In this week’s issue, Auto Express magazine asked the four major UK political parties (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP) for their plans on improving our roads and helping drivers. Unsurprisingly, all four parties came back with vague statements and fairly minor plans to tinker around the edges of issues rather than confronting them head-on. You can read the answers they all gave to Auto Express below. As a result, The Car Expert team has put forward its own ideas for how to improve motoring in the UK. Any of the parties can feel free to use any or all of these ideas for their own platforms, as they are all clearly lacking their own imaginations.
What are your party’s plans regarding the current state of the roads in the UK and how the network can be improved?
Tories: We are spending more money than any government since the 1970s
Labour: Commitment to protecting the environment and people’s safety
Lib Dems: Committing money to local councils for highways maintenance
UKIP: We will fix potholes and make sure roads are kept at a high standard
Improving the quality of the UK’s road network is a key step in reducing the number of deaths and serious injuries occuring on our roads every year, as well as increasing the volume of traffic that can use the road network.
Current spending is insufficient to maintain the roads we have now, let alone develop new roads for the future. There’s no other way around it – improving our road network will cost billions of pounds, so whoever is in government needs to bite the bullet and invest the money. However, it must be done in an holistic and coherent manner, rather than having lots of small pots of money which seem to mainly benefit marginal seats. None of the political parties wants to commit to this level of spend, so the roads are never going to improve to the standard required.
The growth of electric and other ultra-low emission cars has been slow. How will your party try to encourage this further?
Tories: £37 million on charging point infrastructure
Labour: wants UK to secure a global advantage in low-emissions vehicles
Lib Dems: £500 million to develop EV industry over next 5 years
UKIP: no answer provided
The public has steadfastly refused to embrace electric cars. It’s time to stop pinning all our hopes on battery power and look at alternatives. Hydrogen power for electric cars is a relatively mature technology which can almost instantly resolve all of the weaknesses of battery-powered electric vehicles. It would require massive investment in infrastructure to provide sufficient fuelling stations across the country, but they could be piggybacked onto existing petrol stations in many places.
What will your party do to try to bring down the cost of fuel, and how will you do it?
Tories: Cancelled four fuel duty increases, equal to 13 pence/litre
Labour: Last Labour govt cancelled fuel duty increases when prices were high
Lib Dems: Frozen fuel duty
UKIP: Sympathetic to the idea of lower fuel duties
The UK certainly does have expensive fuel, but cutting fuel taxes is not necessarily a good idea – unless it’s for political point scoring. Cheaper fuel will put more cars on the road more of the time, which will increase congestion on already-clogged routes. By all means reduce the taxes associated with buying a car (such as Vehicle Excise Duty and DVLA first registration fees), but running costs need to be maintained or even increased to encourage people to choose more efficient vehicles and reduce unnecessary journeys.
Other ideas would be to make roads more efficient, with technologies like smart traffic light networking, variable speed limits and car pool lanes to maximise traffic flow. That way, everyone gets where they are going faster and uses less fuel.
How will your party tackle the still high price of car insurance?
Tories: cracking down on whiplash fraudsters and compensation claims
Labour: telematics for young drivers
Lib Dems: no answer provided
UKIP: no answer provided
Insurance fraud and uninsured drivers increase the cost of car insurance for everyone else. The Conservatives have made some moves in these areas, but there is no evidence yet that it is making any difference. These crimes need tougher responses.
There is a growing push for telematics-based car insurance, but that is a whole different can of worms. Giving the insurers the power to decide what constitutes “good driving” is going down a path that most drivers don’t want to go down.
Improving driver standards through tougher licencing requirements and compulsory re-testing would reduce accidents, thereby lowering insurance costs. Educating drivers about making good decisions, like properly maintaining their cars or not getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol, will reduce accidents as well.
What is your party’s stance on road pricing and road tolls ahead of the 2015 General Election?
Tories: Not going down the toll road route
Labour: Halt managed motorway schemes pending assessment
Lib Dems: cost-neutral road pricing
UKIP: against road tolls, will let current contracts expire
As with fuel pricing, reducing the cost of motoring will increase the mileage that people drive. Vehicle excise duty and the DVLA’s first registration fee should be reduced to make buying a car cheaper (which keeps manufacturers happy), but maintaining or increasing running costs via fuel and road tolls would force people to choose more efficient cars and consider how they use their vehicles more carefully to reduce unnecessary journeys.
Drivers would be less critical of high running costs if the taxes that they pay to run their cars were used to improve roads. But the fact that motoring taxes are used to fund other aspects of government does not go down well with motorists.
How is your party going to ensure young drivers are safer drivers? What plans do you have for improving the skills of young drivers?
Tories: Considering what action to take, interested in telematics
Labour: discussing with motoring organisations, open to proposals
Lib Dems: working on a green paper to target safety measures
UKIP: greater awareness about road safety
As you can see above, none of them have any useful ideas. A driver’s licence is something which needs to be earned through the achievement of a high standard of competency. Longer probationary periods and tougher testing will make sure that young drivers develop better skills to apply on the roads.
But it needs to go beyond young drivers. In any other aspect of life, skilled tasks require regular training and testing to ensure ongoing competency. All drivers should have to re-take their driving test every ten years, and they should be expected to pay a fair price to do so. Driving a car on a public road is a privilege, not a God-given right, and adult drivers need to meet the same standards we expect from younger drivers. They also need to set examples of behaviour for young drivers to follow. Improving the skills of all of Britain’s drivers should be a priority for our Government. Having the toughest driving tests in the world should be something to aspire to, rather than lowest-common-denominator standards which allow incompetent drivers onto our roads.
Summary – political point scoring but no real ideas
None of the major political parties has a coherent or comprehensive strategy for motoring in the UK. The Tories blame the previous Labour government for everything, Labour offers no concrete proposals, the Lib Dems hate cars anyway and UKIP just tend to waffle with no substance whatsoever. With this lot, what hope is there for motorists to get a fair shout at the next elections?