Why there’s no such thing as road tax

Road tax is a term used by car magazines, car manufacturers, newspapers and government websites. However road tax doesn’t exist – it was abolished in 1937. What we have today is a tax on vehicles, not a tax that pays for roads.

What most people mean when they say road tax – is Vehicle Excise Duty (or VED). To find out how VED works, read our car tax guide.

Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax in 1926. He said:

Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed; racehorses may be taxed and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the whole yield of the tax on motors devoted to roads. Obviously this is all nonsense Such contentions are absurd, and constitute an outrage upon the sovereignty of Parliament and upon common sense.


Prior to it finally ending in 1937, vehicles paid into the Road Fund, and this pot of cash helped pay some of the costs of roads. Today, building and maintaining our road network is paid for by national and local taxes.

Road tax, which we’ll now refer to as VED, is calculated based on the amount of CO2 a vehicle emits. Gas guzzlers pay more than low-emission cars and electric cars. A bicycle is classed as a vehicle in law and if bicycles were to be charged Vehicle Excise Duty they would pay the same as Band A cars: zero – that’s why you don’t pay tax for a bicycle.

Cyclists sometimes get abused by motorists who yell that they should get off the road because they don’t pay road tax. Unfortunately there is plenty of video evidence of angry motorists verbally and physically abusing cyclists for this supposed non-payment even though 2 million motorists don’t pay VED either.

For more information on how cyclists and drivers can get along better, read our cyclist-aware driving guide.

If you’re after a new car that won’t incur any VED, check out our tax-exempt cars list.