The Daily Mail: Milking The Motorists

Thursday, 1 May, 2008

One in three drivers is caught each year by a parking warden or speed camera.

The total rises to more than four in ten when the number of motorists trapped by the police is included.

The collective fines are worth up to £800million. The number of more serious offences punished by the courts, such as dangerous or drink driving, has slumped however.

The official figures gave rise last night to claims that drivers are being used as cash cows in a surveillance society.

Between them, cameras and council staff trapped 9.8million drivers in 2006, the equivalent of one in every three licensed vehicles. The majority of offences - 7.8million - were logged by local wardens. These included obstruction, waiting and parking offences such as lacking a permit or leaving a tyre on the kerb.

Police also handed out three million fixed-penalty notices - the vast majority for speeding. Two thirds of offenders were caught on camera.

'This is another staggering statistic that tells us a lot about the surveillance society.'

The figures were released in the annual Ministry of Justice Motoring Offences and Breath Test Bulletin. The document concedes that the overall chances of a motorist being trapped by the authorities have soared.

It says: 'The 12.7million motoring offences dealt with during 2006 represents 422 per thousand vehicles licensed, compared with 401 per thousand in 1996.'

Some 164,900 fixed-penalty notices were handed out to motorists caught using mobile phones at the wheel in 2006 - up 38,100 on the previous year.

The offence, introduced in 2003, carries three penalty points and a fine of £60 - raising almost £10million.

The rise in on-the-spot fines and penalty notices - now used in 86 per cent of all cases - was coupled with a slump in motorists taken to court.

The total number who appeared before magistrates was down 15 per cent, to 1.7million.

There were fewer prosecutions in two of the main categories which worry the public.

Dangerous driving cases fell by 1,100 to 7,400 and driving while drunk or on drugs prosecutions were down from 103,500 to 101,400.

The latter follows a fall of 1 per cent in the number of motorists actually tested.

This will fuel suspicions that the focus of the authorities has switched from offences which require police action to those which raise large amounts of cash.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said the figures could harm public confidence in the enforcement of motoring laws.

'There is one major worry here and that is the move to remote enforcement rather than using traffic police.

'If a motorist is forced to move into a bus lane for a good reason, this can be explained to a police officer and common sense can be exercised.

'The view taken by a camera is that it never lies.

'There is also the danger that hardened criminals, who in the past were stopped by a police officer for speeding, only for other offences to come to light, will go undetected. The Yorkshire Ripper, for example, was caught by someone on traffic duty.'

John Stewart, spokesman for the charity Roadpeace, said: 'Parking in the wrong place is not an offence that can have any fatal consequences and it seems the priorities are askew.

'It does look as if money for cash cows is taking priority over real efforts to cut danger on the roads.'

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Councils are increasingly abusing the fines and charges system as a means of raising revenue.

'This is an extra council tax dressed up as a law and order measure.

'It's time councils realised that squeezing the public for all the money they can is not a solution to their financial problems - they need to start making better use of the money they already have.'

Chief Constable Steve Green, head of road policing for Association of Chief Police Officers, said: 'These figures show that we're out there actively prosecuting people who use their phones in the car.

'If you use your phone there is a very good chance that an officer will see you, stop you, and prosecute you for that offence.'

The figures for parking fines are likely to increase even further this year. Under a new 'Big Brother' camera onslaught which began last month, wardens and councils can issue the tickets remotely without the driver even knowing until they receive the penalty charge notice through their letter box.

The change came with controversial new Government parking regulations that allow the use of CCTV evidence.

Uniformed traffic wardens and attendants have been renamed civil enforcement officers.

The 7.8million penalty charge tickets they handed out in 2006 was up by 169,000 on the year before.

Police gave out 502,000 tickets for obstruction-type offences.

The penalty for this in 2006 was £60 outside London and up to £100 in the capital.

The total was halved if paid immediately.