Tuesday 2 April 2013

Le "cout externe" de l'automobile

Over in France for Easter, reading the print edition of “Ouest France”, I came across this: 

Les coûts cachés de l’automobile

“Les automobilistes sont-ils “les vaches à lait” de notre société?, interrogent trios chercheurs en “écologie des transports” de l’université allemande de Dresde.

I haven’t been able to find any reference to this story in the on-line editions of UK papers, but then I couldn’t find it on Ouest-France’s site either.  It is of course written in French, and what’s more in French journalese which has a tendency to be a bit overblown, so I may not have caught all the nuances, but in summary, the European Parliament commissioned Professor Udo Becker and his team at Dresden University to establish the “external costs” of the automobile, which is to say cost generated by use of the car but which are not paid for by the motorist.  Their research came up with a figure for the entire EU of €373 billion per annum, or 3% of GDP, or €750 per person pa, whether or not they are a motorist, or €1,600 per automobile pa.

It is not clear to me whether this represents costs other than the direct costs of roads - construction, maintenance and repair, signage and policing – or the excess overall cost above what motorists pay in taxes and tolls etc.  I think the former, given the description of external costs given in the article – road traffic casualties, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution.  It is also not necessarily a guide to the UK situation as it is a Europe-wide average.  The UK has one of the better records on road traffic casualties – taken overall, although not necessarily for cyclists and pedestrians – but then the cost of a casualty in the UK is probably somewhat higher than in, say, Estonia where the road safety record is substantially worse.

However you look at it though, it is clear that motorists in the UK do not pay anything like the full cost of their habit.  A typical modern family car is driven somewhere around 10-12,000 miles a year, and with modern fuel economy producing around 10 miles per litre, that translates into perhaps 1,200-1,300 litres of petrol or diesel per annum.  With fuel duty at 58p/litre, and VAT being 20/120ths of the current pump price of around £1.40, duty and tax make up 81p per litre, or in all about £1,000 pa.  Add a typical VED of around £150, and you are still below the external costs of motoring.  You haven’t even begun to pay for the construction, repairt maintenance, signage and policing of roads.

If the motorist is a bovine, I think it more likely a bull than a cow.


  1. Link to Guardian article regarding the same report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/25/car-pollution-noise-accidents-eu

    Also, IPPR report along the same lines: http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2012/08/war-on-motoring-myth_Aug2012_9542.pdf

  2. I have commented on this - and been a lot tougher than the report is on the costs of motorisation here: http://rdrf.org.uk/2012/12/31/the-true-costs-of-automobility-external-costs-of-cars/

  3. Thanks to both - I have a copy of the IPPR report saved and have referred to it before, but the Guardian article was more informative thanthe the French one I had read.

    Pity the Guardian's arithmetic is a bit dodgy - like its typography famously used to be - I would dearly love to know where you can buy €750 with only £600! I get one of the best deals going with my bank, and it would still cost nearer £700 today!