Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Wheel-clamp profits to be banned

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I covered this issue a while back, but this story on the BBC web page caught my eye.

New Department of Transport guidance says councils should “not seek to make a surplus” from clamping parked cars.

The guidance, which is part of a parking regulations shake-up, puts a priority on winning public support.

It says the enforcement should be “proportional” to the contravention’s seriousness. Wheel-clampers are being urged to target persistent offenders.

Which is, in essence, what was supposed to have happened in the first place. It was only because of the fear of outrage by the privacy advocates that it did not happen, but being clamped for overstaying a meter is a bit like being hanged for stealing a sheep.

The great fear is always that Big Brother does not just want to watch us, he wants to control us. And, sadly, the track record of authority in this field is not very prepossessing. The current – somewhat muted – scandal of unathourised wire taps in the US being only the most recent example.

But the problem for law enforcement is that when people see someone “getting away with it” the temptation is to try it themselves. For a law to be effective, people have to comply with it voluntarily, because they see it as right and just. But increasingly it is difficult to see much justice in the ways the law is drafted and prosecuted. And for some people, evading the law is a way of life.

“We are bringing in quicker clamping and removal times for persistent evaders.”

Wheel-clampers are being urged to make vehicles which are suspicious in other ways – such as not having a valid tax disk – a top priority.

If you read my original piece cited above, you will see the same theme repeated.

I think there is a case for a database. It is the persistent offenders that we need to catch. Speeders, red light runners, parking louts (flickr has whole groups devoted to recording their offences) the regular fare dodger – they can all be caught, because we now have the ability to track them. Currently the feeling seems to be that we would be giving up too much of our liberty if we did crack down on them. I think that misses the point. The current ethos is that law breakers have no fear of being caught. They know that they can get away with their offences most of the time. It is only when photo radar or bait cars are introduced that this belief is falsified. What we need to ask the speeders and so on is, why do they think that they are entitled to break the law? For those who cry “tax grab” the loudest at photo radar, were those who were getting the tickets. And the cost to society of someone who parks on a busy street in peak period in terms of delay – and consequent frustration and road rage and all that – is huge. Taking a blue badge parking spot from someone who cannot manage without it just because you will “only be a minute” is not trivial.

We have already accepted that in order to stop drunk drivers we will be stopped at random checks. In order to reduce the carnage on the streets and drain on our Emergency Rooms, we are checked to see if we are wearing our seat belts. This is not “the nanny state” the libertarians bleat about. It is simple common sense. There is a very clear, positive social cost benefit ratio. And the same applies to clamping the cars that have a glove compartment full of unpaid parking tickets.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2007 at 9:08 pm

Posted in law enforcement

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