Car Taxes – The Whys and The Wherefores

by CherrellT on November 25, 2011

Many people don’t equate vehicles with the middle ages so they’re often surprised to learn that the current car tax, also called road tax or vehicle tax, has been around, in one form or another, since the medieval era. The easily recognized tax discs kept in every car in the UK were created out of an idea that is hundreds of years old—shocking, isn’t it?

Why a Medieval Car Tax?

Obviously there were no vehicles in medieval times so the taxes that were paid were actually road taxes. No matter if you walked, rode a horse or rolled down the street in a carriage, the use of all roads and bridges was taxed. This tax was the beginning of direct taxation in Great Britain and was strictly enforced.

The year 1637 saw the first tax on actual vehicles when hackney cabs were required to be licensed. In 1747 the law changed and any vehicle, or carriage as the case may be, pulled by two or more horses was taxed. Great Britain tried to require licensing on steam engines many years later but, for a reason unknown to historians, the law never took hold.

Locomotive Acts of 1861

In a move that would never be tolerated today, the law makers in Great Britain established the Locomotive Acts of 1861. As part of the acts, all coaches and steam vehicles were required to be licensed. While that fact, in itself, makes sense, here’s what doesn’t: the licenses were only good for the county in which they were purchased. What this meant was that if a vehicle owner wanted to travel to another county, a license had to be purchased in that county and any county that followed.

Luckily, in 1861, there were no traffic police and a system of vehicle numbers had not yet been invented. What this meant was though the acts were law, they weren’t generally enforced as it would have been nearly impossible to do so. During subsequent years, laws were put on the books that tried to set speed limits and enforce passing rules. Traffic law had been born.

Licensing Begins in 1903

For the first time in history, motor vehicles were numbered for the purposes of identification. The Motor Act of 1903 also provided that every vehicle must be registered on a yearly basis with the local office. Because there was now a way to identify vehicles and their owners, traffic laws were more strictly enforced and more rules of the road began to take shape.

The Disastrous Roads of 1919

Thanks to the popularity of motorized vehicles, and the inability of the streets of Great Britain to handle this surge in vehicle use, the roads quickly became virtually impassable thanks to deterioration. As such, the Road Traffic Acts of 1919 and 1920 were enacted. Vehicles would now be taxed and the money would be used for road construction and upkeep. The laws also provided that a tax disc should be displayed, in a very specific manner, to prove that the vehicle’s owner had indeed paid their tax to the Road Fund License.

The Original Tax Disc

It wasn’t until 1938 when the original discs were perforated, making it easier to place the disc into the required circular holder. Prior to this time, the business card-like ‘disc’ had to be cut, bent and/or folded to fit into the holder. Over the years, the car tax disc has continued to change, often for no other reason than to stave off forgers.

DLVC of 1974

In 1974 the DLVC, Driving License and Vehicle Center, was created and centralized the application, payment and distribution processes of the car tax disc. Today, the DLVC is computerized which makes it a more efficient process than in years gone by.

Now that you know the history of the car tax, be sure to pass it along. It’s obscure history, and your knowledge of it is sure to impress those you tell!

UK resident Samantha Matthews knows about Car Tax Bands and offers advice on vehicle tax band g, for cars mid-sized and above.

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