By David Williams
Still have a clean driving licence? Never been done for speeding or had a parking ticket? Congratulations – you’re one of a dying breed of motorists who yet to fall foul of the surge in motoring legislation.
Exclusive new Telegraph Motoring research shows that it is now easier for motorists to fall foul of the law than at any point since the invention of the car. Bizarrely, you can even do it in your sleep.
More than 15 million British drivers are caught committing a motoring offence each year, compared with 4.7 million in 1980 – an astonishing rise of 219 per cent in a generation.
It means that – despite there being 15 million more drivers on the roads – a driver today is twice as likely to be caught committing an offence than 30 years ago.
In 2008, 3.8 million drivers outside London received parking fines compared with 345,000 in 2000, and the number is rising fast.
A further 1.1 million drivers are fined annually for failing to inform the DVLA that their car is off the road – possibly while being repaired or stored – a threat undreamed of before Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) was unleashed in 1998.
Technology is also playing a growing role in the crackdown; CCTV camera-detected motoring fines have spiralled from 642,000 in 2000 to 1.75 million in 2006.
No wonder that about 18 per cent of UK motorists now have points on their licence.
“You just have to blink to be guilty of something today,” said Paul Watters, the AA’s head of roads and transport policy.
“You can be done for taxing your car too late or forgetting to register it as being off the road, even if it’s broken down and sitting in your garage.
“There is a wide range of new regulations waiting to catch you out.”
You no longer even have to be behind the wheel to feel the long arm of the law. “You can be in bed and still be committing a motoring offence; the very act of owning a car can now make you guilty if you forget the smallest detail,” Watters said.
A perfect storm created the conditions for the end of the open road around the turn of the century.
Escalating fears over the environment, a thriving unlicensed and uninsured motoring underclass, soaring traffic and new government road casualty targets saw Labour grasp the legislative nettle in 1997.
The past decade or so has seen an unprecedented wave of new or newly implemented laws reigning in the motorist, the most far-reaching being decriminalisation of parking and “moving traffic” offences, transferring enforcement from an overstretched police force (a quiet word in your ear please, sir) to cash-hungry councils.
It’s now easier than ever to go to jail for careless driving, once only a serious threat for dangerous-driving convictions.
And there’s worse to come. Within a year, motorists who fail to keep their car continuously insured will be fined, too, even if it’s off the road.