2012 – Roads got safer but using them got more expensive

As we close the book on 2012 Ireland’s motorists will not have much to remember fondly. The year gone by saw no relief from austerity. Fuel prices, car tax and motor insurance all went up as the cost of moving around in Ireland became more expensive than ever before.

Fuel was the worst. It began the year at an all time record high and just kept rising. Motorists were contacting us on a daily basis in frustration and anger. This was at its worst around September when the price hit €1.70. Every time the price went up people were furious at the garages and the oil companies.

As we have noted before, that anger is a bit misdirected. It suits the government beautifully to have the garages be the focus of criticism but the tax is by far the bigger problem. It is now 55% of the retail prices and those taxes have increased hugely since the financial crisis began. At least that was one thing that did not get worse in the budget.

Car tax did though. On average we will all be hit by an increase of 8%. What makes this worse is that the higher increases will fall on those with older cars because those are less green.

We also saw an extra tax on our motor insurance this year with the addition of a 2pc ‘Quinn Levy’, no doubt with us for many years to come.

In fact motor insurance will be a bit messy next year. The Gender Equality ruling means that the price for women, especially young women, will go up sharply. Young men will see a fall but not to the same extent. Overall we expect the average premium paid by a typical driver to go up by about 2pc.

Those of a pessimistic turn of mind may think of 2012 as just one more year in the grim succession of hardships for a recession-weary population. True enough there were not many things that got better in the last 12 months.

Road safety did though. Once again the total number of people killed and injured is down and once again it will be the safest year since modern records began. This is an ongoing process and there is more to come in the months ahead.

Next year will see some significant changes to driver laws. The penalty points regime will get a little tougher with punishments for common offences like speeding and seatbelts becoming a bit more severe.

New drivers will have restricted penalty points and will have to display ‘N’ plates for two years after passing their tests. Young drivers hate the idea but we will all have to get used to it.

We should also have a new law to bring in a ‘field sobriety test’. A Garda will be able to ask you to walk a straight line, touch your nose etc to assess whether you are fit to drive. Fail it and you’ll have to give a blood or urine sample.

This is not about alcohol; the breath testers work perfectly well. It is aimed at drug-driving which most road safety people believe is a hidden menace out there that is causing some of the crashes.

The new Garda tests are not new at all really. Police forces in America and many other places have been using them for years. It is really about time that we caught up with them.

The most obvious change in 2013 will be the new registration plate format. This is the first time that the system has changed since 1987 and it is something that the trade has been arguing for for years.

It will help change the buying pattern and spread out new car demand across the calendar year which is good for them. It will also slow the rate of depreciation on cars which is good for us consumers.

It will feel strange though to be looking out for ‘131’ plates from next week.

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