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Authorities issue drivers with 33,000 penalty notices every day

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Up to 12 million motorists receive a penalty notice each year – the equivalent of one every 2.5 seconds, new research suggests.

It means almost a third (30%) of Britain’s 40 million drivers now receive a penalty notice annually, says the RAC Foundation.

The total of 12 million does not include the annual figure of 1.2 million drivers now undertaking a speed awareness course instead of receiving a penalty and points on their licences. A further 200,000 drivers a year attend other types of courses having committed other types of offences.

Nor do the figures include the five million parking penalties issued to drivers on private land each year.

The penalty notices included in the RAC Foundation research are usually one of two types: a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) - a criminal penalty issued for contravention of motoring law; and a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) – a civil penalty often issued by councils for contravention of things like parking regulations.

The 12 million total includes: 8 million local authority parking penalties; 2.5 million local authority bus lane and box junction penalties; 500,000 late licensing and insurance penalties, and 1 million speeding and red-light penalties.

Cameras are routinely used not only to catch speeding motorists but also those who enter bus lanes or make illegal turns at junctions. In 2015, 90% of all speeding offences were captured by camera.

The trends are highlighted in a report - Automated Road Traffic Enforcement: Regulation, Governance and Use - for the RAC Foundation by Dr Adam Snow, a lecturer in criminology at Liverpool Hope University.

In the report Dr Snow says that “perhaps the main driver for the increase in the importance of automation has been the real-terms reductions in police budgets”.

Between 2010 and 2014 the number of dedicated police traffic officers fell by 24%. This reduction has coincided with a period which has seen a dramatic fall in the cost of automatic enforcement technology.

In 2000, it cost £1.5 million for a set of average speed cameras to cover a mile of road. Today it is around £100,000 per mile.

Dr Snow notes that while cameras are immune to matters of “colour, religion, race, gender and so on” they cannot provide either discretion or common sense.

He says that, in general, road traffic enforcement has two aims: preserving public safety and the effective management of the road network.

He argues that when activities that vary in the risk or the harm they cause are punished in the same way then it offends the public’s sense of proportionality, and hence fairness, and can lead to mistrust.

Dr Snow also reports that automated enforcement can be traced back to 1906 when watches first started to be used to time drivers over a fixed stretch of road to ascertain their speed.

Meanwhile, FPNs were introduced in 1960, initially to deal with two offences: having inadequate lighting at night and non-payment of parking. By 1991, 37 offences were covered by FPNs.

In 1991, the process of de-criminalising parking offences began, with enforcement powers transferring from the police to councils.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “To maintain its legitimacy, automatic enforcement must be viewed by the public as proportionate.

“While wrongdoing should be punished and not excused, a decline in frontline policing risks an imbalanced approach to enforcement.

“Millions of motorists are being caught by camera, often for arguably minor misdemeanours, whilst more serious and harmful behaviour goes undetected.

“When it comes to civil enforcement of bus lane and parking infringements authorities should constantly be asking themselves whether the number of notices issued suggest a different method is needed: some bus lanes and box junctions have become renowned as money spinners.

“If thousands of drivers a day are getting tickets this is a clear indication of a system that is failing.”

Dr Snow said: “Automated enforcement promises much in terms of speed and cost efficiency for financially-squeezed police forces and councils.

“However, the driving public are entitled to ask for more weighty principles such as fairness and justice to be taken into consideration when confronted with potential wrong doing. 

“Quite how those who ensure the safety of our roads through enforcement can provide both cost effectiveness and justice is a challenge that requires debate and engaged minds.

“I hope this report provides the start of that debate about the acceptability and appropriate place for automation in road traffic enforcement.”

Responding to the RAC Foundation’s report on penalty notices, Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “Effective parking control is one of the most frequent and important demands of local residents from their councils.

“Parking controls are essential to help keep the roads clear, pedestrians, motorists and cyclists safe and to make sure people can park near their homes and local shops.

“Income raised through on-street parking charges and fines is spent on running parking services and any surplus is only spent on essential transport projects, such as tackling the £12 billion roads repair backlog and creating new parking spaces.

“A clear appeals process is in place for anyone who feels they have been fined unfairly, including the ability to ask for an independent review.”

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