Are You Feeling Vulnerable? Then We’ll Begin

January 28, 2007

So you have just received a Penalty Charge Notice and you are feeling really angry. Read on:

It is only natural that you feel angry when you open a letter containing a PCN. There are a number of reasons for this which I go into below. Just be mindful of the catch phrase “Don’t get mad, get even”. My advice right now is not to make any decisions until the feelings of anger have passed and you can think clearly and logically again. Believe me, those nasty feelings will subside and hopefully be replaced by a determination to fight back.

I have consulted with some eminent people and have put together a passable theory about your current state of mind. It probably would make a good subject for a PhD in Psychology one day, but in the meantime, for those of you interested in a little popular psychology…

Decriminalised traffic enforcement is nothing more than legalised extortion or a confidence trick. You are not being charged with an offence, tried before a court and fined. The Local Authority that sent you the PCN is only suggesting that you committed a traffic offence, and if you bribe them, they will forget all about it like it never happened.

Like all good scams, in order to get the victim to part with their money they have to be made to feel really good, or really bad about themselves. If you can convince someone to lend you £1,000 against the prospect of getting back £5,000 (tax free) after 6 months then you have a potential target. At the opposite end the traffic enforcement scam works by playing on your negative emotions of fear, guilt, uncertainty and vulnerability. It’s a very effective scam because 96.6% (that’s 996 out of 1000) of recipients pay the penalty charge without a peep.

Let’s investigate each of the factors:

Vulnerability – we all know we are being watched by CCTV from the time we leave home to the time we return, but we choose to push this knowledge into the back of our minds, or to believe the hype that the surveillance is only there for our own safety and security. The receipt of the PCN is a stark reminder that “Big Bother” is watching our every move, and that we have almost no right to privacy in this modern surveillance society.

Uncertainty – no doubt there has been some significant delay between the date of the alleged contravention and the date you received the PCN. You probably cannot remember exactly what you did or where you drove on that day. The chances are that the photos on the PCN do not show any ‘hard’ evidence. It ought to be your automatic right to see the video recording, but there are a number of obstacles to overcome before you can view it.

Guilt – We all break the law sometimes, particularly while driving. Most of us drive above the speed limit when we judge it is safe to do so. But there are so many rules and regulations that sometimes conflict, and we have to prioritise our attention so we miss seeing things. As a consequence, a lot of the time we break the law unintentionally. So this time you have been found out – what else do “They” know?

Fear – is generally fuelled by ignorance. You have been landed in a legal situation you know very little about. The PCN will have the briefest of mentions about you legal rights to contest the allegation and plenty of information about how to pay.

So now you are being seduced into thinking “Well what’s 50 quid? 5 Cds, 4 DVDs, a meal for two, a night out in the pub. I can just about spare it.” On the other hand you are thinking how much time and effort it is going to take to research this topic in order to contest it.

Then there is the “what if I fail” consideration. The penalty will go up to £100. Will they send in bailiffs? Will it effect my credit rating? All these unknowns…

So those are some of the reasons why you are feeling really bad about yourself right now. Think about it and sleep on it. Either you agree with the principle that Local Councils are allowed raise extra revenue by scamming motorists or you believe that your individual human rights are more important and the PCN is worth challenging.

The technology revolution gave us CCTV but it also gave us the Internet. There is plenty of information out there, and many people who have been though what you are going through right now. You found this website didn’t you? Be proud – stand up and be counted!


Ealing Comedy

January 27, 2007

Just before the start of the year I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to a handful of councils to determine the location of their enforced box junctions. Islington and Camden have been very forthcoming. Haringey’s information is in the post and I am still waiting for Hammersmith & Fulham, and Croydon. I don’t hold out much hope for the latter as they appear to be incommunicado.

Based on the evidence I have seen to date I have often wondered if Ealing Council really know what they are doing, but now I’m convinced that they haven’t a clue. Judging by their reply I think they are taking the title Local Authority a bit too far:

Read the rest of this entry »

Snowed Under

January 14, 2007

Well, if it wasn’t for global warming it would be a seasonal title! Lots has happened this week – here is a summary.

Records of PATAS appeals

Just before the Christmas break I received copies of all the box junction appeals from PATAS, about 400 in total! I had requested them in electronic form such as MS Word or Adobe Acrobat, but for some reason they couldn’t do that, so I ended up being sent half a tree. More global warming…

The scanner and OCR have been working overtime and during the course of the next month or so I will attempt to post the successful appeals on line along with some analysis of common factors that emerge. I will have to remove all personal details before I post each case.

Islington – appeal against Liverpool Road ( N1) PCN

One of our growing band has just lodged an appeal against a PCN issued at the junction of Liverpool Road and Benwell Street, N1. You can read his appeal document here. This is the junction featured in my earlier posting entitled Hanlon’s Razor.

New Page: “Authorities”

I intend to gather and publish as much information as I can on box junctions that are being enforced. Local contributions would be welcome from people living, working or driving in these areas. I have requested details from a number of authorities which should be in by the end of the month.

Out of interest Camden, Ealing and Haringey all acknowledged their FOI requests within a few days. Hammersmith and Fulham did not respond, but when I phoned them on Friday they confirmed that the request was being processed. I phoned Croydon who had also not responded, but the only consolation they could offer was voicemail.

Islington’s record on FOI requests is mixed. Two responses have been received late, and then only after much cajoling, whereas a third was turned round very quickly, well under the 20 day limit.

Transport for London

I phoned TfL on Friday to check on the progress of the retrospective appeal I lodged on behalf of my colleague on 27th December 2006. I was impolitely informed that my email was still in a queue and had not yet been allocated to anyone for action. So much for their response that said: “If your email is regarding a PCN issued by us…we will aim to respond to your enquiry in full within 10 working days of receipt of your email.”

Islington’s New Control Centre

If you want to know where your hard earned money goes then here is part of the answer. What they don’t mention in this article is the bank of printers that churns away all day long issuing PCNs. Safety and security – who are they kidding?

My PATAS Appeal

January 4, 2007

I hope there is nothing significant in the date, but my appeal hearing is set for 14th February.

Here is a copy of my appeal to PATAS as an MS Word document, only slightly modified to make it web-friendly rather than print-friendly. If there are any problems with the links then please leave a message below.

It is a bit of an exercise in book-throwing. There seemed to be so many things that were wrong that I didn’t know what to put in and what to leave out. In the end I put it all in. Apologies for the length of the document.

I suspect that some of the points are outside the jurisdiction of PATAS as they seem to be quite restricted and they are not permitted to consider mitigating factors – that is left to the local authority. But then I am treating this as an educational experience for the benefit of those who will inevitably come after me. I am trying to ascertain who (if anyone) has the power to restrain errant local authorities in the matters relating to decriminalised traffic enforcement.

Any comments or suggestions, please leave a message below. Feel free to plagiarise bits for you appeal but remember it has not been tested yet.

Authorised Box Junctions

January 3, 2007

If a box junction is to be enforced then it should comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (usually abbreviated to TSRGD). However, if the Local Authority can demonstrate good reason why it is impossible to comply fully with TSRGD, and justify the need for the box junction, then the Secretary of State for Transport can, in exceptional circumstances, specifically authorise the use of a non compliant junction.

If there was a handful of such authorised junctions in the London area then you might believe the above statement, but just look at the list that has been authorised since enforcement began, particularly in 2006. It looks like Transport for London order authorisations by the container load and the Department for Transport (DfT) just rubber stamp them.

It would appear that TSRGD compliant box junctions are becoming the exception rather than the rule. The cynics amongst us might even suspect the DfT is being complicit in allowing Local Authorities to tax farm junctions that present drivers with difficulties.

Judge for yourself; the list is as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Are we really such bad drivers?

January 2, 2007

Using the Freedom of Information Act we have obtained some figures from Islington Council showing how many PCNs were issued at two of the enforcements sites.

  October November
Drayton Park, N5
2,085 1,549
Liverpool Road,N1 945 1,159

If we extrapolate these figures it means that at Drayton Park the Council will issue approximately 22,000 PCNs in a year and at Liverpool Road 13,000. At £50 each that amounts to a likely annual income of £1.1 million and £650,000 respectively.

Let’s look at this from a different angle. There were 22 working days in October. If 2085 PCNs were issued in that month that amounts to nearly 100 per day. I can’t believe that there are so many careless or inconsiderate drivers around. There has to be some other factor at work such as poor quality traffic engineering that makes compliance difficult.

I have some ideas on this topic – but that’s for another day when I have done some more research.