The rising cost of post-coronavirus motoring

London and Cardiff make £58 million from fining motorists for minor offences, and other councils can now issue fines too...

Yellow box junction

New laws have been handed to local authorities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to allow them to issue more fixed penalty fines to drivers who commit minor offences. 

The new powers were announced in Gear Change – a bold vision for cycling and walking, a document that detailed how the Government aims to spend £2 billion of extra funding on improving safety for cyclists and encouraging more people to walk and cycle more. 

It states that the Traffic Management Act 2004 will be changed to allow local authorities, rather than the police, to fine motorists for moving traffic offences, such as disregarding one-way systems or entering mandatory cycle lanes. 

cycle lane

The document says that guidance will be given to local authorities about the powers, including underlining the importance of ensuring that people are properly informed about them, and the need for traffic signing to be properly designed and placed so that it is clear to drivers what restrictions are in force. It also proposes that motorists be issued with a warning for a first offence, and fines for subsequent offences. 

In the long term, the move could result in motorists all over the UK being fined up to £130 for a wide range of misdemeanours, as is already the case in London and Cardiff. 

What is changing? 

The Department for Transport (DfT) had already started looking at changing this law in November 2019. However, the coronavirus pandemic focused the minds of the nation elsewhere for the first part of 2020. Now that we’re all starting to get back to a new sort of normal, the law has been changed. 

Until now, local authorities only had the power to enforce certain moving traffic offences, such as cars being parked illegally or driven in bus lanes. However, the changes to the Traffic Management Act – which gives them the responsibility of managing their road networks to keep traffic flowing – will give them the power to issue fixed penalty fines for other offences such as stopping in a yellow box junction or driving the wrong way down a one-way street. 

Fixed fines for careless drivers

How much money is raised from fines? 

The fines are a big source of revenue. The capital’s 32 borough councils and Transport for London (TfL) raised £55.8 million from the 933,263 penalty charge notices (PCNs) issued to motorists who contravened parking and moving traffic regulations in the 2018-2019 financial year, according to research by the RAC. 

Although Cardiff makes far less from these fines, it has increased its revenue from them fourfold in the past three years. It issued 74,142 penalty charge notices (PCNs) in 2018-2019, compared with 19,080 in 2016-2017, translating to a £1.8m hike in revenue from £593,160 to £2.4m.

The RAC's freedom of information request also revealed that yellow box junctions are by far the most lucrative area, accounting for £30.6m of the fine revenue netted by London's councils. Transport for London topped the table for the most revenue from yellow box fines, raking in nearly £10m. 

A lot of money was also raked in from 'no turn' offences – drivers being fined for making illegal turns at junctions. Ealing earning £2.6m from such infringements, while TfL received £2m and Hackney £1.9m.

'No entry' offences that penalise drivers for entering and driving the wrong way down one-way streets were also fairly lucrative. Harrow was top for no entry offences with a revenue of £549,785 followed by Southwark on £420,760 and Islington on £357,265.

The London councils say the fines are part of a road safety strategy that aims to cut deaths and serious injuries. Councillor Julian Bell, chairman of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said: “Around 9.6 million trips are made in London by car, taxi or private hire vehicle each day. Traffic and parking management provided by London’s boroughs and TfL helps make these journeys safer and healthier for everyone in London. 

“It is encouraging that, in several cases, enforcement is leading to positive behaviour change among road users, benefiting everyone who travels in and around our capital city.” 

hyde park corner

What are the concerns about the new powers? 

However, there are concerns that the extra fines could simply be used as a way to recover some of the huge amounts of money that councils and TfL have lost due to the impact of the pandemic. TfL, for example, expects to lose £4 billion in revenue this year. 

RAC public affairs manager Nick Lyes says: “It’s plain for all to see that London boroughs, TfL and Cardiff are generating phenomenal sums of money from the enforcement of moving traffic offences.

“The vast majority of drivers we’ve surveyed agree that those who stop on yellow boxes, make illegal turns or go through ‘no entry’ signs need to be penalised, but when it comes to extending powers to other councils many are concerned, with 68% thinking local authorities will rush to install cameras to generate additional revenue.

"Clearly, the priority for enforcement should be to improve road safety and reduce congestion. So there must be strict guidelines on how the new powers for other local authorities can be enforced. The powers need to be introduced carefully, with detailed guidelines so councils use them to target trouble spots.” 

There are also concerns about poor signposting on roads that could result in a high percentage of fines in certain locations. Neil Greig, director of research and policy with IAM RoadSmart, says: “We have no issue with enforcing cycle lanes and obvious minor motoring misdemeanours, but problems crop up when the signposting is poor or obscured and automatic camera enforcement is applied in the hurly burly of urban traffic. 

“The power to issue fixed penalty notices is only available to local councils who have their own parking attendants. To avoid confusion and stress to drivers, and lots of appeals, it is vital that councils ensure their staff are well trained, and that road signposting and markings are clear and that any temporary road layouts are kept in tip-top condition.” 

Motorists can expect other costs and longer traffic jams 

Even drivers who don’t break the law are likely to face additional expenses and hold-ups in the future, especially if they want to take their car into cities to avoid using public transport. 

congestion zone

● London’s Congestion Charge for driving into the centre of the city has already gone up to £15 a day for cars, and its operating hours have been extended, now applying from 7am to 10pm every day of the week. This is partly in a bid to recoup some of the money that Transport for London has lost during the coronavirus lockdown. 

● Plans to introduce clean air zones elsewhere in England are back on track as the country begins to return to normality. Birmingham looks set to be the next to start charging motorists to enter from early next year. Diesel vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 emissions standards and petrol vehicles that aren’t Euro 4 compliant will have to pay £8 per day to enter the Birmingham zone. In addition, access for cars is being restricted on many streets, and a larger percentage of people using cars rather than public transport will mean bigger traffic jams. 

cycle super highway

● In London, footpaths have been widened at 25 busy locations, such as outside major train stations and on bridges, and at least four new, wider cycle lanes have been added. In most cases, the roads have been made narrower to free up that extra space.
Similar schemes are being implemented in cities around the UK, and while they’re great at helping people to keep their distance while commuting, they are certain to increase traffic jams and journey times for drivers. 

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: all the latest coronavirus advice for drivers >>

Spinner