Life-saving car technology 'taxed out of drivers' reach'
* Systems that can avert whiplash hit by VRT * Calls for government incentive
Published 26/03/2014 | 02:30
NEW CAR TECHNOLOGY that can save lives and avert injuries in cars are being taxed out of most drivers' reach, it is claimed.
Now a new push is on for safety devices and systems to get a tax break.
Advocates say huge advances in car technology have transformed the landscape and need to be encouraged by governments in the form of VRT-like rebates.
Calls by prestigious safety research agency Thatcham were backed by a senior motoring figure here who says safety is being priced out of the market in many cars.
The latest technology to prompt calls for a tax cut can stop rear end collisions – without the driver taking any action.
The car takes over the braking in an emergency where the driver is distracted.
It is called Autonomous Emergency Braking (EAB) and it is now fitted or optional on some cars. The critical thing is that new figures show it saves lives and injuries.
According to Thatcham, the insurance industry's automotive research agency in the UK, initial data shows cars with AEB have 18pc fewer third-party injury claims. Many of these would be whiplash injuries; the EAB system is designed to avert rear-end shunts.
Similar studies in the US found a 26pc reduction in injuries while research in Switzerland and Sweden the number front/rear crashes was cut by 31pc and 48pc respectively.
Ford Ireland chief Eddie Murphy has campaigned for years for safety items on cars to be exempt from VRT.
He told Independent Motors he welcomed the call by Thatcham or governments to do all in their power to incentivise automotive safety equipment.
He said: "Motorists don't realise it, but a lot of what has become standard safety systems on cars like airbags and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) are all subject to VRT.
"And just as importantly, exempting optional new cutting-edge safety technologies such as Active City Stop (low speed collision avoidance) and lane departure warning, would certainly go a huge way to making these often life-saving technologies more popular."
He added: "Once you add the full VRT rate to these optional items, they can become prohibitively expensive for some motorists."
According to Thatcham, 90pc of crashes are due to human error or distraction.
In a car fitted with AEB, the system detects the proximity of the car (or pedestrian) in front and calculates there will be a collision if the current speed is maintained. In the absence of driver involvement, it sharply applies the brakes to avoid impact.
(I have driven several test-track examples of this. In all but one case the car stopped before hitting a 'pedestrian' or ploughing into the back of another vehicle).
The Thatcham appeal raises broad questions about how safety items are treated by taxation policy. They, obviously, add to the price of a car and therefore invoke the relevant Vehicle Registration Tax rates. In effect it means safety is being taxed. And that is why many carmakers do not include some higher-end safety items as their standard equipment, leaving them instead as options.
Thatcham is calling for a £500 incentive – reckoned to be about half the cost of an autonomous emergency brake system – from the British government and has begun a big lobbying campaign.
It forecasts that all new cars would have AEB by 2025 if the cost were reduced.