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Four in 10 bikers dodge road tax
22 Jan 2008 1:40 GMT

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency risks becoming "a complete laughing stock" after it emerged nearly 40% of motorbikes are untaxed, MPs have said.

Evasion rates among all road users rose to 5% in 2006-7, costing taxpayers £214 million, up from 3.6% in 2005-6.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee urged the DVLA and Department for Transport to "strongly consider" tougher measures to tackle evasion.

Chairman Edward Leigh said the DVLA's efforts to deal with this were "poor".

His committee said the agency should consider impounding untaxed motorbikes and imposing penalty points on tax-dodgers.

The DVLA should work with the police and local authorities to carry out more road checks and use new powers to check bikes being driven off the public highway.

High-tech solutions, such as electronic chips in number plates, theft-resistant plates and sensors in vehicles should be considered in the longer-term to tackle the growing problem of cloned, false and foreign plates, the MPs' report said.

It came after it emerged that 38% of motorcyclists evaded road tax in 2006, compared with 30% the previous year.

Mr Leigh said: "Motorists and motorcyclists who refuse to pay road tax are stealing from law-abiding taxpayers and unlicensed cars are often associated with other forms of crime.

"Motorcyclists are particularly liable to evade road tax. Nearly 40% of motorcycles are now unlicensed.

"If the DVLA's motorcycle enforcement regime is not to be a complete laughing stock, then the Agency and the Department must make the most of new powers to enforce VED on public roads."

They must also "strongly consider more severe measures such as impounding unlicensed motorcycles", he said, adding: "Large parts of the biking community are cocking a snook at the law."

The MPs found that enforcement of road tax on motorbikes was difficult because roadside cameras had been unable to read their number plates from the rear.

It was also physically difficult for the police to detain motorcyclists as they can easily turn round and drive off, the report said.

The Treasury receives £5bn a year from VED, with most car drivers paying between £115 and £300 annually, depending on their vehicle's CO2 emissions, and motorcyclists paying between £15 and £64 depending on the engine size.

The report found that motorists who refused to tax a vehicle and register as its keeper, were often trying to avoid congestion charges and conceal criminal activity.

And because of a "loophole" in DVLA procedures, even law-abiding motorists could avoid paying their road tax for a month between each renewal without risk of a fine.

The MPs' report also found that the DVLA had no way of ensuring foreign drivers obtained a tax disc after six months in the UK.

The DVLA only managed to reduce numbers of persistent evaders by just 4% to 930,000 in the period 2002-05, the report said.

A target to halve the "vehicle underclass" who failed to register altogether was removed by the Department last year.

Mr Leigh said: "The DVLA's performance in tackling persistent evaders of road tax has been poor.

"The Agency and Department for Transport must work with the police and local authorities to tackle offenders actually out on the road, rather than simply by using paper records.

"And ways of using new technology to detect evaders must be vigorously pursued.

"The alternative is an ever increasing belief among road users that the evasion of road tax is a low risk activity."

But the Department for Transport said it was determined, with the help of the DVLA, police and local authorities, "to force tax evaders off the roads".

"We are targeting persistent evaders and seizing 100,000 unlicensed vehicles each year," a spokesman said.

"New automatic number plate recognition cameras, capable of detecting motorcycle number plates, are being used in targeted enforcement operations at motorcycle events.

"And, from September, new legislation will allow the police, DVLA and local authorities to take action against unlicensed vehicles even if they are not parked on public roads."

Tory shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the MPs' report was "a damning indictment of Labour's record in dealing with road tax evaders".

"Unlicensed, uninsured and untaxed drivers who hide behind false addresses are a real threat to road safety."

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker called for a move to a road pricing system that would enable VED to be abolished.

"The increase in evasion levels is both surprising and disappointing, especially given the efforts made to clamp down on tax-dodgers," he said.

"Why should law-abiding motorists continue to cough up while the tax-dodgers get away with it?"