Council spy cars rake in £8 million a year in fines
Quote:Research by Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties campaign group, has revealed that nearly 190,000 drivers have been hit with penalty charge notices for parking and minor motoring infringements after being caught on camera.
The "drive-by spies" are currently used by 31 local authorities across the country and more councils are expected to follow.
Costing just over £40,000 each, the 54 Smart Cars equipped with CCTV cameras earned an average of £187,668 per vehicle.
Two thirds of the councils are using private contractors to operate the spy-cars, triggering fears that companies are seeking to maximise income rather than promote safety.
One contractor, says on its website that the use of the cars in Islington, central London, has led to a higher payment rate of Penalty Charge Notices than those issued by civil enforcement officers patrolling on foot.
A variety of motorists are being targeted from "inconsiderate parents parking dangerously outside schools" in east London to drivers using a hand-held mobile at the wheel in Greater Manchester.
The vehicles are conventional Smart Cars, which are becoming increasingly popular with urban motorists, which have been modified to include a mast topped with a camera.
"The CCTV Smart car represents a very dangerous escalation in Britain's surveillance society," said Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director of Big Brother Watch.
"The vehicles are sent out to catch people and make money, with road safety only an afterthought. £8 million is an eye-watering amount to take in fines in just 25 councils.
"They are catching parents dropping their kids off at schools, people who have accidentally driven into a box junction. Then there are motorists who have stopped outside a shop to unload for a few seconds and then get a fine 14 days later. Drivers are being used as a cash cow.
"It is surely only a matter of time before more councils start using these cars. The Coalition Government must act now and prevent that from happening."
Motoring organisations were also outraged by the figures. "We are living in an era when the Government says speed cameras have been about raising money, it is about time that these other forms of enforcement were looked at through the same pair of glasses." said an AA spokesman.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, added: "Let's be clear, parking restrictions are there to ease congestion and improve road safety. Every enforcement action has to be motivated by these goals. Technology must be used in areas where inconsiderate driving is causing most harm, not simply where most money can be raised."
Cllr David Sparks, Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association, denied that town halls were using the spy cars to milk motorists.
"Councils cannot and will not make money from motorists who break the rules of the road.
"Everyone who is rightly concerned about the use of public funds should be pleased to know that any money which councils get from motoring fines has to be spent on transport improvements, such as filling in potholes or supporting valued bus routes.
"Councils will not apologise for fining drivers who leave their cars in places where they obstruct emergency vehicles or who endanger children on their way to school."
Tim Cowen of NSL, the UK’s leading operator of CCTV cars for parking and traffic enforcement, defended their use: “Big Brother Watch should be commended on the effort they have put in to compiling this report – unfortunately their conclusions are wide of the mark.
“CCTV cars are a vital tool in promoting road safety. For example, double parking outside schools at the start and end of the school day, when there are lots of children on foot, causes a visual impediment which is, frankly, a recipe for disaster. CCTV cars are the best tool yet invented for helping us deter this kind of illegal parking, and dramatically improving road safety for school children. School head teachers, for example, usually welcome a visit from the cars."
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