises would, they argue, unfairly penalise them.

But is that really true in all cases? I suspect there are many who live in a pretty, rural area and drive to a city to work. Is this a necessity – or just a lifestyle choice?

So, more or less fuel tax?

But how would you feel if car tax was abolished in favour of a rise in fuel duty? And would it actually affect your driving behaviour?

Personally, I’d prefer car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty, or VED) to be paid through fuel, rather than as a separate annual levy. That way, we’d all be forced to think twice before jumping in the car – which would (in the end) encourage alternative forms of transport.

pickle says:
26 July 2010

I’m not so sure that increases of fuel duty while keeping the car tax is a good idea. There’s a lot to be said for scrapping car and lorry tax and putting up tax on fuel consumed. This way reduced consumption of fuel would be encouraged and heavy users penalised. It would encourage car owners to buy smaller and more efficient cars and would effectively tax all those lorries coming from the continent. The tax would have to be balanced to a median so as to avoid undue cost to our own food lorries and commercial vehicles.

Myrtle says:
26 July 2010

You cant tell me that we still after 100 years can not come up with something better than the combustion engine! The governments of the globe should be saying to car manufacturers that the engines they have been storing for the last 20 years because the big oil companies have bought their silence should now be forced to release the designs for manufacture for the greater good. Do the government and car manufacturers think the public are stupid? If we all really though about how advance and easier our lives have become over the last twenty years through leaps in technology we would actually start to question why are we still using the combustion engine now matter how efficient we are told it is these days it really has had its day. It’s time to stop pretending to us all that there is no better plan and come clean.

Tony says:
26 July 2010

This one is tricky for me. We are in a rural area in Devon, I love driving, and we need a largish vehicle to negotiate the unmade track. (So a diesel 4×4 at present – Honda therefore reliable.) Skipping one or two long journey per year would soonpay for all the other costs. I’ve not worked out the practicalities and maths – but rural and other factors being allowed for would seem fair, but I can opt to pay for my form of leisure of it involves driving.

Keith Goldthorpe says:
26 July 2010

Changing for a slightly more economical 4×4 is absolute madness. To get a similar vehicle will cost you at least £15000 on top for very little improvement in fuel consumption. Frankly, I am not a believer in ‘global warming’ but do subscribe to ‘climate change’. This is a natural process and there is nothing we can do about it except accept it and plan accordingly. The ‘doomsters’ will react against this but I have yet to find clear evidence to the contrary. Yes, it is expedient to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ -tell the Americans and Chinese! I do believe that man’s contribution via cars,transport, aircraft etc. is minimal when one considers methane production by herbivores and the contributions of volcanic activity. Earth is very adaptable and will adapt. One more point, Photosynthesis rate is governed by a numberof factors, in particular carbon dioxide concentrations. Carbon dioxide availability has been the limiting factor to the rate of the process. Green plants will take advantage of the increase in carbon dioxide levels and eventually a balance will be established again, as up to now. KJG

Terry Lowther says:
27 July 2010

While none of us likes to pay more fuel duty, I think this is probably the most effective way to reduce car usage – with two pre-conditions: that diesel for use in heavy vehicles is exempt, so as not to increase food and other essential commodity prices, and that provision of public transport is greatly increased, as in the OAP bus subsidy which is proving popoular.
On a more general point, I get a little tired of stories about oil companies ‘buying up and hiding’ more effective means of powering cars. I worked for oil companies for most of my working life and, while it would certainly be untrue to say that they are a public-spirited bunch, most deplore the use of petroleum as a vehicle fuel when it should be used more beneficially as a feedstock for plastics, phamaceuticals, dyestuffs and almost endless other goods. Indeed, I remember a management seminar some 30 years ago that deplored the excessive use of private cars, blaming such use not only for the more obvious adverse effects such as damage to health (principally from lead in those days) but for the adverse effects on society, such as the breakup of local communities which has led to more youth delinquency and more crime. However, the popularity of TV programmes such as ‘Top Gear’ indicates how difficult it will be to wean many people away from the car!

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Good point on commercial vehicle tax from Pickle, this needs to be considered somehow.

Unfortunately for Myrtle I haven’t found an alternative to the combustion engine and neither has anyone else – there’s no ‘conspiracy’ that I know of. Interestingly if you look at combustion engine efficiency it has improved in leaps and bounds over the last twenty or thirty years.

Speaking very personally I am less concerned about emissions than I am about consumption, by which I mean the consumption of non-renewable resources, in this case oil.

As Terry Lowther rightly points out there are a myriad of uses for oil and simply burning it to get to and from the shops doesn’t seem like the most sensible use.

Therefore anything that makes people think harder about using it (ie tax) has to be a good thing, no?

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It’s right that the bulk of tax raised from motorists should be from fuel duty to discourage excessive driving, but in the interest of reducing the total amount of fuel burnt the tax regime should also encourage the use of more efficient engines. This means diesels which are by their nature 10 to 15 percent more economical than petrol engines. Most European countries have realised this and made diesel significantly cheaper at the pump.

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Surely fuel must be quite cheap as few motorists drive in an economical manner and they still buy large 4x4s and high performance models. Therefore fuel is still considered cheap. Surely increasing VAT on fuel would hit the private motorists whereas large companies would just claim it back.

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I’d favour fuel tax to replace road tax. At a stroke you pay for what you use so the heavier users and light users at last have a fair system. Problem is going to be that instead of any tax increase being calculated so that the average user breaks even, the tax will be such that you end up paying through the nose just like they did with water metering. It will be a back door method of increasing road tax for everyone.

Tim Beadle says:
2 August 2010

The problem with Government becoming ever more reliant on "polluter pays" taxes like Fuel Duty is that it actually in their interest for usage to continue, if not increase, else revenue would drop.

The cost of fuel as a proportion of income is cheaper now than it’s ever been.

The bicycle is a valid alternative to the car over relatively short distances, but that would mean fewer people making those "lifestyle choice" moves to rural areas.

Denser living arrangements, e.g. cities, are the greener choice for the future. Unless you work the land, living in a rural area and commuting to the city isn’t the greatest choice in the world.

Tim Lennon says:
2 August 2010

A couple of things:
1. Putting vehicle excise duty (it’s not "car tax") into the cost of fuel would make very little difference to the cost of the fuel most people use, if they drive the ‘average’ of 10,000 miles a year.
2. Much of the discussion still seems to be predicated on the usage of a motor vehicle as a basic right. The sooner we have a Government more concerned with thinking about real transport alternatives that cars or planes, the sooner we might be having a real discussion about this.
3. We have a massive urban population in the UK: why does this seem to translate into one of the most car-centric cultures in Europe?

And Keith’s bizarre "belief" that global warming isn’t happening but climate change is? Surely anthropogenic climate change ("man made global warming" – http://uk.ask.com/wiki/Global_warming) is one of the most investigated scientific debates ever. If the current level of analysis isn’t enough to convince you that we’re wreaking massive changes to our world, I can’t imagine what would …

Jeff says:
5 August 2010

I’m a disabled driver and my car is my legs.
I receive the Disability Living Allowance so I’m exempt from VED but I’m not exempt from fuel tax. Any fuel tax restricts my mobility. Some years ago I bought a diesel car as the fuel was cheaper, now diesel is more expensive than petrol.
Fuel tax doesn’t only affect motorists, it affects everyone as the costs of distribution for all products increases.

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Electric Cars forever! These would be fuel efficient – a non polluting motion power. The trouble is they are still too expensive to buy in comparison to same performance petrol cars – (diesels are more polluting than petrol – more particulates)

Electric cars have a wonderful future – their development is in it’s infancy. If I could buy a hybrid car for the price of a small standard petrol car (say £7000) I’d be driving one now.

We should also increase the amount of goods carried by train

The distance I travel to my rural employment is not far – but requires three buses and two trains – the time taken runs to around three hours each way – due to various transport cuts over the years – I can get to work easily by car in less than an hour.


Even if you subscribe to the idea of co2 driving climate change (total nonsense) you have to consider the following facts put out by the Governments and organisations which support the theory. The UK contributes only 2% of the worlds man made co2 emissions and only 20% of that comes from road transport, yet we all focus on the private car, which is a tiny miniscule spec within a miniscule spec as being ‘the cause’ and we lump a 250% tax on fuel for cars. The MINORITY contributor. It doesnt stack up mathematically. Why isnt there a 250% tax on household heating oil? Why isnt there a 250% tax on Aviation Fuel (which currently pays zero fuel duty and zero fuel VAT). Why isnt there a 250% tax on electricity bills? If your only argument in favour of Fuel Tax is to ‘reduce co2 emissions’ then you must surely support this maths and these proposals too?

Buses pollute more cars yet get a 43p a litre Fuel Duty rebate. Trains can use more fuel than Planes in some instances yet only pays 8p a litre on their biofuels in Duty. Even if you buy into the Global Warming stuff you have to agree that when you look at basic maths, the car is getting an unfairly raw deal, too much of the blame, too much of the focus and unfair criticism. The fact is alot of people and councils have always hated the car, perhaps because its magnificent, and have sought to stop us using it. Then they got on the Green bandwagon to justify their decisions of taxing it. The car hate came first, the green policies came later as a stick to beat the car with.