Alliance of British Drivers

Alliance of British Drivers

Category: Motoring Pressure Group

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) is a voluntary motoring pressure group “owned and controlled by its members”, who it describes as “representative of the mass of road users in the UK”.

The ABD has frequently cast doubt on the health impacts of air pollution and rejected the scientific consensus on climate change. It opposes emissions charging zones, designed to improve air quality, and has called for the removal of government support for electric vehicles.

According to its website, the group aims to “counter the misinformation spread by many people on the use of private vehicles” and “promote freedom of choice about how you travel”.

The group’s patrons previously included DUP MP Sammy Wilson, former UKIP MEPs Godfrey Bloom and Jill Seymour, and Conservative MPs Karl McCartney and David Morris.

The ABD has been a vocal opponent of road pricing and congestion charges. It argues that the “consent of the British people has never been sought for these schemes” and that they are “justified on erroneous environmental grounds”.

It believes that policies at national and local levels have “discriminated against drivers by means of misleading information, obstruction, restriction, delay and taxation”.

It also opposes many road safety measures, such as speed cameras, claiming that there is “no hard scientific evidence for any benefit”. It belongs to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

The ABD says that private cars and motorcycles are the “most flexible” and “most cost effective” mode of transport and has alleged that those who “wish to stop you using them often have vested interests in public transport or otherwise wish to curtail your freedom”.

The ABD was formed in 1992 under the name Association of British Drivers, before merging with the Drivers Alliance, according to its website.

A 2004 Guardian investigation found that the group misleadingly claimed it had as many as 9,000 members. It also reported that one of its affiliated organisations wrongly claimed that “seatbelts kill more motorists than they save by trapping them in cars when they plunge into lakes and rivers”.

The group caused controversy in 2019 when its official Twitter account claimed that people were safer driving at high speeds because they were more alert, in an “expletive-laden response” to a pro-cycling advocate.

The group’s Twitter account again drew criticism in May 2020 for echoing far-right conspiracy theories when it said that the UN, World Health Organisation and World Bank had been “captured by One World Global Marxist sympathisers” aiming to “gradually pauperise and depopulate the West”. The tweet was quickly deleted.

Funding

Registered under the company name “Pro-Motor”, the ABD had net assets of £19,000 as of March 2019, according to its annual report.

Speaking to DeSmog, an ABD spokesperson said it did not receive funding from “any outside bodies, unlike our opponents”.

Air Pollution Lobbying

The ABD has frequently denied or downplayed the environmental impacts of fossil fuel-powered cars, with a 2004 Guardian article reporting that the ABD disputed both anthropogenic climate change and the harm of exhaust emissions at the time.

The ABD currently claims on its website that medical experts have said there is “no evidence” that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is “harmful to public health” because if it was “there would be a health warning on gas cookers”.

It has also claimed that UK efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have “negligible impact” globally and said “many people do not accept” that CO2 is a major cause of climate change.

Elsewhere, it has said it is “unclear whether NOx actually has any negative health impacts” and dismissed a paper published in the Lancet medical journal linking childhood asthma to air pollution as “epidemiological guesswork” and “bad science”.

The ABD states on its website that “road transport is being attacked on environmental grounds”. It claims that “air pollution from private cars has been falling substantially and technology is going to make matters even better over the next few years”.

It says transport emissions are “only a fraction of total air pollutants, and those from private cars an even smaller factor”. It argues that “unreasonable and unnecessary attacks on car usage will not solve any environmental problems”.

The group strongly opposes emissions charging zones, with its Air Quality Campaign Manager Paul Hemingway claiming that limits on diesel cars introduced by some German cities were done “for no good reason”. A former director of the group, Hemingway has worked as a manager at car companies throughout his career.  

In an article for the TransportXtra website, Paul Biggs, one of the group’s directors, wrote that the problem of air pollution was being exaggerated and “used to justify more taxes on some drivers in the guise of clean air zones (CAZ)”. He previously called a King’s College London (KCL) study on the issue “junk statistics derived from junk epidemiology” and claimed the link between air pollution and increased risk of heart attacks had been “debunked”.

Speaking to DeSmog, Biggs accused KCL of being “linked with campaign groups” and “therefore heavily involved with advocacy”.

The ABD has stated that plans to introduce Clean Air Zones in cities such as Birmingham are based on the “same flawed arguments” as in Germany and said emissions charging schemes “simply aren’t cost effective” at reducing air pollution.

Elsewhere, it says motorists should be able to “use the roads in a safe and responsible manner without being subject to unreasonable charges, restrictions or penalties”.

Instead, it argues wood burning stoves should be targeted, claiming that “one log-burning stove in a smokeless zone can produce more PM2.5 than 1000 petrol cars”.

The ABD’s Paul Biggs told DeSmog he was “one of the first, if not the first, in the UK to point out the folly of wood burning stoves being exempted” from clean air legislation in 2012.

He argued that “indoor air can be many times worse than outdoor air” and said there was a “biased focus on vehicle emissions, which are already well regulated via emission standards and engine technology”.

Electric and Hybrid Cars

The ABD strongly criticised the government’s plans for a 2035 ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars, which it called an “over-reaction to the views of the extreme end of the environmental movement”. 

It said the move would “threaten the very existence of the motor manufacturing industry” and argued that hybrids, which have been criticised by environmental campaigners as unnecessary, were a “good compromise solution”. 

It also claimed there was “no certainty” that electric vehicles would be able to provide sufficient mileage range by this time, as well as arguing that the expansion of charging points and the electricity grid in general would “impose enormous costs on drivers and the economy”.

Despite saying it had “no gripe about encouraging the use of electric cars”, in 2017 it asked the Chancellor to cut the subsidy for new electric cars and said EV drivers should pay vehicle excise duty, though at a lower rate than for petrol and diesel cars.

Key Arguments in Order of Prominence

  1. The effects of air pollution on health are doubtful or have been exaggerated
  2. CAZs are simply a way to raise taxes and balance local authority budgets
  3. The damage caused to the economy by CAZs outweigh the health benefits
  4. Vehicle emissions have already declined significantly and will continue to do so
  5. CAZs are regressive, hitting low-income and other vulnerable communities hardest
  6. Road transport only contributes a small proportion of overall emissions
  7. Diesel cars aren’t as harmful as is claimed
  8. Other pollution sources, like wood burning stoves, should be targeted instead
  9. CAZs are a means of exerting control over populations
  10. Outdoor air quality is better than inside homes

Areas Active

Bath: the ABD wrote a joint letter to the council opposing plans for a CAZ with the Road Haulage Association, the anti-fuel duty campaign group FairFuel UK, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The letter argued a CAZ could cause a decline in tourism and increase costs for taxis, coach companies and hauliers, leading to job losses and businesses “going bust”. It also stated that CAZs had been “shown to be ineffective, economically damaging and regressive” and suggested a tram system could be a better solution to tackling air pollution.

Birmingham: Paul Biggs, the group’s West Midlands spokesman, has said that “eco-austerity policies” like the city’s planned Clean Air Zone are “unashamedly aimed at the totalitarian control of every aspect of our lives without having any positive effect on weather, climate, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, or life expectancy”.

In response to a consultation by the West Midlands Combined Authority, the ABD said there is “nothing wrong with Britain’s air quality” and claims “outdoor air quality is better than what is found inside people’s homes”. It says the “so called science used to justify these zones is not proper science, but statistical manipulation performed by the tame academics of those lobbying against the car”.

In 2019, it launched an “Against Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone” campaign.

Bristol: the ABD criticised a proposed ban on diesel cars in the city centre, citing tests carried out by the German automobile association ADAC that found “some diesel cars tested were cleaner than the equivalent petrol models”. It also claimed CAZs “take at least an order of magnitude more in revenue out of local economies than even the claimed value of benefits” and dismissed research on the health impacts of air pollution.

A representative of the ABD reportedly attended an “action day” against a proposed workplace parking levy in the city in 2012, designed to reduce car use. The event was organised by the free-market TaxPayers’ Alliance and attended by representatives from the Federation of Small Businesses and the Freedom Association.

Kent: Terry Hudson, one of the group’s directors, called plans for a “car-free day” in Canterbury “gesture politics at its worst”, describing organisers as “Luddites”.

London: the ABD’s Brian Macdowall was quoted in the Daily Express claiming the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone would see a “big cost to drivers”, hitting the lowest earners hardest and calling the scheme “unnecessary”. He said disabled drivers, who will be exempt from the charge until 2025, the elderly and the “white van man” would be most affected by it.

The group has also claimed the ULEZ is a “giant con to raise more taxes to fix the Mayor’s budget problems” and urged its supporters to respond to the public consultation.

The ABD’s London branch runs a number of campaigns against measures to reduce car traffic and speeds, including Lewisham’s “Healthy Neighbourhoods” initiative and Croydon’s plans to introduce 20mph speed limits across much of the borough.

The branch has also claimed that “diesel and petrol cars contribute only 12% and 6% respectively of all emissions in London” and that there are “many other sources” such as cooking and wood burning stoves.

Key Actions

September 2019

The ABD published a revised version of a report entitled “Air Quality and Vehicles – The Truth”, in which it claims that “there is no public health crisis” as a result of air pollution.

July 27, 2017

Brian Macdowall, a director of the ABD, wrote an article for the ConservativeHome website in which he criticised proposals to improve air quality in London by Mayor Sadiq Khan as “repressive”. He said the move was “sheer hypocrisy when you realise that he lays on large firework displays such as for New Year (repeatedly!) and promotes them at the Thames Festival”.

Associated Politicians

The group’s patrons previously included DUP MP Sammy Wilson, former UKIP MEPs Godfrey Bloom and Jill Seymour, and Conservative MPs Karl McCartney and David Morris.

An ABD spokesperson told DeSmog that despite Bloom not being “a member or a patron”, he continued to claim to represent the ABD in radio interviews.

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