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Crash taxes - a Brussels beauty

Date: 14 November 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

Accident tax' and 'noise charges' for drivers could be just around the corner if an element of a new EU directive gets clearance, says Guy Bird

Road pricing is still very much on Europe's agenda, according to details hidden in a new European Commission consultation.

This latest public consultation can be traced back to a EU directive - widely known as the 'Eurovignette Directive' - adopted in 1993 to allow member states to introduce tolls and charges for heavy freight vehicles. Revisions in 2006 made the directive cover all roads, rather than just motorways, and also introduced the option for governments to integrate the environmental and health-related so-called "external costs" of road transport into those toll prices.

In 2006, many transport ministers were against this element of the directive because agreement couldn't be reached on a uniform methodology for calculating and "internalising" (i.e. paying for) the "external costs" for all transport types. The directive gave the Commission two more years to find a workable model. That time period expires on June 10, 2008 and now the EU is consulting interested parties for two months to see what everyone thinks is fair.

A quick peruse of the consultation document suggests that some kind of extra "safety charge" or liability insurance could be levied to offset the cost of accidents, but how is not clear - based on how many crashes each vehicle type has statistically caused within a certain timeframe perhaps? Then there's a "differentiated charge" proposed for noise pollution that would factor in a vehicle's location (urban or rural), time of day (day or night) and "vehicle characteristics", presumably based on weight and/or size.

Use of revenues

So let's assume all this extra revenue gets raised - where will it be spent? That's another debating point far from resolved. Within the consultation options include ploughing revenue raised back into the mode of transport charged to improve its infrastructure - more air pollution and climate change costs are also on the debating table and could be leveled at all modes of transport from road to air, sea and inland waterway - or compensating victims for the negative effects of its use. As usual, the car and transport lobby says existing Europe-wide fuel and vehicle taxes of some 360 billion Euros (£25bn) easily cover the costs inflicted by road users, but opposing groups reckon once, for example, climate change, air pollution, accidents, noise, landscape and urban effects are factored in, that figure doesn't even cover half the true costs.

What does this mean for fleet managers? Just make the mental note that beyond Euro5&6 (for air pollution) and low CO2 levels (for climate change) asking vehicle makers about the external noise levels of their big engines in LCVs and maybe top-end sports cars - plus how safe your particular vehicle type is considered to be with insurers - might be a good plan.

Meanwhile I'd better order a retrofit pop-up bonnet and a bigger silencer on my next Lamborghini, to tone down that pleasing but oh so loud - and maybe soon to be even more expensive - exhaust note.