The latest weapon used by councils to fleece motorists is being rolled out nationwide later this year. Transgress and you will be hit with a fine of up to £130.
Welcome to the road junction yellow box now dubbed by critics as a ‘money box’. Drivers who momentarily stop their car in the criss-cross section of one of these boxes risk being filmed by a camera and automatically issued with a penalty charge notice for committing a ‘moving traffic violation’.
Already being used at key crossroads and T-junctions in London and Cardiff, the Department for Transport has given all local authorities the green light to jump on board this lucrative cash cow. In London and Cardiff, councils pocketed £60 million from such moving traffic violations last year.
Caught on camera: CCTV catches a car stranded on a yellow box in Cardiff
The junctions are a sneaky trap as far as motorists are concerned. According to motoring association the RAC, eight out of ten drivers struggle to drive smoothly through these boxes – while a third say they have ended up stuck in one due to the vehicle ahead failing to exit quickly.
Hugh Blazon, founding member of action group Alliance of British Drivers, says: ‘Handing power to local councils to issue penalties for being stuck in a yellow box junction is idiotic. Local authorities seem incapable of understanding the needs of motorists and will simply use it as an excuse to grab more money off an easy target.’
The RAC says the changes will roll out countrywide within the next 12 months. Nicholas Lyes, its head of road policy, says: ‘Most motorists think local authorities will rush to install cameras as a way to generate extra revenue. Four out of ten drivers we spoke to fear road layouts and signage will be made deliberately confusing to increase the number of penalties issued.
‘Local authorities should consider sending first offenders a warning letter – and to only issue a penalty if they repeat the offence later on.’
The only sure way to avoid a fine is not to stop in a box. However, to confuse matters, you may be able to wait in a box junction if turning right – and unable to make the turn until oncoming traffic clears – because this is not deemed a driving offence. Details are covered in the Highway Code rule 174.
Barrie Segal, who runs the motoring penalty advice website AppealNow, says: ‘Yellow box junctions can be hugely confusing – and if someone cuts you up or the road markings are not clear you might be stung with a fine that is wrong and unfair.’ He adds: ‘In fact, councils often issue fines for offences when they do not understand the law. All they are really interested in is taking your money.
‘If someone cuts across a free space and leaves you stranded in the box – it could even be a fire engine or ambulance – you should consider fighting to overturn the penalty. And if you cannot see the markings because they are rubbed out – or even if they look to have been put in the wrong place – you could also have grounds for an appeal.’
Fortunately, if you are in the right, the odds should be in your favour. According to research by comparison website Confused, two in five drivers appeal against penalty charge notices. And of those, about three quarters are successful at throwing out the penalty – or having the fine reduced. But Segal adds: ‘Of course, there are instances when you must pay up – and with yellow box junctions you might not be aware of the rules until it is too late. Before appealing, understand the law.’
Unfortunately, many motorists are not aware that they have stopped in a box until it is too late. But this cannot be used as an excuse to fight a fine. The only reason you should enter a box is if there is also enough space on the other side of the box to fit your car. If there is no space after the yellow box, you should not move. Although you could get fined £130 for stopping in a yellow box, you will not receive penalty points on a driving licence as it is deemed a minor infringement.
Figures collected by the RAC after a Freedom of Information request found that in London there were almost half a million yellow box junction fines last year – giving local authorities more than £30million. In addition, there were more than 400,000 fines for either ‘no turn’ or ‘no entry’ mistakes.
In Cardiff, there were 24,000 fines for box junctions that raked in more than £800,000 – treble the previous year. Also, there were almost 50,000 fines for ‘no turns’ or ‘no entries’.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport says: ‘Part of tackling congestion is about ensuring all road users play by the rules and that local authorities are given the powers they need to keep traffic moving. We are determined to ensure these powers are used fairly and proportionately.’
SIX OTHER SNEAKY TRICKS THAT SNARE MOTORISTS
Enter a so-called ‘ultra low emission zone’ in Central London and you may get hit with a £160 penalty (£80 if paid in 14 days) if your car breaks emission limits introduced last year – and you have not paid a daily £12.50 charge that allows such cars in this area.
To avoid the levy, petrol cars must pass a ‘Euro 4’ emission test and diesel ones a ‘Euro 6’ standard. These measure the level of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide that your car emits. Find if your car will pass the gas-guzzling test at the Vehicle Certification Agency website. Spy cameras automatically look up a vehicle by reading the registration plate to see if the car is liable.
You no longer have to stop and hand over your money at a toll bridge – but do it online or via phone. Unfortunately this makes it easier to forget paying and getting a penalty.
For the Dartford Crossing (either bridge or tunnel) in Essex, it is £2.50 one way or £5 return. Forget and you face a £70 fine – reduced to £35 if paid within 14 days. Cameras read your car registration plate number.
Spy cameras being introduced by councils for yellow box junctions will also be used to catch drivers going the wrong way up a one-way street or taking a turn in a direction which a sign says they cannot take – which might include a U-turn.
Motorists can get a £130 penalty charge notice that is halved to £65 if paid within 14 days.
Going into a bus lane – even to avoid an accident – can end up with a penalty charge notice. These can be as high as £160 – reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days. Spy cameras are not just put on street corners but also on the back of buses.
A charge for driving in Central London was raised to £15 a day in June, with the hours extended to include weekends. Failure to pay can result in a £160 fine, reduced to £80 if paid in 14 days. There is a congestion charge in Durham of £2 a day, where failure to pay gets you a £50 fine.
Low speed limit
This year, a 20mph speed limit was introduced in Central London copying a similar scheme in Bristol. Breaking the limit can result in a £100 fine and three points on your driving licence.
The nationwide introduction of revenue-generating yellow boxes is the latest financial attack on motorists. In March, 20mph speed limits were introduced in Central London by Mayor Sadiq Khan following a similar scheme in Bristol. Exceeding this limit can result in a £100 fine and three points on the driving licence. Then in June, the congestion charge for driving into Central London during the day was raised from £11.50 to £15. The charge already raked in about £160million a year for Transport for London.
There are also fears Chancellor Rishi Sunak will hike fuel duty on a litre of petrol by 5p in the autumn Budget.
Motorists already pay a high fuel duty tax equivalent to 64.55 per cent of the price of petrol and 60.8 per cent for diesel – so 71p of £1.10 litre paid for petrol goes to the taxman.
As far as cash-strapped councils are concerned, the yellow boxes cannot come quickly enough.
It will help them boost the £454million they pocketed last year from parking fines.