Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report


14  TECHNOLOGY AND DATABASES

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) register

294. Good enforcement is reliant upon an accurate and up-to-date register of vehicles and owners. The Chief Parking Adjudicator for England and Wales stated "The up-to-date accuracy of the DVLA register is one of the cornerstones of the decriminalised parking enforcement scheme."[252]

295. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has attracted criticism for inaccuracies in its register.[253] A significant proportion of appeals to the Parking Adjudication Service arise from the recipients of 'Notices to Owner' who have, or at least claim to have, sold their vehicles prior the issue of the Penalty Charge Notice. In 2003 'ownership' was the key issue in some 12 per cent of appeals reaching the National Parking Adjudication Service.

CONTINUOUS VEHICLE REGISTRATION

296. We are aware that the DVLA has been making efforts to make its database more accurate, and we support these moves strongly. The Agency aims to increase the number of vehicle keepers traced using records from around 92 per cent to 97 per cent by 2007. In particular, the DVLA introduced 'Continuous Registration' in January 2004, requiring each registered vehicle to be taxed or declared 'off road'. The Agency claims that this has already had "a huge impact on the accuracy of vehicle records".[254]

297. Mr Barrie Minney, a Senior Bailiff at Brighton and Hove Council, drew attention to the problem of errors in addresses and names supplied by the DVLA including fictional names and addresses.[255] Mr Minney suggested the recent changes to registration had not resolved this problem. In some cases, misinformation held by the DVLA can result in enforcement action being taken against innocent parties who have had nothing to do with the alleged contravention. In other cases, drivers are victims of so-called 'car-cloning'.[256] For all these reasons, it is important that the DVLA's efforts to keep a better track of vehicles through 'continuous registration' succeeds.

298. Parking enforcement is not possible without accurate records held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA). The DVLA is striving to improve the quality of its records through the 'continuous registration' programme in which vehicles are either taxed or registered as being 'off road'. We strongly support this initiative and expect to see the Department for Transport provide it with the resources required to succeed. In its reply to this report the Department should confirm whether the DVLA's target to improve its vehicle record keeping records from 92 per cent to 97 per cent by 2007 will be met.

ACCESS TO DVLA DATA

299. Concerns about the ease of access to information on the DVLA register were brought to our attention. The RAC Foundation questioned the Agency's practice of selling personal details from the register to anyone who claims 'reasonable cause'. The Foundation has been concerned that the release of this information has allowed so-called 'cowboy clampers' to operate CCTV car park enforcement operations on private land, ignoring the Security Industry Authority licensing scheme.[257] The Security Industry Authority licensing scheme requires anyone placing a clamp on a vehicle to be trained and licensed. The use of technology, such as CCTV cameras, allows firms to by-pass this law.

300. Dr Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, made a Written Ministerial Statement on 2 December 2005 which announced a review of the provisions (Regulation 27 of the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulation 2002 (S.I. 2002/2742) which replaced previous similar provisions) under which data is released from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's vehicle register. In the statement, he explained that "When these provisions were originally introduced they did not envisage the introduction of electronic databases, the large number of vehicles now on the roads, or the range of bodies now requesting access."[258] The Minister launched a consultation on the release of data on 16 February 2006.[259]

301. We support the Government's consultation on the release of data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. The Department for Transport should confirm that the result of the consultation will be made public. So far as parking policy and enforcement is concerned, there must be no access to the Agency's register on the part of third parties that would result in activities which run counter to improving the overall quality of the parking regime in force in this country. This means, for example, that those who are seeking the information to operate 'cowboy' clamping operations on private land must be denied information from the register. The Department must guarantee that the public are properly protected from abuse of this information, and that any loopholes allowing unscrupulous parking enforcement activity will be closed.

New technologies for parking

REAL TIME INFORMATION

302. New technology can help improve parking operations. A major advance has been made in providing 'real-time' information in towns and cities to drivers seeking to park. This is mainly through the use of 'variable message signs' and local radio traffic bulletins. These methods are valuable because they deliver prior information about the status of car parks, and divert and re-direct traffic at an early stage.[260] The internet also has potential, both as a source of information about parking facilities, and to reserve a parking place at a destination.[261] A number of authorities are testing different systems of payment, including mobile phone accounts and credit cards.[262] These measures provide incremental improvements in drivers' ability to seek out and find suitable and legal parking spaces and should lessen the temptation to park illegally.

TECHNOLOGY FOR ENFORCEMENT

303. Parking attendants are increasingly being assisted by the new technology, notably use of digital cameras to record evidence of parking contraventions. This evidence is proving helpful both to councils and the parking adjudicators in dealing with challenges to penalty charge notices. Westminster City Council planned to photograph all parking contraventions that result in Penalty Charge Notices by April 2006 as part of a wider policy. "This is part of our process of moving towards a fairer and more customer-focused service by embracing new technology, utilising digital cameras, mobile phone payment, and cashless parking."[263]

304. Essex County Council complained that parking adjudicators are requiring increasingly burdensome evidence that contraventions have taken place, including photographs.[264] The Chief Parking Adjudicator for England and Wales clarified the position. "There is no requirement for corroboration of the parking attendant's evidence but where the adjudicator is required to consider two conflicting accounts the decision will necessarily be made at least in part on the quality of the evidence presented (emphasis applied)."[265]

305. The use of digital cameras to provide photographic evidence of parking offences is a step in the right direction. Provision by councils of such evidence to motorists at the first opportunity when a challenge has been made, will save time and costs associated with subsequent correspondence and possible appeals.

306. In London, where civil enforcement applies to some moving traffic offences as well as parking offences, CCTV cameras have been used to detect and process contraventions. The Traffic Management Act 2004 will extend this beyond London to other local authorities in England and Wales. The types of offence to be included are stopping in bus lanes, yellow box junctions, no right turns, and one-way streets. London authorities have found camera enforcement to be a generally efficient method of detecting these offences.

307. We support applying civil enforcement measures to moving traffic offences throughout the country, for example, stopping in bus lanes. These measures are designed to improve traffic management on congested streets and keep the traffic moving. Councils must ensure however that, as is particularly important with fresh initiatives in street and road traffic management, the regulations in force are carefully and clearly communicated to drivers. The new measures must also be carefully evaluated for success or failure.

TECHNOLOGY FOR PROCESSING TICKETS

308. Technological advances can also assist the 'back-office' operation of local authority parking departments where Penalty Charge Notices and representations are processed. Westminster City Council has adopted a new 'IT solution' for processing tickets to promote both efficiency and customer service. The Council hopes to become a leader in the provision of processing and customer handling.[266] Manchester City Council has brought its processing work within the council, including development of technology and IT systems, "allowing investment to be made in the service unhindered by contract durations".[267]

309. A number of technologies designed to improve the quality of parking operations were brought to our attention. We welcome these initiatives and wish to see more use being made of technology. Extensive use of effective and well trialled technology will bring benefits to motorists, local communities, and council enforcement activities. Local authorities should be encouraged by the Department for Transport to invest in the new technologies.

310. We wish to know from the Department how the research for technologies to aid parking enforcement is organised; what role the Department has in identifying and trialling potentially useful new technologies; and what guidance there will be to local authorities to ensure that practice over the country in the use of technology to support parking is uniform where possible, economies of scale are achieved, best practice is shared, and the repetition of mistakes avoided.


252   Ev 92 Back

253   Ev 136, Ev 01  Back

254   Driver, Vehicle and Operator Group Corporate Plan 2004-2007; and PAR 04 Annex 3 Back

255   Ev 136 Back

256   Ev 67. "Car cloning" is when false number plates are used on a vehicle. The owner of the properly registered vehicle will then receive parking penalty charge notices for whatever activity is carried out in the vehicle with the 'cloned' registration plate.  Back

257   RAC Foundation Press Release. The Security Industry Authority exists to manage the licensing of the private security industry as set out in the Private Security Industry Act 2001, see http://www.the-sia.org.uk/home/ Back

258   Written Ministerial Statement, 2 December 2005, Stephen Ladyman MP Back

259   Department for Transport Ministerial Written Statement, 16 February 2006 Back

260   Institution of Highways and Transportation (2005) Parking Strategies and Management Back

261   Institution of Highways and Transportation (2005) Parking Strategies and Management Back

262   Ev 96 Back

263   Ev 25 Back

264   Ev 139 Back

265   Ev 106 Back

266   Ev 25 Back

267   Ev 29 Back


 
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Prepared 22 June 2006