It is now five months since war was declared and we may look about and see what is the position of private motoring. Any depression that we feel should be tempered by the knowledge that in Germany ordinary motoring is reported practically non-existent, and motor-car exports have ceased. What do we find in this country? Fuel rationing, the 10/- per horse-power tax increase, the black-out, and the rising cost of living have certainly decreased the volume of traffic on our roads, but returns indicate that about half the former number cars are still running. Allowing for the fact that as war goes on more motorists will be obliged to economies, it seems likely that this figure will remain fairly constant, because a balance will be achieved by those who will re-tax only for the summer quarters. It is sincerely to be hoped that Sir John Simon will eventually give motorists a promise that the present taxation rate will be reduced when hostilities cease, if nothing can be done during the war. We will not be unpatriotic and suggest an organised protest under prevailing conditions, but will hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may learn his own lesson; he is reported to have lost £1,193,000 as a result of laying up in the first week of January alone. We must hope, too, that the Minister of Transport will see his way clear to make the second licensing quarter cover the whole Easter holiday period, and so encourage the use of more cars this spring.
Something must certainly be done about the black-out. It is disturbing in the extreme to find that while Paris makes things moderately easy for traffic at night, all Britain is still blacked-out in every possible way so that accidents multiply appallingly and the number of persons killed since war began to the end of 1939 was 4,130, equal to nearly twice the total losses in the Services.
And that in spite of a reduction of some 400,000 and an aggregate mileage of something like one-eighth of the peace time figure. The Editor of MOTOR SPORT was himself a victim last month, when his stationary car was hit by an L.P.T.B. omnibus, but luckily he was released from hospital to complete this issue.
We can hardly quibble about fuel-rationing, if our Fighting Forces need every drop of fuel held in reserve, but it is a distressing fact that 16,000 motor traders with a capital of £150,000,000 suffered a severe blow when fuel sales fell 75 per cent. During the last quarter of 1939 and repair, maintenance and garage services were in small demand. It is to be hoped that now the number of cars in use has fallen to roughly half the former total it will be possible to meet more effectively the requirements of those car-owners who apply for a generous supplementary ration for business purposes. However, the fact that no extra petrol is granted to those drivers undergoing the official driving test would seem to offer little hope in this direction, and none at all of every user getting an extra ration on the strength of widespread laying up.
On the credit side is the fact that we can still motor without question in our own cars, that fuel which does not serve the average car too badly is available at a price which is so far staying constant at 1/10 a gallon, that oil is not rationed, and that service and garage facilities are still generally available. Indeed, there are sufficient cars still in use during the blackest quarter to provide a ray of hope to the more efficient garages and service stations, while it is significant of the keenness which we display for motoring that in November last 3,549 new cars were registered in this country.