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Is There Finally to Be a Fair Deal for Motorists?

You would be forgiven for thinking that motorists are the government's favourite public group.

The great thing about motorists is just how much money you can extract from them in the form of taxation. It all starts when you buy a new car and the government takes a whopping 20% in the form of VAT. Have you ever wondered why a new car depreciates so much? Well, at least 20% of the price of the new car is simply VAT. But tax on motorists does not stop there - far from it. The British driver is the most heavily taxed in the world when it comes to fuel. The government takes an incredible 60% of the price paid at the pump. Then there is vehicle excise duty.
 
Local government, too, can't help getting in on the act. Resident parking permits and street parking charges are all there to get even more cash out of the motorist. And that is before we think about the murky world of penalty charges. The UK motorist has perhaps become used to being slapped with hefty fines for the smallest oversights and misdemeanours. If you forget to renew your road tax, for example, you could be hit with a £1,000 fine. This is unlikely to get any easier to remember, as the abolition of the paper tax disc now means that we will not have any visual reminder of when the tax is due. 
 
It seems at least a little unfair to impose such a penalty on a driver who has an otherwise unblemished record, and some of the motoring organisations are becoming more than a little concerned about such punitive fines. What is even more concerning to many, however, is the situation with parking penalties. It is not so much the charging of fines that upsets people, but more how they are imposed. For example, how many motorists have returned to their car after just a moment to get some change for the meter, only to find that they are already being given a ticket by an over-zealous parking attendant? Others will have overstayed their allotted time just by a moment, only to find the attendant already writing out a ticket. Inevitably, the attendant will brook no explanation or argument and is more or less bound to utter the standard parking attendant mantra at such times, which is 'I've started writing it now, so I have to finish it'. This seems to be an obvious change from the previous regime, which was enforced by proper police officers and traffic wardens. They seemed to have much more scope to use their discretion and let motorists who had committed a minor offence off with a warning. 
 
Now, however, there may be some respite at last. The government has issued new guidelines for councils, suggesting that the parking attendants allow a short period of grace for the motorist. This would allow them a few moments to go and get some change for the meter or to simply jump out of the car to pick up something from a shop or to drop off a child. The new guidance suggests that if the attendant is already writing a ticket at this point, then he should be able to rip it up and issue a verbal warning instead. The local authorities have always maintained that the purpose of traffic wardens is to ensure the free flow of traffic and not to raise revenues, so it would seem that they should have no objection to adopting the new guidelines. 
 
When the Conservatives came in to power after the last election, they promised that they would end the war on British motorists. Eric Pickles has been instrumental in calling the councils to task over parking fines, and this new guideline is to be welcomed if it allows parking attendants to adopt a more human face and common-sense approach to imposing penalties.
 

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