Car Wars: Time runs out for drivers who fiddle meters: Oliver Gillie reports on technological advances that will make life difficult for motorists in search of a free parking place

NEW 'tamper proof ' parking meters which register when they are out of order are increasing the number of spaces available to shoppers and traders visiting an area for just one or two hours.

The new meters enable much stricter enforcement of parking restrictions. Motorists who used to get a whole day's free parking by disabling a meter with a piece of metal from a beer can or some other object are now having to pay the full price of parking.

The meters, which have an electronic mechanism with no moving parts, were introduced in the City of London two years ago, but now they are being adopted in various parts of the country after experiments in Westminster, Islington and elsewhere. When the electronic meters are tampered with they register out of order on a small screen and then parking in that bay is illegal, according to new regulations.

Jim Vaughan, parking manager in Islington, said: 'Since these meters have been introduced we have a 20 per cent vacancy in our meter bays on average - so people can get a parking space when they want it. Before they were introduced we had a 96 per cent occupancy of meter bays. Many were purposely jammed because drivers wanted free parking.'

Now the only hope of free parking in one of these bays is to cut off the head of the meter - which, like jamming the meter, is a criminal offence. Following the film, Cool Hand Luke, which featured Paul Newman slicing the heads off meters, this crime has had a certain vogue. And in some areas where meters take pounds 1 coins it is possible to get more than pounds 100 from a meter if it has not been emptied recently.

Hundreds of meters have been vandalised in this way in Bristol and London, particularly Islington and Camden in north London. However, the takings must often be disappointing.

'Police at Tolpuddle Street Station in the East End observed three men cutting the heads off meters,' Mr Vaughan said. 'The men were caught and seven meter heads were returned to us. We found only pounds 82 in them altogether. So it isn't a very profitable crime.'

Local authorities are now taking extraordinary measures to prevent the wave of meter busting. They are replacing soft alloy meter heads with cast-iron heads and are welding steel rods on to the stalks to prevent the use of ring cutters to 'top' the meters. The stalks themselves are attached to a piece of concrete weighing three quarters of a hundredweight (84lb) and are sunk 18 inches into the ground.

Even so, the high cost of replacing vandalised meters is causing a shift towards pay and display machines. But pay and display machines, which may contain pounds 1,000 or more, are vulnerable to ram-rod raiders. Dozens have been attacked in London.

The thinking motorist who is lucky enough to find a headless meter may consider this question - if the stalk did possess a head would it be an electronic one, which indicated that it was out of order? And is a decapitated meter, which is intended to be electronic, out of order, or merely absent?

Similar questions have occupied philosophers for centuries but fortunately this seems to be one parking problem which has been settled in a pragmatic way. 'If the head is missing it can't be out of order because it's not there,' Mr Vaughan said. 'But we are obliged to replace the head as quickly as possible and when we replace the head we put the maximum time possible on the meter.'

This means that people who leave their cars all day at a headless meter risk getting a ticket. Even though the meter head with its instructions are absent, motorists are still apparently subject to regulations written on it, which specify a maximum time for parking. But this is a grey area - the law is enforced by magistrates and the outcome of a case may be as much a result of local custom and practice as it is of the law in a strict sense.

The police can always fall back on the catch-all clause which allows the owner of a car to be penalised for causing an obstruction. And an obstruction is an obstruction when the police say it is. But enforcement of parking controls at meters, in public car parks and on side streets will, in 1993 or 1994, be undertaken by local authorities.

'When we have full enforcement powers we will be able to bring in our own policies,' Mr Vaughan said. 'In future, we may sometimes put a warning note on the windscreen instead of a ticket - when, for example, someone parks incorrectly over the end of the bay.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links