The ‘super-wardens’ bill

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 52.

When we talked about including an article in the Newsletter about the Traffic Management bill to be debated in Parliament in January, little did we know that it would be deemed front page news, especially by the right-wing press.

No right turn signs are among those which might be enforced by dedicated council employees rather than the police in future.
Image as described adjacent

We thought the bill seemed like an obscure but useful bit of new legislation for civil traffic enforcement, following on from civil parking enforcement (see Newsletter 46). It transfers the duty of enforcement of things like one-way streets, no right turns, bus lanes and (we hope) cycle lanes from the police to new local authority ‘traffic managers’.

How wrong we were. The right-wing press was apoplectic at the idea that traffic law might actually be enforced. (Of course we are used to apoplectic articles about traffic law not being enforced when it comes to transgressions by cyclists.) A Daily Telegraph column concluded: ‘the price of [the proposed law] threatens to be the lasting resentment of millions of persecuted motorists, whose innate decency is being exploited.’

Persecuted motorists? Just what is it about driving that makes people think that it is reasonable to pick and choose which rules they obey? Driving over the speed limit? – yes fine, so long as it isn’t somewhere dangerous ­ oh, and I’ll decide where it is dangerous. Go through lights after they’ve turned red? ­ well you’d never get anywhere otherwise, would you? (but throw those cyclists who do it in prison, I say!)

‘Radical congestion busting’

The proposed keep-traffic-moving law ‘threatens … the lasting resentment of millions of persecuted motorists, whose innate decency is being exploited.’ – Daily Telegraph

The bill is promoted by Transport Minister Alasdair Darling as ‘radical congestion busting’. The purpose is to ‘keep traffic moving’ rather than address safety. It doesn’t appear that cycles count as traffic in this respect because enforcement of bus lanes is included but cycle lanes seem not to be.

Cambridge MP Anne Campbell spoke in the debate on behalf of cyclists. She raised the issue that has troubled many of us both in these columns and on the road: inappropriate parking, especially in cycle lanes. The Cycling Campaign also wrote to Mrs Campbell about this. The Minister told her in reply: ‘the duty to deal with people who park in the wrong place lies with traffic wardens or, in some cases, policemen. The job of the traffic manager, who is an official of the council … is to ensure that the council organises matters so as to give priority to keeping traffic moving. Too often, that does not happen. I agree that many other things need to be done and that councils should pay attention to the way in which people park, which can cause great difficulty not only to cyclists but to pedestrians and others.’

The details

So what does the bill actually include? Focussing on keeping roads clear to keep traffic moving, it has five main sections:

  • Traffic management: each local authority will appoint a uniformed Traffic Manager responsible for keeping traffic moving. Traffic managers will have the power to stop people, including, note, cyclists and pedestrians. They can arrange to move abandoned and misplaced vehicles.
  • Civil enforcement of moving and parking offences: local authorities will take over certain traffic enforcement roles from the police, such as enforcing ‘no vehicles’ signs. Note that fixed penalties for the offences covered apply to all road users, including cyclists. Which things are enforced is obviously important to us. Parking enforcement powers will be strengthened. Most parking rules do actually appear to be covered, including ‘parking a vehicle wholly or partly on a cycle track’ (though that depends on the definition of ‘cycle track’; but quite how this squares with Darling’s reply to our MP is questionable). Bus lane enforcement is specifically included. The remainder of offences are defined in terms of ignoring specified signs: one-way and no-entry, no-turn and must-turn signs, no vehicles, no motor vehicles and pedestrian zone signs, and box junction markings.
  • Control of street works: councils to be given greater control over when and where utility companies carry out street works to minimise disruption. They will have powers to specify which route road works should follow and decide what day of the week and at what times works can be carried out; to prevent roads from being dug up repeatedly, to manage a permit system; and to enforce proper resurfacing.
  • Management of motorway incidents: Highways Agency to be able to clear roads quickly after crashes or breakdowns.
  • Some London-specific measures.

The ‘fleecing motorists’ retort

Attempts to enforce better observance of road traffic law are now routinely met with accusations that their motive is fleecing motorists to bring in more money in fines. The effectiveness of speed cameras is threatened by sensitivity to being labelled ‘anti-motorist’ (i.e. anti-government voter!) Even though it might have been thought that keeping traffic moving would be applauded by the critics, this attempt to prevent selfish individual road users bucking the rules is now being slated.

The ‘fleecing motorists’ argument is a smoke-screen of course, so perhaps it could be undermined by using different punishments. Retraining of road users would make demands on people’s time rather than wallet, and perhaps have some useful side effects. Perhaps one day or one week driving bans or immobilising of vehicles could be tried.

David Earl