Departures: Fine time

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The Independent Travel
IT seems that in Europe this summer, travellers have not only had to worry about being mugged by petty criminals - British motorists are also being stung by traffic police. David Shamash of Wantage was stopped 'quite justifiably' by French police for failing to pull up at a stop sign and made to pay a deposit of FFr900 (about pounds 95), being told that the actual fine would be decided by the court in Beziers.

Mr Shamash told the gendarme that he had read that it was a deliberate policy to stop the English on Saturday afternoons (when the banks are closed) in order to cause them maximum inconvenience. 'The gendarme denied this vehemently and showed me his receipt book to prove that he stopped other nationalities too - and on other days of the week,' says Mr Shamash.

'I then asked him how many French he had stopped, and he said 'I refuse to answer that question'. His assistant did not apprehend several French cars that failed to stop at the junction, but did call over the next foreigner (another Englishman) who failed to pull up.

'I then commented that I would no doubt hear from the Tribunal with the amount of the fine, but he said I would hear no more, as they filed the papers and that was that.

'It seems to me that this is a way of improving their 'strike' rate with the least inconvenience. If they stopped a French driver, they would have to prepare a report and put the case to court, which is obviously a lot more work than simply zapping the foreigners.'

Another reader reports an encounter with Spanish police near Santander. The driver was pulled over for a minor traffic offence and was told to pay an on-the-spot fine of pounds 900. When he revealed that he did not have pounds 900, the police insisted that they accompany him to the nearest bank to get the money. When he declined to do this, they confiscated his passport.

The driver discovered from the local consular office that the fine they were requesting was, unreasonably, the maximum possible for the offence. And, he was told, they had no right to confiscate his passport.

Traffic police often seem like nothing more than legalised muggers - but is there anything we can do to fight them?

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