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Sharp Increase in Penalty Notices and Automated Detection

New research has revealed that penalty notices are imposed on around twelve million driving licence holders every year, which equates to around one every 2.5 seconds. 

This means as many as a third (30%) of Britain’s 40 million drivers now receive a penalty notice annually, says the RAC Foundation, which commissioned the research. 

Penalty Notices

The penalty notices are usually one of two types:

  • Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) - a criminal penalty issued for contravention of motoring law
  • Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) – a civil penalty often issued by councils for contravention of things like parking regulations


Looking at the 12 million penalty notices in more detail, there were:

  • eight million local authority parking penalties,
  • 2.5 million local authority bus lane and box junction penalties, etc.
  • 500,000 late licensing and insurance penalties, etc.
  • one million speeding and red-light penalties, etc.

Increased Reliance on Automation

Cameras are routinely used not only to catch speeding motorists but also those who enter bus lanes or make illegal turns at junctions.

In 2015, 90% of all speeding offences were captured by camera. The research also found that:

  • In 2011, 52% of FPNs were camera-detected. In 2015 it was 74%.
  • In 1960, there were 16,921 fixed penalty notices issued, for two offences. In 1991, there were 5.65 million FPNs issued, for 37 offences. In 2011, there were 9.85 million On The Spot Penalties issued, for 79 police-enforced moving traffic offences and 15 local authority-enforced traffic offences.


The research was conducted by Dr Adam Snow, a lecturer in criminology at Liverpool Hope University.

He explains that “perhaps the main driver for the increase in the importance of automation has been the real-terms reductions in police budgets.”

Between 2010 and 2014 the number of dedicated police traffic officers apparently fell by 24%.

This reduction has coincided with a period which has seen a dramatic fall in the cost of automatic enforcement technology. In 2000, it cost £1.5 million for a set of average speed cameras to cover a mile of road. Today it is around £100,000 per mile.

Concerns over Automatic Enforcement

Dr Snow notes that while cameras are immune to matters of “colour, religion, race, gender and so on” they cannot provide either discretion or common sense.

“To maintain its legitimacy, automatic enforcement must be viewed by the public as proportionate,” commented Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation.

“While wrongdoing should be punished and not excused, a decline in frontline policing risks an imbalanced approach to enforcement,” he said. “Millions of motorists are being caught by camera, often for arguably minor misdemeanours, whilst more serious and harmful behaviour goes undetected.”

“When it comes to civil enforcement of bus lane and parking infringements authorities should constantly be asking themselves whether the number of notices issued suggest a different method is needed: some bus lanes and box junctions have become renowned as money spinners,” he added. “If thousands of drivers a day are getting tickets this is a clear indication of a system that is failing.” 

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