Drivers who accidentally stray into bus lanes or box junctions are to be given a warning rather than a penalty charge for first offences under planned changes to traffic laws.
Councils around the country are free to charge drivers up to £130 for flouting rules and using lanes dedicated to public transport. But since the powers were introduced drivers have complained of being hit with charges for honest mistakes, often caused by poor signage.
Now, the Government has suggested that councils will be told to issue a warning rather than a fine for first-time offenders.
The rules would apply to bus lane and other “moving traffic offences” such as making illegal turns or blocking a yellow box junction. Powers to enforce these other offences are due to be handed over to local authorities in England under the Government's Gear Change proposals.
The plan to issue warnings instead of fines was announced as part of the same proposals for altering road regulations. The plan says: “We will issue guidance to local authorities... including the importance of ensuring the need for traffic signing to be properly designed and placed, so that it is clear to drivers what restrictions are in force.
“We propose that motorists be issued with a warning for a first offence, and fines for subsequent offences.”
The average penalty charge notice (PCN) for a bus lane offence is £60 and around the UK, councils made as much as £8 million each in bus lane fines last year. Outside of London, Manchester City Council made £8.4m from 388,213 fines. Glasgow’s 89,665 PCNs brought in £2.87m for council coffers, with Coventry making a similar £2.7m, according to figures obtained by Compare the Market.
London and Cardiff are the only two cities to currently have powers to fine drivers for other moving traffic offences and between them made £60m, mostly from charges for blocking box junctions.
The AA has campaigned against bus lane “traps” which catch out drivers who are unfamiliar with the roads.
Its roads spokesman Luke Bosdet said the move was welcome after councils had ignored previous calls by the DfT for drivers to be given a warning for first offences.
He: “After more than a decade of draconian bus lane enforcement in which hundreds of thousands of unwitting drivers have been caught and fined, the Government has restored some fairness.
“The majority of drivers caught by bus lane and other moving traffic enforcement are people who are unfamiliar with those roads. Warning first-time offenders is a very fair solution, reserving the big stick for repeat offenders.”