Friday, 5 December 2014

The Last of its Kind

Last month we said goodbye to the old road tax disc that has been with us since 1920. Up until now it was an offence to drive a car with no tax disc, in all but one or two rare circumstances. Now we no longer have to display a paper disc in the windscreen of our cars to declare to the world, and traffic cops, that we have paid our dues. Mine expired in November and now there is an unfamiliar empty spot in my windscreen. In this digital age, the authorities can keep track of all your official documents from the MOT certificate, through insurance to road tax via a handheld computer. We still have to pay for all these things, but can do so on line, apart from the roadworthiness test, still fondly referred to as the MOT, which has to be carried out by a competent and authorised mechanic. This name, MOT is a legacy from a time when there was a Ministry of Transport. Now it is the Department for Transport, so this test should be a DFT test and so has probably been left unchanged, since many people would start calling the roadworthiness test a DAFT test.
Although the official government name is the Departmen For Transport, the signs often say of.  Maybe it should be the DOT test.
One thing that I found interesting with these discs was that if you simply slipped the new one into the little plastic holder over the top of the old ones, you slowly collected a record of how much the tax had increased year on year and it gave you a record of the rate of inflation. It seems to have increased at around five pounds per year over the last few years, but I recall on older ones it would jump ten pounds regularly.
 Many years ago in one of the many different kinds of work I have been employed in, I was required to drive a Crown vehicle. That was not for some company like Crown paints, but the kind of crown worn by a certain head of state of the UK. The Queen did not pay road tax on her vehicles, so Crown vehicles did not have a tax disc. This was replaced by a white disc with the royal crest in the centre in the form of a small black and white line drawing, so it did not show up well. To be able to drive said vehicles, you needed a special form which declared you were a fit and proper person to drive her majesty’s vehicles. In my case this was a perfectly ordinary Vauxhall Cavalier, although a rather powerful version, and I understand it could do slightly in excess of 130Mph if you were very naughty, which of course I never was. You had to carry this official piece of paper around with you at all times in case you were challenged and on a couple of occasions I was. Typically, I was parked in a busy area, quite legitimately and was just emerging from my car when a police officer would approach looking pleased with themselves and something like the ensuing conversation took place. “Excuse me sir.” “Yes constable?” “You do not seem to be displaying a current tax disc on your vehicle.” “No constable, I do not need one.” “I see sir,” said in a sceptical tone of voice, “may I ask why?” “Certainly.” And at this point I produced my piece of paper which explained I was driving a Crown vehicle. “Oh I see sir. - Sorry sir, is there anything you need sir?” This said indistinctly as the man was now bending over the front of my car and peering closely at the white disc, which he could now see plainly, although in rather small letters, that it was indeed a Crown vehicle. The kind of fawning that occurred after incidents like that was funny. I have no idea who they thought I was and I did not explain. Not too many years after that, the law was changed and all Crown vehicles not directly used by the Queen had to display a tax disc just like any other kind of vehicle and spoiled my fun. So it is the end of an era indeed.


  1. No 'robot' yet - but maybe it's only appearing on new posts.

  2. Times definitely change. In the States, we used to have a county sticker on our car, but they did away with it a few years ago. You still have to pay the property taxes, but you don't have to display it on your windshield. It saves stickers (whatever they're made from).