David Williams, writing in the Daily Telegraph, points out ...
Exclusive new Telegraph Motoring research shows that it is now easier for motorists to fall foul of the law than at any point since the invention of the car. Bizarrely, you can even do it in your sleep.
More than 15 million British drivers are caught committing a motoring offence each year, compared with 4.7 million in 1980 - an astonishing rise of 219 per cent in a generation. It means that - despite there being 15 million more drivers on the roads - a driver today is twice as likely to be caught committing an offence than 30 years ago.
In 2008, 3.8 million drivers outside London received parking fines compared with 345,000 in 2000, and the number is rising fast. A further 1.1 million drivers are fined annually for failing to inform the DVLA that their car is off the road - possibly while being repaired or stored - a threat undreamed of before Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) was unleashed in 1998.
Technology is also playing a growing role in the crackdown; CCTV camera-detected motoring fines have spiralled from 642,000 in 2000 to 1.75 million in 2006.
No wonder that about 18 per cent of UK motorists now have points on their licence. "You just have to blink to be guilty of something today," said Paul Watters, the AA's head of roads and transport policy. "You can be done for taxing your car too late or forgetting to register it as being off the road, even if it's broken down and sitting in your garage. There is a wide range of new regulations waiting to catch you out. You no longer even have to be behind the wheel to feel the long arm of the law. You can be in bed and still be committing a motoring offence; the very act of owning a car can now make you guilty if you forget the smallest detail."
A perfect storm created the conditions for the end of the open road around the turn of the century. Escalating fears over the environment, a thriving unlicensed and uninsured motoring underclass, soaring traffic and new government road casualty targets saw Labour grasp the legislative nettle in 1997. The past decade or so has seen an unprecedented wave of new or newly implemented laws reigning in the motorist, the most far-reaching being decriminalisation of parking and "moving traffic" offences, transferring enforcement from an overstretched police force (a quiet word in your ear please, sir) to cash-hungry councils.
It's now easier than ever to go to jail for careless driving, once only a serious threat for dangerous-driving convictions. And there's worse to come. Within a year, motorists who fail to keep their car continuously insured will be fined, too, even if it's off the road.
That's a typical Labour government ploy, isn't it? Everyone knows there's a massive problem over uninsured drivers, most of whom are never caught by an overstretched and underfunded constabulary.
So when you can't enforce the law as it stands, what's the answer? Make even more laws, so even more people will get away with breaking them! The Transport Secretary is now thinking of applying the same principle to drink-driving - they haven't been able to reduce the number of drivers who are incapable through alcohol so their solution is to reduce the limit to the equivalent of one pint of beer or a single glass of wine so that instead of fewer drink-drivers, there'll be even more.
Yep, that makes sense all right.
The laws ...
The Road Traffic Act 1991, implemented in 1994 (London) and 1996 (rest of UK) and the Traffic Management Act 2004 let councils enforce (and keep the income from) parking and moving traffic offences such as contravening banned turns and blocking box junctions. Fines are still rising thanks to CCTV enforcement. This legislation is seen by some as a covert council tax supplement, bringing 10 million fines a year.
The Road Traffic Act of 1991 dramatically increased motorists' chances of being caught speeding by paving the way for 5,000 speed-cameras in the UK, with more on the way: every motorway repair contract now stipulates cameras. In 2000 there were 642,000 fines, and that figure has now risen to 1.75 million.
The Road Safety Act 2006 made using a mobile phone while driving illegal, attracting a £60 fine and three points. Sadly up to 150,000 drivers at any one time are still ignoring the law.
The Greater London Authority Act 1999 and Transport Act 2000 forced motorists to pay £8 to drive into central London during the week. Cambridge, Bristol, Reading and others could follow suit. One third of London Council's money comes from £45 million a year in fines.
The Transport Act 2000 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 allowed London to impose a £200-a-day levy on larger vehicles not meeting EU 3 or above emissions rules when entering Greater London. There's a £1,000 fine for not paying. It is expected that the principle will eventually spread to other cities and to smaller vehicles. There have been 4,000 fines since 2008.
The Security Industry Authority Act 2000 introduced licensing of clampers, enabling vehicles parked on private land to be seized. Critics say it worsened the situation, giving clampers a veneer of respectability while failing to curb their behaviour. Even Crime and Security legislation now before Parliament won't curb an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and motorists have almost no legal protection.
The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 lets councils "punish" homeowners for having second or bigger-engined cars, with costlier residents' parking fees. This hits larger, poorer-income families who needing larger cars or can only afford older cars. It is, in effect, a tax on stationary cars. In Richmond the annual permit for a high CO2-emitting vehicle costs up to £855 a year.
The Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 forced motorists to register their cars even when off-road, to keep them "in the system". It also introduced a penalty for late payment of road tax- fall foul and face £80 fine. The DVLA profits by £1.1 million a year.
The VED and Registration Act 1994 penalised bigger-engined cars in much the same way. It introduced a first-year "showroom" tax of £950 which starting this month. This could be used retrospectively to re-categorise vehicles, as happened two years ago.
The Road Safety Act 2006 created far tougher sentences. The maximum penalty for dangerous driving is up from 10 to 14 years, and there are now two new offences, "causing death by careless driving" (max. five years' imprisonment), and being "involved in a fatal accident while unlicensed or uninsured" (max. two years' imprisonment). Motorists can no longer avoid prison just by showing that their driving was careless rather than dangerous. Not surprising when we already know that we live in a vindictive society that rejoices in penalising simple errors.
Jeanette Miller, senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors and president of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers says the scales of justice have never been so unfairly weighted against motorists. Legal Aid for those charged with motoring offences is now virtually unobtainable and it is prohibitively expensive to hire a lawyer.
"More people are saying 'I'll just pay the fine instead of fighting it'," Ms Miller said. "Faced with the uncertainty of which way a court decision will go, and on the other hand with a fine that won't ruin you, who can risk a legal bill of £2,000 - £10,000 to contest a charge?"
Especially when costs you can claim back even if you win have been severely curbed. "There is now a view that motorists who turn up in a magistrates court to defend themselves are being awkward," she added.
Catherine Junor, who specialises in motoring law for solicitors Higgs and Sons, said: "Clients charged with motoring offences say they feel caught in a statistic-driven environment. But if they are burgled they feel the police cannot do anything. Middle-class motorists are an easy target."
And boy, do our shabby, jobsworth ruling classes love an easy target ...
The other thing our leaders love is the opportunity to appear grandiose and powerful, especially since it isn't their money they're chucking about. Why, in the name of all that's holy, does out tiny little island need a new high-speed rail network?
Our railways are well-used and still, despite generations of underfunding, manage to provide a dense service with a surprisingly high proportion of trains that run approximately to time, God knows how. Properly supported and planned they could do still more, taking thousands of heavy lorries off the roads. But no, improving and expanding what we already have would be too easy: what we need is brand new high speed lines so that low-level businessmen in cheap suits have less time to fiddle impotently with their laptops and telephone their secretaries to announce "I'm on the train".
Adrian Lowery, Assistant Editor of This is Money, has this to say ...
It is quite an achievement, the Government's plan for a new high-speed rail service: in the field of British public†life that most direly needs a total overhaul, long-term investment and coherent planning†- public transport - it has picked out a way to waste £30bn.
Our rail service is the laughing stock of Europe. It is run by operating companies who exploit the growing demand for rail travel by ratcheting fares to gross levels while herding their passengers onto overcrowded trains that tend to smell of excrement.
Not content with this level of service, these private monopolies then trick travellers into paying more than they need to for journeys, before sending their highwaymen (sorry, conductors ... sorry, 'Train Managers') through the aisles to shake down people with the wrong colour of ticket and rake in a few more hundred quid in fines.
Services outside of the main inter-city lines and the London commuter belt are derisory and the thought that train timetables and stations might somehow be connected to onward bus travel is simply laughable.
It is hard to think of any private sector where such venality predominates, never mind one which pretends to be a public service. In a country choked to death by the relentless noise and filth of traffic jams, we have abandoned the alternative - the only possible solution - to profiteering cowboys.
And yet the one conspicuous improvement in the UK rail service over recent years is in journey times. Main-line trains now fly from London to Leeds or Manchester in two hours, to the Lake District in three: it is the one thing that makes life for the regular inter-city passenger bearable.
Our country - Lord Adonis may have noticed - is a fraction of the size of France or Germany. Speed is just about the only you thing donít hear train passengers complain about.
So, you have £30bn to spend ...
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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