From 31 May 2022, local authorities in England outside of London will be able to apply to the Secretary of State for new powers to enforce ‘moving traffic offences’. This means they can be granted powers that have previously been held only by the police and will be able to issue fines to drivers for these offences for the first time.

This Insight explains the reason for this law change, the powers local authorities may acquire, and how it may affect road users.

What are moving traffic offences?

In England and Wales, moving traffic offences are defined in law in Schedule 7 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 (as amended).

They include:

  • incorrectly driving into a bus lane
  • stopping in a yellow box junction
  • banned right or left turns
  • illegal U-turns
  • going the wrong way in a one-way street
  • ignoring a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).

Why is the law changing?

Currently, in England, moving traffic offences are enforceable only by the police. The one exception is in London where TfL and London borough councils already have ‘civil enforcement’ powers. In London, these offences have therefore effectively been decriminalised and are treated as civil ‘contraventions’.

However, in local authority areas outside London, many of these offences might not be being enforced in full by the police.

In 2019, the Local Government Association conducted a survey of (non-London) English local authorities. 67% of respondents said that the police did not actively enforce any moving traffic offences in their area. 90% said that they would use civil enforcement powers were they available, primarily to alleviate congestion and improve road safety.

In a 2020 policy paper, the Government pledged to change the law and give local authorities the ability to enforce these offences themselves.

In explanatory notes accompanying the law change, the Government said the change may help “improve air quality through reduced traffic congestion”, and “encourage behavioural shift towards sustainable travel choices” by improving bus reliability and making cycling easier.

How will the law change?

The Government will give local authorities these powers under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. This part of the 2004 Act had not yet been brought into force, but now will be via a package of three statutory instruments (SIs).

A “General Provisions” SI will set out the level of fines that local authorities can issue for moving traffic offences, and the kinds of cameras that can be used to detect offences. Separate SIs set out the information that fixed penalty notices must include and how recipients can challenge them, and bring the relevant sections of the Traffic Management Act 2004 into force.

The package of SIs come into force on 31 May 2022. From this date onwards, local authorities will be able to apply to the Secretary of State requesting to be given enforcement powers by a Designation Order.

What kinds of fines might councils impose?

The levels of fines that can be imposed are specified in a schedule to the General Provisions SI. They range from £20 for lower level penalties paid promptly, up to £105 for late payment of higher level penalties (such as bus lane contraventions, or parking a vehicle on a cycle path).

The Government has said in this SI’s explanatory notes that it expects councils to issue warning notices for first-time offences, before issuing fines.

How can councils spend any money raised?

The Government has said that “traffic enforcement must be aimed at increasing compliance and not raising revenue. Local authorities will not have a free hand in how any resulting surplus is used, which will be strictly ring-fenced”.

Unlike funds raised from speed camera fines, which are transferred to central Government, surplus funds from moving traffic enforcement will be kept by the local authority. The General Provisions SI specifies that any such surplus must be used only for certain purposes:

  • to recoup costs of enforcement;
  • pay for public transport provision;
  • pay for highway improvement projects; or
  • pay for environmental improvements in the authority’s area.

What has been the reaction?

In 2020, the RAC expressed concern that councils might use the powers to raise revenue. A Freedom of Information request by the RAC in August 2020 found that local authorities in London and Cardiff (the only cities to already have such civil enforcement powers) generated almost £60 million from enforcement of these offences in 2018/19.

The RAC has urged local authorities to report annually on their receipts from moving traffic offences and to monitor “hot spots” where high numbers of penalties are issued, as this is “more than likely a clear indication of a problem with signage or road layout.”

In 2021, the move received a welcome response from the School Streets campaign because it will also allow councils to enforce traffic regulation orders outside schools using cameras, for the first time outside of London.

Where and when might councils start using the new powers?

Some councils, such as Kent County Council, have already signalled that they will apply for a Designation Order. The Government has said in a written question response that depending on initial uptake of the powers, it may be necessary to deliver Designation Orders in tranches.

It is currently unclear how many councils may apply, when specific councils may be given Designation Orders, and when they may start to use the new enforcement powers.

The Government has said that statutory guidance clarifying the use of the new powers will be published on the DfT website on 31 May 2022.

About the author: Dr Roger Tyers is a researcher specialising in transport policy at the House of Commons Library.

Photo by Rudy Issa on Unsplash

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