The RAC is urging the roll out of smart bus lanes on city streets that operate similarly to smart motorways to help drivers avoid being caught out with fines for accidental misuse.
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The RAC has published new figures showing that drivers in the UK’s 20 largest cities receive more than one million penalty charge notices for driving in bus lanes every year. This is thought to cost drivers approximately £68M annually.
The statistics – which come from freedom of information requests made to London councils and city authorities outside the capital – also reveal a 5% rise in the number of fines issued between 2015 and 2017.
But the RAC expressed concern that many drivers are being punished for accidental misuse, due to confusing or inadequate signage. “On city centre streets with a lot of signage ‘clutter’ it can be very easy to miss the specific times of operation,” said RAC spokesman Simon Williams.
He called for more to be done to make it obvious to drivers when they can and cannot travel in a bus lane, urging a review of national signage guidelines and the introduction of ‘smart bus lanes’. “The sheer quantity of fines – more than a million every year – suggests something is awry and we don’t believe the vast majority are knowingly breaking the rules,” he said.
“Stretches of smart motorway use roadside variable message signs to indicate which lanes are open and closed. We believe towns and cities should now consider introducing ‘smart bus lanes’ that use similar signage so drivers clearly know when they are permitted to use bus lanes.” This would also help to ensure the best use of available road space at times when bus lanes can be used by all vehicles, he added.
Commenting on the proposal, London Councils director of transport and mobility Spencer Palmer FCIHT said: “Such innovations may well have a future role, particularly where controls are truly variable. However, I would exercise some caution, as these signs do come with downsides such as their impact on the street scene, dependency on power and additional installation and maintenance costs.”
On the suggestion for a national review of bus lane signage, he added: “I would be interested to see any evidence that the RAC or others can share about why road users are breaking the rules.
“I suspect there is a combination of factors; there is likely to be scope to improve signing at some specific locations but raising awareness and understanding of the existing signs among drivers might have wider benefits.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Councils make no apologies for enforcing the law to ensure the smooth running of bus services.
“Bus lane enforcement can boost punctuality, thereby helping to make public transport a more attractive mode of travel, keeping the rest of the road flowing more freely for those who have to use cars.
“If any motorist believes they have been fined unfairly, then they have the right to appeal against it. The fact that over 99% of bus lanes fines are not appealed clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of people who are ticketed accept that they have broken the rules.”
Of the respondents to the RAC’s freedom of information requests, Manchester City Council issued the most penalty charge notices between 2015 and 2017, with 352,688 sent in total. Glasgow was not far behind, followed by Cardiff, Bradford and Nottingham rounding out the top five.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Nash and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence