Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report

7  Enforcement

Performance against the road safety PSA target

67.  We congratulate the department on its achievement of its road safety PSA target. The number of people killed or seriously injured in 2006 was 33% below the 1994-98 baseline (against a target of 40% by 2010) and the number of children killed or seriously injured was 52% below the baseline (against a target of 50%). Although the number of casualties increased in 2006 relative to 2005, this was not statistically significant. We are pleased to note that the Department has also met its added objective of tackling the significantly higher incidence of casualties in disadvantaged communities. However, we are concerned that the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) failed to include a target in this area for the period from 2008 onwards. It is essential that there is no let-up in effort in this area of great public concern. This is an area to which we will return in our forthcoming Report on Road Safety.

Vehicle Excise Duty evasion

68.  One of the principal functions of the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) is to collect, and enforce payment of, 'in vehicle excise duty' (VED). VED receipts amount to around £4.5 billion per year [60] In 2006-07, the DVLA's funding was increased by £50 million over the previous year which, we were told, was partly intended to fund an increase in expenditure on VED collection and enforcement.[61]

69.  Despite this increase in funding, the Committee of Public Accounts found that the VED evasion rate actually rose from 3.6% in 2005-06 to 5% in 2006-07. In the case of motorcycles, the Secretary of State told us that that it was estimated that 38% of vehicles were untaxed.[62] This turned out to be incorrect, and the Director General of the DfT's Safety, Service Delivery and Logistics Group wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, which had conducted an inquiry into VED evasion, to correct the mistake.[63]

70.  VED evasion represents the loss of some £214 million in revenue.[64] However, the consequences go beyond the loss of revenue to the Exchequer. The requirement to renew a vehicle's tax disc annually provides an important opportunity for the DVLA to satisfy itself that the vehicle is insured and that it has a valid MOT certificate, if required. Some VED-evaders are therefore not only driving vehicles which are untaxed, but also uninsured and potentially not roadworthy. In the case of vehicles which cannot be traced to a registered keeper, the driver of the vehicle can neither be served with fixed penalty notices, for example, for speeding, nor traced in the event of an accident where he or she flees the scene.

71.  The Permanent Secretary told us that the DVLA's failure to contain the growth of VED evasions was down to its poor understanding of changing patterns of evasion. Although it was not as high as she originally told us, the Secretary of State suggested that the high evasion rate among motorcyclists was due in part to the inability of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology to read motorcycle number-plates.[65] It is easier for a motorcyclist to avoid stopping for the police or other enforcement officials and, in order to protect public safety, police officers will often not give chase.[66] A motorcycle is also more easily concealed when not in use on the highway.

72.  The growth in VED evasion is cause for concern. It is not so much the lost revenue—though that is a problem that the DVLA should be making every effort to tackle—but the apparent growth in the number of motorists whose vehicles are neither registered, taxed, insured nor roadworthy that is a serious concern to us. The removal, in March 2007, of a specific target for reducing the size of this group of illicit road-users was clearly an error and we recommend that such a target be reinstated immediately.

73.  We are also concerned about the Department's significant over-estimation of the scale of VED evasion among motorcyclists, which calls into question the reliability of all the Department's VED evasion data. We recommend that the Department review the systems it uses to estimate evasion rates.

60   DAR, para. 2.34. Back

61   DAR, p. 210 and Ev pp. 48-49. Back

62   Q194. Back

63   Letter from Stephen Hickey to Edward Leigh MP dated 7 March 2008 and published with a PAC Press Notice dated 13 March. Back

64   Evasion of Vehicle Excise Duty, Fifth Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2007-08, HC 227, p. 5. Back

65   Qq 195-196. Back

66   Evasion of Vehicle Excise Duty, Fifth Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2007-08, HC 227, pp 9-10. Back

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