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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific