Guilty motorists or oppressive rules?

Today we can elect new Councillors in many parts of the country. I do hope all the oppressed motorists of the UK will take this opportunity to tell their would be Councillors we are fed up with the way we are treated by petty officialdom at the local level, as well as by our rapacious government who see the motorist as one of the prime sources of extra revenue.

The national press this morning highlights just how many motorists now end up paying speeding fines and parking fines. Some of them deserve them, for parking in places which block the traffic or hinder others, and for driving too fast in difficult conditions. Others are caught out by bizarre changes of speed limit on good roads, by confusion over what the parking rules are on any given piece of kerb, and by the officious efficiency of the public sector when it comes to taking money off us. If only they were equally efficient and determined to provide good service in all the other departments.

In recent conversations I have been told of the kind of intolerance shown by some parking officials to usually law abiding people. One person came out of his house to take his car away from an overnight space at 8.32 in the morning. A ticket was placed on his vehicle because he was meant to have moved it at 8.30. Another found a ticket on his car because the boot protruded beyond the line marking the end of the parking bay, even though the vehicle position was not blocking anyone’s entrance or impeding traffic flow. A taxi driver explained why he could not drop someone off in a location where he was not blocking the traffic, because taxi drivers are under the steely eye of the surveillance cameras in London all the time they are at work and they would be fined.

Whilst the press is right to highlight the financial impact of this surrogate for taxation, the steady stream of fines, there is another feature which should worry us. One third of motorists apparently have fallen foul of the rules and had to pay up. The two thirds of us who escaped fines have still had to run the gauntlet of the sometimes unreasonable and perverse rules. We have had to change our driving style to accommodate endless scanning of the horizon for all the signs and instructions which now dictate how we drive. Instead of spending the maximum time on surveying the road ahead for hazards and adjusting direction and speed to the conditions, motorists now spend much of their time seeking out the frequent changes of rule and watching their speedometers to try to keep within them. It makes people worse drivers. The whole process puts people on edge too often and for too long.

The same happens to us when we have finally parked the car at the journey’s end Have you felt that nagging fear that you will overstay your time in the local car park because it takes longer to buy something in the shops than you thought? Have you ever had to abandon your purchase because of the queue for the till and dash for the car to avoid the car park vigilante getting you for a few minutes over your time? Have you ever stood in the rain by the car puzzling over whether you can or cannot park in a given spot because the rules and signs are unclear? Have you ever been done because you misread the signs? Why can’t you top up the fee you paid on entry in the car parks where you have to pay in advance, if you need to? If limiting the time of your stay is so important to the Council, there could be an allowance of extra time you could pay for before the penalty kicks in.

There is a parking area in Wokingham where a municipal car park shares a common entrance with a private car park. People often get caught out, parking in the wrong part. They have to pay a penalty, even though they have paid and put a sticker in the windscreen, because they have parked in the wrong space. I recently wanted to park in a central London side street. The residents’ parking places were clearly banned to me. Next to one of them was a single yellow line, creating a space for a single car in the line of parked vehicles, well away from the turning. There was no sign up to tell me when the single yellow line applied. Just round the corner on the main road there was a red line for an urban clearway, and a sign telling me that could be used for parking at the time of my arrival. I eventually found a space some way away on the main road, where the parking impeded traffic flows more than would have been the case in the side road. I could not afford to take the risk on the yellow line. Sometimes there can be as many as three different regimes for the timing of parking on the same stretch of road. You need to walk up and down checking for all the signs to make sure you have understood. Many of the places fail to tell you on the signs whether a bank holiday counts as a Sunday or not.

The truth is that parking controls and charges have become too complicated. Of course we need rules to prevent people blocking side roads to traffic, and to stop them restricting the width of the carriageways of main roads when they are busy. Of course it makes sense for a Council which has had to buy a piece of land and needs to spend money on maintaining the car park to charge the users for their use rather than putting the whole thing onto the Council Tax. This system has now been turned into a money spinner, seeking to make Council profit out of their near monopoly provision of public parking. It has also been over complicated by too many officials endlessly varying the rules of the parking schemes and spending our money on reconfiguring the street, the pavement, and the parking spaces.

So as you go to vote today, try to have a word with those who would represent us. Tell them it’s taking the pleasure out of shopping and increasing the pressure on going to work or visiting friends. We are under the cosh of the surveillance society. We have to dance to the tune of petty officialdom. They seem to forget that parking is a service to make our lives easier, not another way to terrorise us and make us nervous about what we are doing. Surely our Councillors could unite to get some commonsense back into the system? If they did we would need fewer officials, so we could be charged less for the whole process.

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  1. Robert
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Yes 100% right I got done because one day we had yellow lines being disabled with no legs I use a blue badge, and had parked in the same spot for ten years, along comes a council worker and puts small bars on the pavement without anyone saying anything I get a fine, took it to court and the judge said open your eyes.

    we do need fines in this country to ensure we can pay council chiefs large salaries.

  2. a-tracy
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I dislike the fines that take the Mickey too, a friend visiting an out of area Shopping Centre put his ticket on the driver's door window (as he does at his local SC) he was fined £60 for not displaying it on his windscreen, as the tenth rule on the pay and display machine indicated. His wife then, to compound the problem, took her children to the ice rink in the school holidays, it was very busy and the car park was packed out, there was one end space but the car next to the space had encroached on this last parking space, so she consequently parked with two wheels slightly over the white line, near (but not on) a shrub bed, she was fined £60 for not parking square in the space, OK the person next to her was also fined but surely the traffic warden could see who parked badly first and caused the situation.

  3. Cliff
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I agree with your thoughts John 100%.
    The new fine culture that has developed in this country under Labour, is nothing more than a stealth tax.

    Regarding change of speed limits, one only needs to look at Forest Road to see entrapment, yes that's what it is, in action.

    I feel too many local authorities, since the change in law has come into force, are unable to resist the chance of "a nice little earner."

    People used to dislike the yellow banded traffic wardens but, they were nice pussy cats compared with the council ones.

    Wokingham's recently retired male traffic warden (Derek) was blessed with common sense and appeared only to ticket those that caused obstruction or danger or parked on disabled bays. What's more, he spoke with local people and had our respect. I doubt if you would ever have seen him hiding in bushes to ticket someone because their ticket had gone one minute over it's time.

    Q) What is the difference between a council parking warden and a terrorist?
    A) You can negotiate with a terrorist!!

    Government at all levels from Europe to Local seem only to be interested in making money….It is a sad change in culture in my opinion, and has destroyed the British sense of fair play and justice.

  4. richard clarke
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    John, don't forget it was the Tories who started the war on the motorist with revenue raising cameras back in around 1992, although Labour have raised it to an art form.

    I have to say though, that I don't believe you can get a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories these days. Whatever happens in the local elections and the general election, assuming Gordon has the bottle to actually have one, is no more than just redressing a shop window.

    Behind the scenes, exactly the same people will be pulling the strings.

  5. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I do enjoy the sense that you put on your site, I only wish that other members of your party were so good.
    I particularly liked your comment on councils monopolising the car parks, which they do. Many years ago in Sheffield a multi storey car park was built only because the council agreed with the builder that double yellow lines would be put on every, yes every road around a very wide radius. To me that is corruption, but I am afraid that it is continuing all over.
    There are too many road signs, lines and different kinds of traffic lights. This is hazardous, you should be able to concentrate on the road and traffic flow, still no doubt that is too clever an idea to register.

  6. Rose
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Since you have now raised the subject of Japan yourself, I shall try again!
    There is no parking there in the steets at all – roads are strictly reserved for motorists to drive along, unimpeded, and any builder who wants to stop and unload must have a regulation small-sized truck or van. Pedestrians and bicyclists share the pavements. All cars are left in private car parks – often very high tech ones with car lifts, at the tops and bottoms of buildings, and invisible from outside. As motorists know to go straight to them instead of cruising round and round, or waiting while belching out fumes, there is much less congestion and pollution. Fining law-abiding motorists as a way of raising revenue, creating jobs, or meeting targets, just doesn't exist. Everyone knows where they stand and therefore no-one attempts to find a space at the side of the road, either singly or double parked. Most important of all, this practical common sense (or Japanese eccentricity as some might see it) has brought about a much healthier balance between public and private transport, and greater emphasis on powering oneself, either on foot or bike. No-one is going to make a frivolous journey which does not justify the use of an expensive private car park. So the Japanese are fitter, more efficient, and less polluted than we. With so much less stress from motor traffic, it is easier, too, to manage wheelchairs and invalid carriages. And many more people bicycle, in normal clothes, and not wearing helmets. Despite the huge populations in the cities, it is all more relaxed in the street.
    I don't expect this heresy to go down well in Wokingham.

  7. mikestallard
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I am an OAP.
    I have been fined, quite unfairly for £70. I paid.
    Today I went into Lynn, had a lovely lunch and shop and came home – car parking for three hours was £2.50. Dual carriageway more or less all the way.
    But, being old, I get a free bus pass so that I can go anywhere I like on public transport – so long as there is a stop every 15 miles. I find this really demeaning, actually. I would much rather that everyone was not taxed to pay for my unwanted and unused gift.

    And, John, let me congratulate you on your use of a car. It makes you normal. These Ministers swanning round in limos with a chauffeur have no idea what driving is like for mortal people.

  8. Bazman
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    The motorist is an easy target as he has a car. A high value possession that can ultimately be taken off the owner to pay any fine, and easy to take as it will usually be outside his house or business. Motorists are generally law abiding as well making enforcement easy too. Criminals are not as they are criminals.
    How many people did you see or hear about in the local or national press being prosecuted for illegally dumping old cars in the street. Not many? I have heard of none.
    This is despite the police claiming to be able to link any car to it's owner. To much work in the case of a dumped car though.
    Says it all.
    I think it the Tories who allowed the local councils to keep any money from fines and made parking and traffic flow a non police/government issue. Hence the army of officious tax raising parking systems and officials.
    It would be fun to watch a wheel clamper at work in Moscow. It's unlikely they would see lunchtime. Hence no wheel clampers. Moscow officials are however openly thrilled at speed camera technology and the like for obvious reasons. The middle classes, or at least anyone with a reasonable car and no connections is seen as easy money This paying for permission is deep rooted in soviet culture as it involves no work.

  9. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Have you considered that the way in which congestion charges are applied is inside out?

    If congestion charges were applied sensibly the people who live inside the congestion zone, who have city centre quantity and quality of public transport available, should pay more heavily to use a private vehicle inside the zone, rather than the reduced 'residents rate'.

    People who live well outside the congestion zone often have little access to public transport and so are obliged to use private vehicles. These are the people that should pay reduced charges.

    Of course any council that implemented this would lose the next local election…

  10. Rose
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Discovered Joys makes a good point which I haven't seen anyone else make. Why should the inhabitants of inner cities be privileged to drive around as much as they like without paying for their pollution and use of valuable space as others must? It should be as attractive for them to walk, bicycle, or use public transport as for the visitors, and that will unfortunately depend on curtailing the use of their own motor cars as much as anyone else's. But as she says, it would bring down the government or council who tried to impose such common sense in one measure. As Americans have shown us, these sorts of reforms must be pressed for locally by the people themselves, in their own interest, not imposed by big government, which will always be seen as the insatiable predator. In the meantime the natural human preference will continue to be for the motor car, and its dominance will go on blighting our lives, as we see from your blog.

  11. Bazman
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Lunch in London at a fashionable restaurant can often be a couple of hundred quid with a good wine I read. So if you are lucky enough to be able to afford this for your dinner break see the ticket as convenient parking with reasonable charges and a uniformed official watching your car for you.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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