UK Car Tax

History of the Car Tax

We all know the purpose of those little tax discs we are required to keep in our cars – they have been around for many years. Did you ever stop to think about just where they came from? You may be surprised that the concept of the road tax is actually several hundred years old. The basis for our current system is a system developed during medieval times.

Medieval Car Tax?

During the middle ages, road taxes were a common occurrence. Used for specific roads or bridges, it was one of the most direct forms of taxation used at the time. The tax was based on using the road, so it did not matter if you were walking, riding a horse or in a carriage. If you were on the road, you had to pay the tax. Taxes on vehicles themselves did not begin until 1637, when the government of Great Brittan passed a law required hackney cabs to be licensed. In 1747, the rulings changed yet again, this time requiring that any vehicle pulled by two or more horses be licensed. The advent of the steam engine brought about the first licensing attempt for mechanical vehicles, but these never really caught on.

Locomotive Acts

Established in 1861 to control the British roadways, the Locomotive Acts were controlled through local offices. Anyone who owned either a coach or a steam vehicle was required to purchase a license for it. Strangely, the license was only valid for the county it was purchased in. Travel to other counties required the purchase of multiple licenses. It is unclear how this ruling was enforced. There was no system of numbering for vehicles and the concept of traffic police had not yet been invented, so it is likely that these rules were generally not enforced as strictly as they are today.

Over the next few years, several pieces of legislation were enacted governing everything from sped limits to passing, but it was not until 1903 that things really began to change.

The Motor Act of 1903

Perhaps the first step toward enforceable licensing for motor vehicles, the Motor Act of 1903 introduced the concept of numbering vehicles for the purpose of identification. This law also required that vehicles of all types be registered each year at the local office. Because this law made it easier to track and find registered owners of vehicles, the rules and laws governing driving began to be enforced much more rigidly.

Road Traffic Acts of 1919 and 1920

As motorized vehicles became more and more popular, the conditions of the roads in Great Britain worsened steadily until they were in such bad condition the crown set up a royal commission to determine a solution to the problem. After much research, the acts defined the rules for vehicle taxation for construction of roads and their maintenance. These laws also laid out the framework for the modern tax disc and how it should be displayed. The law defined the disc, displayed in a holder and circular in shape, to be proof payment had been made to the Road Fund License.

The Look and Feel of the Car Tax Disc

The original tax ‘disc’ was not circular at all. It was made of plain grey paper and printed in black ink. Circular holders were required because these were more inexpensive to make. Perforation had not yet been invented, so disc holders would either cut or fold the disc to fit the holder. In 1923, color printing was added, as were two security measures: the intaglio script and a band of broad green. The security script read “Road Fund License” and was included to prevent forgeries. The quarterly tax disc was also introduced at this time. This allowed impoverished drivers to license their vehicle for only the portion of the year that they needed it.

Every few years, a change would be made in the appearance of the tax disk, with perhaps the greatest addition occurring in 1938. It was during this year that the perforations were added to the disc, making it easy to place in the circular holder.

Driving License and Vehicle Center

The DLVC was created in 1974 and one of the purposes was to centralizing the administration of tax disc. This national system allows for driver and car registration which is computerized and therefore much more efficient. Changes in design to the tax disc continued over the years until it reached its present form. Many of these changes were simply cosmetic in an attempt to thwart forgers.

Which Car Tax Band is Your Vehicle in?

Use the form below to find out your car CO2 emissions and hence which car tax band you are in.