It’s highway robbery! Why is the motorist always bled dry?

Motorists are obviously huge contributors to the public purse yet there seems to be very little effort to protect us, so says Michael Patwell in his weekly column
It’s highway robbery! Why is the motorist always bled dry?

ANGER: Motorists pay a multitude of taxes and are also penalised by ever-tougher laws, says Michael Pattwell. Posed by model

DID you know that when you buy a new car, up to 40% of what you pay for it goes straight to the government coffers?

According to one garage owner who was interviewed by a newspaper recently: “The Government takes an average €10,000 in taxation on every car. We have 23% VAT and an average of 19% VRT. That is over 40% of the total price of a new car.”

The motorist as a taxpayer isn’t finished there. According to the AA, taking the average cost per litre of fuel in July this year, about 80 cent, on average across petrol and diesel vehicles, is also tax.

The unfairest cut of all, it appears to me, is that 23% VAT is charged on the aggregate price of the fuel, including the other taxes. In other words, we are being charged tax on top of tax.

Then, of course, we still have to pay road tax, though to be fair, that is less of a burden now than it used to be since the basis of the charge has been linked to the emissions.

I can’t help wondering if we motorists are considered to be total villians. We are obviously huge contributors to the public purse yet there seems to be very little effort to protect us. Every other day, it seems, we are penalised or restricted in one way or another. Cities are developing ‘no-go’ areas for motor vehicles. A typical example being the shutting down of Patrick Street in Cork for motor vehicles for several hours each day. The 1.5 metres obligatory passing distance for overtaking bicycles is another example.

That would be fine if we had super-wide roadways all over Ireland but the fact of the matter is that we don’t. Living in a rural area, it would, for most of my local journeys, be absolutely impossible to pass a cyclist at the 1.5 metres required without putting myself well over the centre of the road, and where there is a continuous white line in the centre that would result in my breaking of the law.

To be honest, I have to say that I don’t see much coming back from many of the cyclists (though, in fairness, not all) by way of respect for the motorist. Probably one of the most dangerous manoeuvres of all is the common habit cyclists have of overtaking vehicles on the left. I couldn’t count the number of times this has put my heart crossways.

This practice, it seems to me, is actually encouraged by road authorities. It is quite common now to arrive at a junction, controlled by ‘STOP’ signs or traffic lights, only to find a space has been marked out right across the whole carriageway for bicycles, which results in the cyclist creeping up and positioning him/her self right in front of the lead car.

Cyclist readers are now assuming I am anti-cyclist. I am not. I am the first to argue that cycling is a wonderful and healthy way to travel and I would encourage anybody to take it up if it suits. I merely want to point out that motorists deserve respect too. In particular, I would like to think that the groups of cyclists — some quite large — that one encounters on a Saturday or Sunday morning would take account of their own safety as well as the safety of other road users.

When I worked as a Judge of the District Court, I did enforce the drink-driving laws fairly strictly. I must say, however, that the most recent tightening up of those laws is, for me, a step over the top.

As of Friday, October 26, 2018, ordinary fully licenced drivers detected by An Garda Síochána with a blood alcohol concentration level of between 50mg and 80mg will receive an automatic disqualification for holding a driving licence of three months and a €200 fine. I have no problem with the fine but the disqualification for being marginally over the limit does disturb me. I hasten to add that I myself don’t partake of alcohol so I am not influenced by my own self-interests. In all other respects I would welcome the strict enforcement of the drink-driving law.

I must say, too, that I am concerned to a large degree about the allocation of penalty points for driving only marginally over the relevant speed limit. I am aware of a detection recently where a motorist was clocked by one of the speed vans doing 69kph in a 60 zone. Again, I have no problem with the fine but imposing penalty points when the margin was relatively low seems to me to be over the top.

Nine kph converted to miles is less that 5.6 mph. which is little more than a fast walking pace. It seems there should be a point at which speeds up to that point should be liable to a fine but not penalty points.

Penalty points are a very serious matter. Not only can they easily add up to a disqualification but they can prove very expensive when it comes to motor insurance. I would suggest speeds detected that are not quite up to the next zone/level should not be liable to penalty points.

For example, if a motorist is caught speeding in a 50kph zone doing less that 60kph (the next zone up) I think penalty points should not apply. Similarly, exceeding 60kph but under the next zone of 80kph should not expose the motorist to points.

The person I referred to above who was caught doing 69 in a 60 zone does, I know, make every effort to stay within the limit and uses his cruise control to help him keep within the limit. Homer nods, as did my friend on that occasion.

Paying as much tax as we motorists do, it would be reasonable to expect that our valid and reasonable interests should be given some level of protection by the powers-that-be. In particular, we are left very exposed and unprotected at the hands of insurance companies. Each year for a number of years back, most motorists, when it comes to renewing their insurance, find an increase in the premium, even though they have not made a claim.

These insurance companies are in the market to make a profit and they usually do make sizeable profits. Aviva reported it made €113million in operating profits in 2018, up from €99million in the previous year. RSA revealed earlier this year that it made profits of €35million in this market last year, and FBD reported profits of €50million.

Insurance companies are constantly calling for Government-led plans to cut personal injury claims costs so that, they claim, insurers can reduce motor insurance premiums to more sustainable long-term levels. They cast around for somebody, other than themselves, to blame, including the legal professionals, judges and the litigants themselves. They are very quick to blame too the level of damages awarded, even in cases that have been fully defended and the need for a certain level of damages has been fully ventilated in the courts.

They complain also that the level of damages awarded in Ireland when compared with damages awarded in other jurisdictions is away too high. Again, in these cases the level of damages would have been carefully examined in the individual cases before the courts. Perhaps damages assessed in other jurisdictions are too low!

Where, however, insurance companies accept liability and settle cases, the quantum of the settlement is not set by a court but by the insurance company’s claims department and claims inspectors.

Neither do we hear too much from them when they settle cases on ‘nuisance basis’ where liability could well be questionable but they try to buy off the case at a cost that is less than what they think the case might be worth. The motorist loses his/her no claims bonus, though nothing has been proved against him/her.

I have set out a plan on this page before that would get rid of the insurance companies and replace them with a government scheme that would be to everybody’s benefit. I don’t think anybody is listening or that anybody cares as long as the motorist pays and pays and pays.

Contact Michael at

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