The Times March 09, 2006
Pay traffic fines or we'll clamp you, foreigners warned
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
FOREIGN drivers will have their vehicles clamped until they have paid fines for traffic offences under measures aimed at the growing number of visitors to Britain who ignore penalty notices.
The Department for Transport said that the rules, being introduced as an amendment to the Road Safety Bill, would be applied first to lorry drivers and extended later to car drivers.
At present, foreign lorry drivers who are stopped for motoring offences are required only to provide an address, and can then drive off. There are increasing instances of drivers not being traced, not providing accurate addresses and not returning for court appearances.
By contrast, thousands of British drivers caught committing offences on the Continent each year have to pay on-the-spot fines of up to £900 and can be escorted by police to cashpoints. In France, drivers caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 25mph can also have their licences confiscated on the spot.
Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, said: “We are closing the door on foreign drivers who think they can offend here and disappear. With the measures we are introducing, if they don’t pay they don’t drive away, it’s as simple as that. It is about making our roads safer and creating a level playing field as this is common practice across Europe.”
Under the rules, foreign drivers will be required to pay a deposit on the spot which will be equal to the appropriate fine for the offence. Drivers will be able to contest the penalty in court. If drivers are unable to pay, police will be able to clamp their vehicle.
The number of foreign lorries entering Britain has more than tripled since 1995, to 1.5 million a year. Foreign haulage firms are able to undercut British companies because of lower fuel costs on the Continent and a plentiful supply of eastern European drivers willing to work for lower wages.
A study by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) suggested that foreign drivers were more likely to commit traffic offences than British drivers. A government survey found that one in seven foreign lorry drivers stopped by vehicle inspectors had driven longer than permitted. The FTA said: “In the past it has been too easy for offending foreign drivers to simply leave the country and avoid a fine. That situation will change with the new rules.”
However, the power to clamp vehicles will have no impact on visitors who are caught by cameras. Police are usually unable to obtain the names and addresses of foreign drivers from their numberplates. At least 65,000 foreign drivers escaped prosecution after being photographed by speed cameras last year.
Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “For this to be effective we will need more traffic police rather than relying too heavily on cameras. There has been an 11 per cent decline in traffic police since 1997.”
Foreign drivers also owe £30 million in unpaid parking and bus lane tickets that were issued in London in 2004. Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles were given more than 330,000 tickets but only one in twenty was paid, according to a study for the Association of London Government. French drivers were the most common offenders. Other countries with a high rate of unpaid tickets include Germany, Ireland, Poland and Lithuania.
The study found that almost half of London boroughs prioritise foreign vehicles for clamping and removal because they believe that this is the only way to ensure that drivers are penalised. Foreign drivers also owe more than £10 million in congestion charge fines.
# More than 160,000 motorists have nine points on their licences and are one speeding offence away from an automatic six-month driving ban, according to a survey commissioned by Direct Line insurance
# YouGov questioned 2,430 adults and found that 16 per cent had at least three points on their licences, 3 per cent had six or more points and 0.5 per cent had nine points
# One in seven drivers with six or more points said they would lose their jobs if they were banned from driving. More than half (57 per cent) of those surveyed said that the 6,000 speed cameras had no impact on their speed