The Office of Fair Trading has released details of its investigation into fuel pricing, stating that high prices are down to the market cost of crude oil and tax increases, not a lack of competition.
The agency looked at the last 10 years of fuel price increases, and found that competition is ‘working well’ in the UK market, but signalled that lack of price information on motorways is a concern. It also said that it would be prepared to take action in specific local areas where anti-competitive activity was taking place.
The OFT said that pre-tax, the UK has some of the cheapest fuel prices in Europe, stating that in the 10 years between 2003 and 2012, pump prices increased from 76 pence per litre (ppl) to 136ppl for petrol, and from 78ppl to 142ppl for diesel, caused largely by an increase of nearly 24ppl in tax and duty and 33ppl in the cost of crude oil.
The report also sought to dispel the widely held belief that prices are quick to rise on petrol station forecourts, but slow to fall when the wholesale cost of crude oil drops.
OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell said: ‘We recognise that there has been widespread mistrust in how this market is operating. However, our analysis suggests that competition is working well, and rises in pump prices over the past decade or so have largely been down to increases in tax and the cost of crude oil.
’Our call for information has not identified any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour in the fuel market at a national level, where competition appears to be strong. There may be some issues at a local level. Where we receive evidence of potential anti-competitive behaviour we will consider taking action. For example, we have recently opened an investigation into the supply of road fuel in the Western Isles of Scotland.'
The report comes as motoring groups have signalled a warning to motorists that further rises in the cost of fuel are on the way.
Which is more dangerous, a bumper-to-bumper megalopolis like London, or the freedom of the open country road?
Instinct tells us that more cars equal more hazards. When roads are full, people jump the lights; when it's a scrap for the gaps, margins of safety fall; when the going's slow, half the faces at the wheel are in a map, mobile phone or crisp bag, or nodding off.
Busy places are more dangerous places. Aren't they?
It's the kind of simple question people want answered. So this week's Go Figure asks how you might go about finding out. I don't know too many people who want to dedicate their lives to the answer, so I gave it an hour to see where I could get. Here goes.
We start by saying that we can't rely on instinct. As Sherlock Holmes says in the Legend of the Copper Beeches: "Data! Data! Data!... I can't make bricks without clay."
Bad news. The Department of Transport told me that it can't say whether more traffic on its own causes accidents, they've not researched it. The police usually record contributory causes of an accident but they don't include congestion or traffic density.
But maybe this helps. The BBC's recent accident map shows every accident right down to specific roads or junctions. And it looks as if most accidents are in cities at the most congested times of day.
So I did a crude comparison of some numbers for accidents in London and that mostly rural haven, Northumberland. It turns out that London is about 19 times worse.
London is still worse. So it's true, dense traffic does cause more accidents. Although now London looks a bit under twice as bad, rather than 19 times as bad.
Well, sort of, again. Because here's the next problem - what's the right way to measure the accident rate?
We've just done it by adjusting the number of serious accidents for miles travelled. But a moment's reflection about big cities tells us that we can spend a long time driving not very far.
In other words, isn't it time at the wheel, not miles, that best measures how much driving goes on?
According to data here, traffic in Greater London on A-roads averages about 16mph, and in Northumberland about 36mph. If we use this as a rough ratio of speeds on roads in general - a crude assumption, but it will do for now - then we can do a back of an envelope calculation.
Deaths or serious injuries per 10 million hours of driving.
Greater London: 23. Northumberland: 32.
So an average hour on the roads of Northumberland is very roughly 40% more dangerous than an hour in congested London. This leads to a conclusion that sounds weird but is unremarkable - that places with more accidents can be safer.
But we're not there yet. Because the Department of Transport also has figures by type of road, and says the most dangerous is the single carriageway A-road, of which Northumberland certainly has a few.
So now we have a new problem, Holmes. How do we know if the road type is swamping any effect from traffic density?
To put it another way, what would be the accident rate on London's A-roads if you filled them with Northumberland's density of traffic?
OK, all this is a long way short of proof that traffic density alone causes these differences. It tells us a lot, but it doesn't tell us that. It's a selective sample of serious accidents, not all accidents, in just two places. The calculations are rough and ready.
Is heavy traffic really protective in London, maybe because it slows us down? Is lighter traffic more dangerous in Northumberland, maybe because we're less careful? Or do the narrow stretches of A1 north of Newcastle outweigh all these factors? Or maybe London has better drivers. But let's not start that one.
This takes us into serious crunching - and we have to look to people who've studied the problem on a big scale. They too tend to suggest that there's less chance of an accident, especially a serious one, in heavy traffic.
Take this one, for example, which says: "Incidence rates involving property damage-only crashes and injury-crashes are highest when traffic is lightest."
And this one says: "Probably a higher traffic density leads to a shift towards less severe injuries."
But you might want to go further, and split the accidents by car, pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist and so on. And that raises another problem, described by John Adams in his book Risk. Maybe the most dangerous roads have good accident records and appear safe because cyclists and pedestrians avoid them.
You can measure a lot, and we do, and it's easy to find the data - the number of crashes; crashes adjusted for traffic - in several varieties; crashes adjusted for road type, the transport mortality rate, etc.
Van buyers will be able to receive 20% - up to £8000 - off the cost of a plug-in van, Transport Minister Norman Baker and Business Minister Mark Prisk announced today.
This is an extension of the Plug-In Car Grant which offers 25% – up to £5000 – to motorists buying a new plug-in car. Ministers have also re-confirmed there is funding secured for this grant until 2015.
The purpose of the consumer grant is to enable the purchase of ultra-low carbon vehicles which could otherwise have been unaffordable. The consumer will also benefit from lower running costs over the lifetime of the vehicle.
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Electric vehicles are the arrowhead for a low carbon revolution in motoring and as more models come to market we’ll begin to see sales gather pace.
“Car buyers have had a year to take advantage of our grant and now it’s time for van buyers to get their chance to go electric. This is great news for businesses given the lower running costs of these vehicles – fleet buyers tell us that this is one of the most important factors influencing their decision on what to buy.
“It is radical initiatives like these which will allow us to create a transport system that both cuts carbon and is an engine for economic growth.”
Business Minister Mark Prisk said: "Supporting ultra-low carbon technology in vans makes sense. An upfront purchase grant, when combined with lower running costs and tax benefits, can make switching to an ultra-low carbon van an attractive choice for businesses.
“The technology also fits well with a large portion of the van market that rely on short urban trips to and from base.”
From today ultra-low carbon van manufacturers will be able to apply to be part of the Plug-In Van Grant – which will help to improve local air quality in cities, reduce carbon emissions and meet Government carbon reduction targets.
To be eligible for the scheme, vans will have to meet performance criteria to ensure safety, range, and ultra-low tailpipe emissions. Consumers, both business and private will receive the discount at the point of purchase.
There are currently 10 cars eligible for the Plug-In Car Grant, five of which came on to the market in 2011, with the other half expected to be available to purchase this year. During the first year of the scheme, over 1000 eligible vehicles were registered and, up to 31 December 2011, 892 applications were made for the Plug-In Car Grant.
The Department for Transport has announced that it is to establish an expert panel to examine the technical aspects of introducing specific legislation on drug driving.
Under current laws police have the responsibility of proving that someone has been impaired by taking illegal drugs rather than simply that they have taken them, and the government says that it wants to make drug-driving as serious an issue as drink-driving.
Academic and scientific experts will be assembled in the spring to examine how such an offence could be defined and what levels might be set within the legislation. The group will also look at whether drivers could test positive for certain illegal drugs through legitimately prescribed means and the interaction between alcohol and drugs.
Road safety minister Mike Penning said: “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world but we know how important it is to tackle the menace of drug driving. That is why we are putting together a panel of experts to give us advice on the technical aspects of introducing a new offence of driving with an illegal drug in your body.”
Plans for MoTs to be carried out every two years instead of one will cost motorists £57 more in higher insurance and car repair bills, motoring experts claim.
Up to 40,000 jobs will also be lost if ministers push ahead with plans to make the roadworthiness test less frequent, according to a report by a consortium of 29 safety organisations, motoring groups, retailers and other transport groups.
Under the government plans, which would bring the MoT test in line with the rest of Europe, cars and vans would have their first test after four years instead of three, and then every other year.
One of Britain's busiest motorway intersections has been closed to traffic as part of work to replace a viaduct passing over the M1.
The 36-hour closure of the M1 at its junction with the M6 near Catthorpe, Leicestershire, will allow demolition crews to dismantle a bridge linking the two motorways which has reached the end of its working life.
Motorists are being advised to plan journeys in advance and avoid the area if possible during the closure, which began at midnight on Friday and is expected to be lifted at noon on Sunday.
The Highways Agency said the M1 had been closed northbound between junctions 19 and 20, and southbound between junctions 19 and 18, while the link from the southbound M6 to the M1 is also shut.
However, access from the M6 to the A14 will remain unaffected throughout, and clearly signed diversion routes will be in place for traffic affected by the closure.
Ivan Marriott, project manager for the Highways Agency, said: "Demolishing the old structure is a big engineering feat, and the only way that we can remove it safely and quickly is by closing sections of both motorways."
Transport minister hopes better co-operation between councils and manufacturers will help drivers get better directions
For the Syrian lorry driver whose search for Gibraltar ended in Skegness, the Department of Transport's latest initiative comes too late, but other satnav users can hope for more clarity on the roads as a "satnav summit" aims to ensure highway authorities and mapmakers work closer together.
Norman Baker, the transport minister, will host the summit with councils and satnav manufacturers in response to complaints of vehicles being sent down minor local roads – and occasionally, up paths, alleyways and into streams – by computers relying on outdated or wrongly marked maps.
According to the DfT, it can take months for map updates to make their way from local councils to satnavs. "Out of date directions mean misdirected traffic – a scourge of local communities," said Baker. "It is vital highway authorities, mapping companies and satnav manufacturers work more closely together to provide drivers with accurate, up-to-date information on traffic restrictions such as narrow roads or low bridges.
"This will help prevent huge lorries from being sent down inappropriate roads and ensure motorists are given the best possible directions."
Notable recent blunders include a Welsh soft drinks lorry driver who followed satnav instructions down a narrow alley in the village Bruton, Somerset, wedging his 13-tonne HGV between a house and an estate agents.
In 2008, a BMW driver was charged with careless driving by West Yorkshire police after finally stopping his car inches from the top of a rural cliff, requiring the emergency services to haul the vehicle safely back.
From April, the coalition is devolving powers from Whitehall to local authorities to reclassify roads as they see fit. Under new rules confirmed last month, councils will also be able to signpost roads as unsuitable for heavy vehicles without Whitehall approval. Baker's summit, to be attended by representatives of transport and technology planners, hopes to open the channels for quicker communication between those altering the highways and the satnav firms.
A car reported as stolen from an Australian car park has been reunited with its owner, after apparently parking itself in a closed garage.
Adelaide police say they think the car rolled down an incline in the car park, across a street and into a garage forcing itself under the roller doors.
The door closed behind it and the car remained undetected for 17 days until the home-owners returned from holiday.
Fearing a burglary, they called police, who deduced the curious turn of events.
"Although the roller door was closed, it had been damaged slightly and pushed out of its tracks," a police spokesman is quoted in Australian media as saying.
Police believe that the car had not been left in the parking gear and so rolled though the car park and eventually "forced itself under the roller door, parking perfectly inside the garage where it remained safely under cover for 17 days".
The owner reported the car stolen after he parked it outside a shop in a suburb of Adelaide. Reports say that he had only bought the car two days earlier and only left it for a few minutes.
He told the police that he now recalls hearing a "bang", which may have been the car hitting the garage door, the Associated Press news agency reports.
A man who masterminded a nationwide scam to help drivers escape motoring convictions has been jailed.
Colin Lowndes, 41, of Hattersley, Greater Manchester, helped more than 700 motorists avoid penalty points for speeding and other driving offences.
He admitted conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and 30 counts of fraud relating to a separate scam.
Lowndes, of Clough End Road, was jailed for seven years at Manchester Crown Court on Friday.
His accomplice and brother-in-law, Lee Foster 40, of Backbower Lane, Hyde, was convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice following a trial.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Greater Manchester Police said offenders would pay Lowndes and Foster up to £400 and hand over their notices of intended prosecution (NIP).
They would then submit false nominations using false names from 11 addresses linked to Lowndes.
This would generate further notices to the "driver" and the process would be repeated until the legal time frame to prosecute had expired.
The prominence of the addresses used raised suspicion at ticket offices across the country and led to raids last May.
Foster was sentenced to 18 months in prison
Hundreds of NIP documents from police forces around the country, cash, blank envelopes and other items related to the operation were recovered.
Officers investigating the scam discovered that 728 offences were detected across 26 police forces between August 2006 and April 2010.
Of those, 632 were within Greater Manchester and more than 500 nominations were sent to Foster's home during the course of the scam.
As part of the wider investigation, more than 250 motorists who supplied their NIPs to Lowndes and Foster were arrested. Some of those have been convicted and received custodial sentences.
Sgt Mark Beales said: "Lowndes, with the help of his brother-in-law, ran an astonishing criminal enterprise that sought to make a mockery of road traffic laws and undermined the criminal justice system.
"He was simultaneously buying compromised credit card details that helped him live the kind of lifestyle many can only dream about and is a conman of considerable experience and expertise.
"The fact he has never sought a day's employment over recent years reflects a level of arrogance that suggests he thought he could continue to take from others for his own benefit without any repercussions."
He added: "While we went after the conspirators of this scam, we identified those who thought they could escape a motoring conviction, some of who have now ended up with a criminal conviction instead."
Drivers have been urged not to take to the road with heavy colds as tests show their reaction speeds are worse than people who have downed four large whiskies.
Motorists afflicted by heavy colds or flu suffer a major loss of concentration when behind the wheel, putting themselves and other road users at risk, a new report showed.
Car safety experts found a dramatic increase in poor driving when victims of a cold were subjected to scientific tests.
Reactions times dropped sharply and sudden braking became much more frequent, as the motorist was less aware of surrounding traffic, while cornering also became erratic.
With the winter flu season hitting Britain, the latest research shows that driving ability is estimated to drop by over 50% when motorists are under the weather.
This is the equivalent of downing over four double whiskies – a level of driving ability that an insurance company would expect to lead to an accident.
Insurance company Young Marmalade carried out the research in association with Halfords using a black "telematics" box, which records drivers' speed, braking, and cornering.
"This small-scale trial provides a warning for motorists," said Nigel Lacy, Co Founder of Young Marmalade. "A heavy cold can impair a driver's mood, concentration and judgement."
There are no official figures for accidents caused by sneezing, colds and flu symptoms but the insurance industry suspect motorists are responsible for a thousands of prangs when they are under the weather.
The findings back up work done by Cardiff University Common Cold Unit which showed that those with colds and flu suffered from poor reaction times and alertness and were a third more likely to hit the roadside kerb.
Halfords Winter Driving Expert Mark Dolphin said: "We want our customers to stay safe. You shouldn't drive if you are not feeling well. The best place to be when you have flu or a heavy cold is at home, but if you really must go out, get someone else to take you and avoid driving.
"Other drivers should be aware of those around them and if they see someone sneezing be prepared for the unexpected to happen and increase the distance between vehicles."
Police warn that drivers getting behind the wheel while suffering from a heavy cold could be prosecuted. PC Steve Rounds, of the Central Motorway Police Group, said: "Sneezing can be very violent, especially with a severe cold and causes the sufferer to close their eyes temporarily."
Drivers in the UK should update their knowledge of the Highway Code on a regular basis, it has been suggested.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, noted UK motoring environments and conditions are changing all the time.
The industry figure pointed out the Highway Code is updated often, while road users can tend to be a little complacent when at the wheel.
Revisiting the rules and regulations may therefore prove a worthwhile exercise for those keen to stay abreast of any changes and eager not to fall foul of altered laws.
Mr Clinton said: "We recommend that everyone buys a copy of the latest Highway Code every few years, or reads it on the Directgov website, to keep themselves up to date."
His comments come after new research compiled by motor oil company Castrol revealed an alarming lack of understanding regarding road rules in the UK, with two-thirds of drivers regularly confused by basic road signs.
A survey of car manufacturer bosses by management consultancy firm KPMG has revealed how close we are to in-vehicle internet access.
The survey aims to predict future trends, and nearly 40% of the 200 car company executives questions said that in-car infotainment was as important as safety. The survey shows the next big innovations are speech recognition and constant internet connectivity via 3G or wifi.
KPMG’s head of automotive in the UK, John Leech, said: “Global car executives believe that as consumers become accustomed to instant access at home and in the office, they will expect the same services when on the move in their vehicles. In the future, connectivity will not simply be a ‘nice to have’ feature, but an intrinsic part of a vehicle.”
Leech cites Toyota’s deal with Intel, announced at the end of last year, as the first of a new wave of collaborations that will see car makers teaming up with firms such as Microsoft, Google and Apple to create new gadgets and features.
Fierce storms battered Britain today with heavy rain and winds gusting over 100mph.
The latest round of unsettled weather added more misery to the January blues as people returned to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Around the country trees fell onto railway tracks and power lines, lorries toppled over on busy roads and local authorities issued flood warnings after rivers swelled.
High seas caused the Port of Dover to close, gusts of wind damaged the roof to a stand at Epsom Downs Racecourse and a power surge led to a washing machine catching fire in Wales.
Commuters faced travel chaos as the bad weather meant some East Coast main line trains between London and Scotland had to start and terminate at Newcastle upon Tyne.
Buses replaced trains on some rail services between London and Harrogate and Hull, while drivers planning to use the Dartford Crossing between Kent and Essex were advised of possible delays due to gale-force winds
Gemma Plumb, a forecaster from Meteogroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "Everywhere has seen strong winds today.
"So far we've seen gusts across central and southern parts of Scotland of 85 to 97mph.
"That's an hourly figure, so there's a chance there may have been stronger gusts of more than 100mph.
"We are seeing gusts of 65 to 75mph across northern parts of England, and gusts of 60 to 70mph across Wales and the south coast of England."
Figures published by the Met Office reported wind speeds of 106mph at Great Dun Fell in the north Pennines and 102mph in Edinburgh.
The Met Office issued severe weather warnings across many regions.
Forecasters have told those living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be prepared, while localised flooding and a marked drop in temperature is expected for parts of Wales and north-west England.
Scotland is braced for the harshest weather conditions: the Met Office has issued warnings for both snow and wind. But it is unlikely that any area will escape higher winds than normal.
A bus driver had to be freed after a large tree fell on his vehicle, trapping him inside in Witley, Surrey.
The single-decker Stagecoach bus was in Petworth Road when the oak tree, measuring 6ft across, fell on to it at about 8.25am.
A Surrey Police spokesman said: "It is believed that the driver, who was freed by fire crews, has suffered serious injuries and he is being taken to St George's Hospital in Tooting.
"There was only one passenger on board the bus at the time of the incident, who escaped uninjured.
"The tree is also believed to have damaged a nearby building."
Britain's biggest port, at Felixstowe was expected to remain closed for the rest of the day as lethal storms rage across the North Sea.
The QEII Bridge on the M25 between Essex and Kent at Dartford was shut after the Highways Agency said it was too dangerous to let traffic across.
Fallen trees and flooding also caused problems on many roads in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
Surrey Police said traffic was delayed across the county as fallen trees closed roads, including the A287 Hindhead Road between Hindhead and Haslemere.
In West Sussex, flooding closed a lane on the eastbound A27 Chichester by-pass between Fishbourne Road and Oving Road and the B2100 was blocked both ways between Wadhurst and Mark Cross in East Sussex.
Meanwhile in the Thames Valley, hundreds of homes were plunged into darkness after the storms brought down power lines across the Reading area of Berkshire.
And in the South West, the Environment Agency has "yellow" flood alerts active on 21 rivers from Cornwall to Wiltshire.
The Tamar Bridge, which spans the river between Devon and Cornwall, has been closed to high-sided vehicles because of strong winds.
First Great Western rail services between Truro and Penzance are being affected by an obstruction blocking "all lines".
Transmanche cancelled its ferry services between Newhaven, in East Sussex, and Dieppe, as forecasters predicted gusts topping 70mph.
Wightlink cancelled its crossing from Lymington, Hants., to Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, while people heading to Dover were warned their ferries could also be affected by the high winds.
In Lymington itself, the A337 Southampton Road was blocked, due to a fallen tree, as was Bartons Way, in Havant, Hants., where a tree had fallen onto a parked car.
In Hamble Lane, in Bursledon, Hants., a telegraph pole was blown down, causing traffic chaos on surrounding roads as engineers had to make the area safe before removing the pole.
Fallen trees also blocked the A333 at Blashford and Newtown Road, in Southampton.
Parts of the south coast city were left in the dark as the weather caused power cuts
The latest round of unsettled weather will add more misery to the January blues as people return to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Parts of Wales have seen gusts of more than 90mph in the early hours of today, with gusts of 93mph hitting Aberdaron in north Wales.
Weather experts predicted a marked drop in temperature yesterday, with the unusually mild conditions that prevailed over Christmas and the New Year making way for more seasonal mercury readings.
The Met Office said: ''A spell of wet and very windy weather will affect the UK during Tuesday.''
Almost half of motorists believe cyclists should have to take out insurance for when they cause a collision, a study has found.
A growing number of drivers, who describe cyclists as “a law unto themselves”, are angry that push bikes habitually pass through red lights and ignore “no cycling” signs.
Around a quarter said cyclists should pay road tax, while 46 per cent said they should be made to pass an official proficiency test. One in six motorists would go further by forcing bikes to have number plates.
The study, by the insurance group Confused.com, highlighted growing tensions on the nation’s crowded roads. Of the 1,000 drivers and 1,000 cyclists surveyed, one in 20 motorists claimed a cyclist was to blame for an accident they had been involved in.
Meanwhile, one in eight cyclists said they had been knocked off their bike by a motorist, and 34 per cent said they had been a victim of road rage.
The average British car driver travelled 165 miles fewer in 2011 than in the previous year because of rising petrol prices.
According to findings by petrol station trade body RMI Petrol and Experian Catalist, total fuel consumption by road transport in the UK declined 3pc in 2011 to 33.5bn litres.
This is the equivalent of 30 litres less for each of Britain's 34m vehicles, enough fuel for a 165-mile journey.
The figures are included in a new letter from the chairman of RMI Petrol to the Chancellor, calling for fuel taxation to be "reconsidered and reformed".
Brian Madderson said fuel duty was a "deeply flawed" tax on consumption that "unfairly penalises" working families, low income earners, rural communities and businesses.
"It must be time for change and new thinking on fuel tax to provide a much-needed boost to our society and to the economy," he said yesterday.
Fuel duty will increase by 4p per litre on August 1, 2012, including VAT, according to Mr Madderson.
In the Autumn Statement, the Government postponed a scheduled 3p rise in fuel duty for January in a bid to help motorists who are struggling with high fuel costs. George Osborne said Coalition policies mean taxes on petrol will be 10p lower in August 2012 than would otherwise have been the case.
This will mean that by the end of 2012, families will have saved £144 on the price of filling up an average–size car, he added.
However, Mr Madderson said the Treasury will still be earning more from petrol than when it came to power in May 2010 because of an increase in the price of oil and VAT from 17.5pc to 20pc.
In the letter, he lists social, fiscal and economic costs which can be "largely attributed" to a rise in fuel pump prices. These include squeezing low-income households, the closure of small and medium-sized businesses and fuel theft.
He says fuel duty is at a "near record high" and that only one country in the European Union has a higher duty level on diesel.
As well as writing to the Chancellor, Mr Madderson is to meet Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, this month to discuss fuel duty.
SPY cars have dished out more than 45 fines a day to Southend motorists during their first six months in the borough.
The Echo can reveal traffic wardens driving Southend Council’s two CCTV enforcement cars have caught 5,644 drivers breaking the rules since they were introduced in July.
When the Echo revealed the cars’ tally after just two weeks of operations, they were racking up an average of 17 penalty tickets a day – things have certainly upped a gear since then.
After six months, the fines have raised at least £141,000 for the council’s coffers.
Tony Cox, Tory councillor responsible for transport, said: “On the whole, the feedback I have had about them has been generally positive.
“Sometimes mistakes do happen and I am not pretending these cars have been perfect.
“But in the vast majority of cases, the fines are justified. The high rate of fines is reflective of the fact the cars can cover more ground than a warden on foot.”
The spy cars were introduced earlier this year to combat problems with parents parking inconsiderately outside schools when picking up, or dropping off, their children.
As part of their operation guidelines, each car has to keep watch outside two schools every day.
They have also been used to target roads which have become notorious for motorists flouting parking restrictions, often following tip-offs from residents. But their distinctive markings and permission to park on yellow lines while catching other drivers has angered many motorists.
Graham Ray, 59, of Crowstone Avenue, Westcliff, received a fine after he stopped to repair a flat tyre in Kensington Road, Southend.
He said: “They are a menace and they’re alienating people. All I wanted was for them to apply a little common sense.”
Instead of issuing a standard parking ticket, the spy cars take a note of the offending vehicle’s registration number and a fine is then sent out in the post.
Because they do not operate at the weekends, their fines total has been racked up during 123 weekdays since July.
Penalties range from £25 to £35, but are doubled for those who don’t pay within 14 days.
Drivers working over the new year are being advised to be extra vigilant by industry experts.
With the party season comes an increase in the number of accidents on UK roads.
To ensure that drivers are safe going into 2012, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Drive and Survive has issued a series of tips to keep motorists in control.
Simon Elstow, head of driver training at IAM, advised: “The new year is a common time for people to sit back, reflect and revaluate.
“Why not begin by making changes to your driving to make you safer on the road in 2012?”
Drivers should observe what is happening on the road ahead to allow for more time to identify and respond to hazards.
Anticipating what nearby traffic may do is also essential to manage risks.
IAM advise drivers to ensure that appropriate driving distances are maintained and to take a break every two hours to avoid the fatigue that slows reaction times.
Keeping an eye out for any vehicle that looks as though it is not in control is also important. If drivers identify a motorists driving dangerously, it is important to keep a safe distance and report it as soon as possible.
Tough new measures to crack down on drivers who abuse the disabled parking system - including a new Blue Badge design which is harder to forge - will come into force on 1 January, Transport Minister Norman Baker said today.
Previously, Blue Badges were made from card and handwritten but from the New Year disabled drivers will be able to apply for an electronically printed badge, much like a driving licence. The new badge will have security features such as a unique hologram, digital photo and serial number allowing parking attendants to check for genuine badges more easily through the windscreen.
Blue Badge fraud is estimated to cost the UK £46 million a year and it is generally accepted that reform is urgently needed. The new badge is part of a wider crackdown on misuse of the scheme to ensure disabled parking spaces can only be used by those most in need.
Other measures include:
shared administration between authorities resulting in faster renewals, less abuse and operational efficiency savings of up to £20 million a year;
better customer service for badge holders, including being able to apply for and renew badges online using Directgov, as well as access to a new national helpline number. From April 2012 customers will also be able to report lost and stolen badges online;
wider use of independent mobility assessments to determine eligibility. To support this local authorities will now have control of National Health Service spend on Blue Badge assessments; and
extending the scheme to more disabled children under three years of age and severely disabled Armed Forces personnel and veterans; and removing residency requirements for disabled service personnel and their families who are posted overseas on UK bases.
Transport Minister, Norman Baker, said:
“Motorists who pretend to be disabled to get some free parking are frankly disgraceful. They prevent real Blue Badge holders from using parking bays designed for those genuinely in need and they cheat the vast majority of road users who play fair when they park their cars.
“Our new Blue Badge will be as secure as a banknote and anyone thinking of faking it can forget it. We are also tightening up on enforcement and eligibility so there will be no way to scam the system.”
Blue Badges provide a vital lifeline to more than 2.5 million disabled people every year by prioritising key parking spaces close to important services. However, increasing levels of badge fraud have meant those spaces are often full.
Earlier this year, the Government announced the most comprehensive changes to the Blue Badge Scheme for 40 years. The launch of the new badge is the last stage in a raft of measures which have begun to come into force since April.
Helen Dolphin, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Disabled Motoring UK, said:
“After years of campaigning for improvements to the Blue Badge Scheme, I’m delighted that changes that make the scheme fit for the 21st century have been introduced. The new badge design will stop badges being so easily forged and new guidance to local authorities will make the issuing of badges fairer. The Blue Badge is a fantastic scheme and all these changes will help ensure the scheme will only benefit those it was intended for.”