Fined without a traffic warden
So what are the new techniques, and how can drivers protect themselves?
Cheeky parking in town centres was always a dangerous business. Popping in for a pint of milk could easily cost you the best part of £100 if an eagle-eyed warden zipped to the scene of the crime fast enough on his moped. Meanwhile, many felt they were probably safe bending the rules in a private car park late on a Sunday in the middle of nowhere.
New technologyHowever, new technology means drivers can be caught out anywhere - at any time.
A report in the Daily Mail reveals figures from the DVLA that show the number of automatic fines issued by private companies has risen 329% in the last four years - to over 1.1 million a year. It calculates that with an average fine of £80, that costs drivers an astonishing £93 million.
These aren't the parking infringements spotted by a warden, but those picked up by cameras, which you won't find out about until you get a fine in the post.
The technology works by picking up your car registration using automatic number plate recognition (or ANPL), it will then be checked against records of car registrations entered into a parking payment machine, to identify those it thinks have parked but not paid. It also picks up those that overstay the time they have paid for. The firm then pays DVLA £2.50, and gets hold of your postal address so they can send you details of your fine.
Call for legislationThe rise was identified by Nick Smith, the Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, who had received a number of complaints from constituents about a local car park. They had been bamboozled by rules and a machine that required their full car registration number (which differed from others in the area). It led him to approach the DVLA to see whether the problem was widespread. He is now calling for a parliamentary debate, and for legislation of private parking firms.
What can you do?If you have knowingly parked illegally, you'll be unsurprised to learn that the fine will be due. At the moment, if a fine is sent to the registered keeper, and they say they do not know who was driving at the time, there is nothing the parking firm can do within the law to force them to pay, although they can make life very uncomfortable for them.
If you think there has been a mistake, the appeals process will depend on the firm in question.
A spokesman from the AA told AOL that in some ways things will get more draconian with the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill going through parliament. This will force the registered keeper to pay the fine, whoever was driving.
However, he adds: "Before they have the right to send a fine to the registered keeper the parking company will need to have an appeals process in place. The AA is working with the industry to have a truly independent and fair disputes process, which will be a step forwards." He also expects firms to bring in clear checking procedures to avoid mistakes being made.
He added: "In general we are not happy with the fact that private companies are not legislated. However, the government would prefer to rely on a code of practice, and we don't see that changing soon."