I just paid my Irish car tax on the Internet. It’s pretty neat. Now they will mail me out a little disc to show that I’ve paid. The only question is, why do I need the disc at all?
The way the system works is that they send you out a paper form with a PIN on it, and you use it to log on to the site. You then put in a credit card number, and away you go. You also have to put in your insurance details – you can’t get car tax in Ireland without having valid insurance. (The insurance costs far more than the actual tax.) They are supposed to send you out the disc within a few days.
If you don’t have the right discs, you can easily get in trouble if there’s an inspection, or your car somehow comes in contact with the police (in theory you can get prosecuted simply for failing to display the discs, even if you have the right insurance).
This seems like a pretty sensible way of running things. There are a few problems with it though:
1. Too many discs. You can easily end up with four discs being required on your windscreen (tax, insurance, national car test, council parking permit). If you drive a sportscar with small windows, this is verging on dangerous, because it could obscure as much as 10 percent of the glass.
2. Fake discs. When they started issuing tax discs, it was actually pretty difficult to copy the little coloured bits of paper. Nowadays it’s child’s play to make your own discs, and some people say they are available as part of a ‘pack’ (together with fake insurance cert and driving licence) in certain Dublin pubs. If the policeman is in doubt about anything, particularly the insurance disc, it could take him a good bit of hassle and a few days to get it verified with the insurance company.
3. Just because you have a disc doesn’t mean you cover. One wheeze is to buy car insurance on monthly instalments, and then only pay the first instalment. The insurance company will write demanding payment and cancel your insurance when you don’t cough up. However, you already have your insurance disc, so you should be able to get through any checkpoints. If you do end up in court, you just explain that you were thrown out of the family home, and so did not receive the letter informing you that the insurance had been cancelled. (I have seen this done in court.)
Wouldn’t it be far simpler if the police had a list of all the cars together with their insurance, tax and other statutory details? Then the checks could be done far more reliably and without the need for all these bits of paper.
You could also use vehicle plate recognition technology to keep a lookout for cars driving around without proper tax and insurance. Then police could concentrate on finding offenders, rather than standing round inspecting the windscreens of law-abiding citizens.
Indeed, it would be simpler if the insurance company just collected the tax on behalf of the government and informed the government when it had been paid.
Still, it’s all far better than the old system, where you had to send off loads of irrelevant documents or queue up in a big office to renew your car tax.
A lot done, more to do …