Big Brother is watching...

A new piece of technology from the US can alert traffic wardens to cars parked illegally - and you won't even know it's there. Robert Verkaik reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Britain's traffic wardens have been handed a new weapon of mass detection that in one silent click threatens to wipe out all means of resistance to the parking ticket.

Britain's traffic wardens have been handed a new weapon of mass detection that in one silent click threatens to wipe out all means of resistance to the parking ticket.

The ParkingEye, disguised as a pay and display machine, secretly monitors cars when they park. Should a driver stay too long, an alarm is raised and a parking attendant is immediately dispatched to the scene to punish the offender.

The arrival of the ParkingEye marks a worrying new phase in the arms race between motorist and parking attendant, because it is the first example of the use of artificial intelligence at the kerb. For the parking enforcement agencies, this technology will help counter the new breed of in-car gadgets that are designed to outwit the hapless traffic warden. Like many other new systems deployed against the motorist, the ParkingEye has been imported from America, where it has already been used to devastating effect.

Its manufacturer boasts: "Our product is proven to dramatically increase revenues by more accurately enforcing parking violations, while significantly lowering overhead costs, such as the manual labour that is currently needed to manage your parking lot."

Its credentials are supported by the the fact that its creator, Rusty Thomas, is a rocket scientist who spent his career designing satellite launch systems and was a key member of the design team for the Space Shuttle's SpaceLab Life Sciences laboratory.

In Britain the machines are already helping to catch parking defaulters in a number of London boroughs. Andrew McKerney, the managing director of the UK company marketing the machines, will not say exactly where the capital's drivers will encounter the new spying cameras because the local authorities he is working with are a "little jumpy". All he will say is that the machines work by alerting traffic wardens by text message. "It may seem a bit Big Brother but the truth is that law-abiding motorists who pay for their parking have nothing to fear. Parking is a business like anything else, and these machines are helping them to make money."

There are of course plenty of motorists who regard themselves as above the law. One driver recently ran up nearly £7,000 in unpaid parking fines before being brought to book. The driver, who has not been named, has picked up 123 tickets in two years.

Many motorists, like this mystery character from Scotland, know that they can avoid or delay paying parking fines by arguing that a required procedure had not been properly carried out by the attendant. Others simply contend that their ticket was a case of mistaken identity and that they cannot be liable because they simply weren't there. The onus is then on the local authority to show that they were.

On its own, ParkingEye cannot prove that a car has breached road traffic legislation - parking tickets on cars illegally parked on public roads have to be physically enforced by authorised attendants. To combat the growing number of appeals based on the mistaken identity argument, local authorities have been issuing their traffic wardens with special cameras that immediately record the placing of the ticket on the offending car.

But law enforcement agencies are not having it all their own way. The most effective automated deterrent on British roads, the speed camera, has been targeted by companies who have designed a range of systems that can warn drivers of impending danger. Using the latest radar and laser technology, Snooper has devised a range of products that alert drivers to the police's Gatso, Truvelo Watchman and Speedcurb cameras.

The company explains that not only can its products spot police cameras before they see you, but also warn drivers of accident blackspots or potential hazards. "Many of these speedtraps transmit a radar or laser beam that can be detected by a Snooper. Our latest products incorporate GPS and offer the widest cover available of speed-monitoring systems."

The company maintains that people who use radar detectors are not looking to speed with impunity, and are not dangerous drivers. The truth, it claims, is that motorists with this kind of technology tend to be safer because they care about not breaking the law.

TECHNOLOGY THAT WORKS IN YOUR FAVOUR

Websites with advice on how to beat those fines

www.appealnow.com

This website claims that it can take as little as four-and-a-half minutes to lodge an appeal against an incorrect parking ticket. It also gives motorists the opportunity to challenge congestion charge penalty notices.

www.extrakit.com

Advice from ex traffic policeman on how to get your parking ticket cancelled and beat speeding fines, as well as help for drivers who wish to uncover "driving loopholes the Government doesn't want you know".

www.southwark.gov.uk

Many local authorities also have websites that show motorists how to challenge penalty notices. Southwark's shows you exactly what to do if you believe a ticket has been wrongly issued by one of its attendants.

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