Motoring could become more expensive for NI motorists

Slugger has had a number of excellent articles this year on transport especially in Belfast with the new bus lanes etc. Largely un-noticed, however, has been one seemingly unimportant event which may have significant relevance for many of Northern Ireland’s drivers. Clearly the recent reduction in the price of fuel is welcomed by many / most. However, despite the fall in price it must be remembered that most of the cost of fuel is tax and that tax might be in danger of rising in a fashion that could hurt Northern Ireland’s drivers more than most.

In July Boris Johnson proposed increasing the congestion charge on diesel cars, a move lauded by environmental campaigners.

There has been considerable debate in environmental circles regarding diesel. Some years ago it was proposed as a more environmentally friendly option than petrol as it produces 20% less CO2. This is because diesel has greater energy density than petrol.

Unfortunately whilst carbon dioxide is harmless at a local level, diesel also produces greater amounts of other pollutants especially particulates and nitric oxides. It was hoped that modern filtering systems would prevent this problem but that has been less effective than hoped. The filters often get blocked and work less well when the engine is older, less well maintained, cold or running at low revs (as often happens in cities). As such diesel cars especially in towns and cities may be more polluting than petrol cars. This has led a number of environmental campaigners and the Green Party to call for an increase in taxes on diesel vehicles. These sorts of calls could be used as justification for an environmentally friendly stealth tax for mainstream politicians.

So why the particular relevance of this to Northern Ireland? Belfast is reported to have reasonably good air quality levels but if there was a move to increase taxes on diesel vehicles it would have a disproportionate effect in Northern Ireland as there are slightly more diesel than petrol cars in Northern Ireland (it is approximately 2:1 in favour of petrol in the rest of the UK).

This is also an interesting example of lack of foresight in environmental policy. So fixated on carbon emissions have policy makers been in the past that they promoted diesel cars which produce a little bit less carbon dioxide but more local pollution than petrol cars. Furthermore people having bought supposedly more economical and environmentally friendly diesel cars may now be taxed for having more polluting vehicles.

Hybrid cars may offer a solution but are currently expensive and less efficient than their official figures suggest. Electric cars are better but there are relatively few currently on NI’s roads (77 according to the DRD figures) and a number of the charging points have never been used; furthermore the longevity both in range and long term durability of the battery is uncertain. The durability problem is currently dealt with by leasing the battery from the manufacturer but how that will work in the non franchised second hand market years later is unclear.

Personally I always have always preferred petrol cars especially when they have the engine in the correct place behind the back seat passengers: well I can always buy a new Renault Twingo (bizarre end understandable only to the car interested cognoscenti).

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  • Brings back memories of been driven around in a Twingo in France!

  • Turgon

    Ah Alan the new Twingo is (I am pretty sure) the first to have its engine in the proper place: No geek prize for you.

  • Zeno1

    Motoring could come more expensive for NI motorists

    You don’t want to worry about that. Worry about whether you are capable of hunting for food.

  • chrisjones2

    …but we are always told here there are so many food banks

  • Jag

    I do hope that motoring in NI does become more expensive.

    79 people lost their lives on NI roads in 2014 compared to 57 in 2013 and 48 in 2012.

    196 people lost their lives on roads in the Republic compared to 190 in 2013 and around 180 in 2012.

    In the past three years, NI has rocketed from a per capita fatality rate from 2.7 to 4,4 per 100,000. In the Republic, it’s increased from 3.9 to 4.2 per 100,000.

    Behind the rise in both parts of the island is the likelihood that we’re travelling more by road as the recession passes. But I think police cut backs on both sides of the Border are the more likely primary cause. Certainly in the Republic, motoring fines have plummeted, and to Nov 2014, were down 8% on the previous year and were down 40% in the past three years.

    So, whatever about a congestion charge for Belfast or a supplemental tax for diesel engined cars, motoring fines should be increased, and so should policing, and that cost should be passed onto motorists so they stop killing so many of our citizens.

  • Jag

    Ah, good old religious fundamentalism, are we still on the brink of the end of days and the Rapture. Not if you’re a Republican, you’re planning for a brighter future in this part of the country.

  • Bryan Magee

    It is quite troubling what you point out. There had been a long term decline in road deaths. You may be right that what’s happening is that the police aren’t enforcing speed reductions.

    Your figures show that the increase *cannot* be attribited to cyclists being killed. It seems the main rise is on rural roads and perhaps more speed cameras should be introduced. I still see relatively few of these in NI compared to England. Perhaps on rural roads the speed limit should be 50mph unless otherwise stated.

    Also on urban roads more 20mph limits would be a good idea in areas where there are lots of pedestrians and cyclists. People have got used to these in England.

  • Turgon

    I suspect there are a number of reasons but I doubt speed cameras or enforcement on rural roads is actually that relevant. Enforcement has less effect than people think.

    More likely:
    Last year had a milder winter. Perversely that may increase lethal accident rates as people are more willing to drive in cold wet / mildly icy weather rather than several inches of snow. Not only are they more likely to drive but speeds are also likely to be much higher than on snow. Severe weather may well produce more accidents but less serious ones as the speeds will be lower.

    The lack of public money may have led to less road repairs and less road improvements. A significant part of the death reduction over the years has been improving road surface quality and also taking out bad corners etc. Sweden has been the in the lead on this and there are many more things on this we could learn from them.

    People’s own lack of money may lead to spending less on their cars: keeping going with tyres which are wearing out; keeping a car with poorer brakes etc. The lack of both money and credit may well mean people keep a car longer with less maintenance (and hence it becomes less safe) than previously. Although the recession has bottomed out it is only now being reflected in a rise in car purchases so there will always be a lag before beneficial effects are seen. As such there are likely to be more older, less maintained, wearing out cars on the roads than a few years ago.

    The slight rise in employment may increase accidents as people with little money accrued so far need a car to travel to work.

    Although there has been a rise in deaths it is overall vastly lower than in previous decades despite a rise in vehicle journeys (cold comfort to those affected but factual none the less). There is a also probably a bit or regression towards the mean. For death rates to fall every single year is unrealistic and the death rate is now much lower so a rise may be simple chance (again cold comfort to grieving families) but taking one year’s figures as a trend is unwise.

    Reducing speed limits in town may be beneficial but I am dubious about lower speed limits in rural areas. Rural roads vary so much and there is a danger of creating unenforceable laws and annoying law abiding people.

    The biggest benefits of all have been in vehicle design. They have previously been directed towards the car. We now all have much better cars than years ago. We have much bigger, better tyres, antilock brakes, stability control systems etc. When we do crash we have crumple zones, seat belt pre-tensioners, air bags etc.

    The rules have now moved on to pedestrian safety. The perfect example of this is the latest Euro rules which enhance pedestrian safety: put simply they require the bonnet to be a bit higher so that a pedestrian who hits his / her head on the bonnet is less likely to come into contact with the engine block or front suspension components. Look at a new BMW 3 or 5 series and you will see the bonnet is a bit higher than the older models. This rule may also be behind Renault’s decision to make the new Twingo rear engined and rear wheel drive (improved turning circle also results as well).

    Cycling is a particular problem (and being an avid cyclist a particular concern of mine). Cycling helmets seem fairly useful at low speeds but there are suggestions they are of little / no use in collisions between cars / lorries etc. and cyclists. The use of painted cycle lanes seems unlikely to enhance safety: rather cycle lanes with kerbs to create a physical barrier between the cyclist and the cars is probably the only really effective solution.

  • Zeno1

    Eh? I wasn’t predicting some sort of biblical disaster. I’m a devout atheist.

  • Zeno1

    “You may be right that what’s happening is that the police aren’t enforcing speed reductions.”

    Over the 10 year period up to 2013

    Cause of accidents involving injury or fatality.

    Drink/Drugs ……………………………………….4992

    Speed in relation to road/traffic conditions 8728

    Careless (or just plain bad driving). ………..62,219

    I don’t see any where mechanical failure has been listed as the cause. I put that down to the MOT Test.

    So why not bring in a Driving Test that everyone has to do ever 5 years?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, Zeno1. what is it with these people who need to get us all into easy catagories! I’m having a wee spat with Jag over on the “Merged Photos of Belfast” thread, and he seems to think I live up a tree!

    “Not if you’re a Republican, you’re planning for a brighter future in this part of the country.” The only way I can understand a comment like that after the last sixteen years experience is as some form of parody satiric performance art such as my friend the Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping (“As seen in Belfast”) engage in:

    If Jag actually intended this as a serious comment, then the level of unreality he functions in must be dangeriously high. How anyone can look at NI as it really is today and fail to think of a squashy tomato just about to hit the wall is just beyond me! But then Jag believes what the developers tell him about modern houses, so I suppose after believing that sort of nonsense, crediting that Gerry is a progressive and honest politician is going to be just as easy to swallow.

  • Bedhead1157

    Mechanical Failure is rare because for the most part cars are far superior than they were 20 years ago, very few MOT failures result in a prohibition notice meaning the vehicle is dangerous to drive, From my own experience in the motor trade, an MOT, even in NI, is not worth the paper it’s written on. An MOT failure for an engine management light for instance, has no bearing on the vehicle’s safety whatsoever, I once went to look at a car with an MOT passed a few hours earlier, the brake pedal needed a hefty push, and I’m no weakling, on closer inspection, you could see the vacuum pump for the brake servo had been changed, presumably one had been swapped for the test then the duff one replaced.

    The main reason there will never be a 5 yearly driving test, is the “system” simply couldn’t cope, it can barely cope as it is with new drivers, say your 5 years is up, you drive for a living and you cannot get a test? Will they just ban people overnight?

    The biggest danger on our roads is piss poor driving, the PSNI have this obsession with speeding, 20mph going past a primary school at kicking out time is legal, 90 on the M1 at 4am isn’t. Only one will get you points,

    PSNI hiding behind hedges and bus shelters don’t do bugger all for people driving whilst on their phones, double parking, driving along bus lanes, driving with no lights on, tailgating or just generally driving like a twat.

    As for the congestion charge for diesels, it won’t really effect me, I’ll just sell my 22mpg Terrano that I drive in town maybe once a week and buy another Range Rover V8 petrol, it did 12mpg around town. On a good day.

    If they’re trying to force people out of their cars it will fail spectacularly, due to NI having a crap public transport system.

  • Zeno1

    The main reason there will never be a 5 yearly driving test, is the “system” simply couldn’t cope

    It could easily cope if they employed more people and it certainly wouldn’t have any problems covering the costs.
    Driving standards are truly awful. There are a lot of people on the road who would have to improve to pass a test.

  • Morpheus

    I agree, driving standards are terrible (I’m looking at you here Fermanagh)

  • Zeno1

    It’s easy to be a believer. Whether it’s religion or in some sort of political dogma. Well, easy for a lot of people, but not me. I like to ask questions? Believers aren’t allowed to ask questions.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My wife has a great phrase she uses, Zeno1, “Final Solution Thinkers”, those who think they can get the heads completely around the very last bit of any issue, or that they already know everything they will ever need to know and now they never have to think again. They know absolutely everything about you the moment they meet you.

    Glad to know that a few of us keep asking “why”, but I suppose that’s what lets us keep a bit of a distance between us and the bad smells……

  • Zeno1

    “Final Solution Thinkers”,

    lol, that is brilliant.
    A lot of people don’t have opinions of their own.They have the opinions of their Parents and Peer groups. They take those on without question. It saves all that thinking and questioning stuff. A Catholic/Nationalist,Republican or Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist don’t need to think about “stuff”. And by the numbers voting, they definitely don’t.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Zeno1, most of those around us act rather than think. While I’m a great believer in the value of history, it should always be critically handled, just as personal memory needs to be critically handled during psycoanalysis (I trained as a Jungian psycologist once). As I’ve said elsewhere, only a fool trips over something behind him!

    While highly valuing my Irish culture, something inherited from my grandfather and his friend the antiquarian Frank Bigger, I am inclined to think that all political ideologies do the cultures they latch onto no good whatsoever. The relationship is entirely parasitical, something I learnt from Ernest Gellner’s analysis of Nationalism as a modernising, homogenising system that simply uses identity and culture for its own purposes.

    Its always good to read your highly perceptive comments, even on those little issues where we may appear to disagree!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Zeno1, have you come across Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew?

    His books “Propaganda” (1928) and “The Engineering of Consent”, (1955) stand as key texts for those forces that have ensured that ordinary people are manipulated into thinking they are making informed choices, while being compelled to fit into “useful” modes of thinking:

    “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.”

  • Zeno1

    I’ll have a look for those.
    I have to admit to being intrigued by the human decision making process and how easily it can be changed. I’m intrigued how people decide to vote for the same parties every election and then expect a miraculous different outcome when they again take up the reins of power.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Its the manipulation of the people, Zeno, and the utter contempt for humanity it exposes that I find so distasteful. as St Just said ” It is a terrible thing to torment the people……..”