Want to avoid traffic enforcement on Britain’s roads? Drive a foreign car

The congestion charge is something else you can avoid with the right licence plate. Image: Getty.

We need parking and traffic regulations in our towns and cities to keep traffic moving – at least up to a point. Without the one-way streets, box junctions and double yellow lines, serious gridlock would become a frequent occurrence. Congestion charging is there for the same reason. And without effective enforcement, all these regulations are pretty pointless.

The UK has one of the most effective and streamlined enforcement mechanisms for parking restrictions – and, in London, this extends to minor moving traffic contraventions, such as one-way streets, box junctions, bus lanes and width and weight restrictions. These largely rely on penalty charge notice (PCNs) issue following a warden visit, or on CCTV enforcement; and it’s the car’s keeper, as listed with the DVLA, rather than the driver, who’s liable for any penalty.

But there’s a growing group of vehicles that are immune from this enforcement and bring the process into disrepute. These are foreign-registered vehicles (FRVs).

As much as 4 per cent of traffic in some areas is registered abroad – and a higher percentage of PCNs are issued to them. FRVs come in four flavours:

  • HGVs and commercial vehicles;
  • Tourists and other short stay visitors;
  • Europeans on extended but fixed-term residence in the UK;
  • UK residents who have bought an FRV in France or elsewhere in Europe.

HGVs and commercial vehicles should be the easiest group to manage as they are reasonably well controlled at the ports – but there is still difficulty in getting access to their owners. Short stay visitors are also less likely to offend (except when confused) and, probably, we want to be nice to our visitors.

Longer-term visitors present more of a problem. Where someone with an FRV stays in the UK for more than 6 months they are meant to get their car re-registered at DVLA – but this requirement is rarely enforced and people who are over here for a fixed stay of, for example, two years are understandably reluctant to pay for a British registration and then pay again to go back to their original. Meanwhile, those who buy an old banger in Calais with the intention of running it into the ground avoid tax, insurance and MOT inspections, as well as avoiding traffic and parking enforcement.

And while most short stay visitors behave well, some holidaymakers will know that they are hard to catch up with – and can happily ignore any enforcement unless a police officer is there.

The difficulty for the authorities is that it’s really hard to trace the keeper of an FRV. Gaining access to vehicle keeper information across the EU, in the case of law enforcement, sounds straightforward. After all, the US has had automated keeper information exchange between the 50 state-based motor vehicle bureaux for more than 30 years.

In Europe, however, this is not the case as the law is still almost entirely nationally based, and most member states still have traffic regulation law based on the presumption that all vehicles are registered within that country. Even within the UK, it is less than 10 years since automated vehicle keeper data transfer has been agreed between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, brought about by the transfer of responsibility for Northern Ireland vehicle registration to the DVLA.


For many years there have been mechanisms for the manual transfer of vehicle keeper data between many EU states. But these are slow and expensive to operate: you must write a letter to the other country and, in due course, postal services willing, they will reply. At the end of the last century some bilateral deals were agreed (eg Benelux, Netherlands-Germany, Germany-Austria) for some automated data transfer, but these remain few in number.

In the field of security, counter-terrorism and immigration, the Prüm Convention of 2005 provided, amongst other things, for automated vehicle keeper data transfer between member states. The UK opted out of this convention in 2014 but rejoined in 2016.

A further EU directive on Cross Border Enforcement for serious traffic offences was agreed in about 2010. This covers offences such as drink-drive and speeding, as well as bus lane infringements, and requires member states to exchange vehicle keeper data on an automated basis. This directive has been transposed into UK law. It is, though, questionable just how helpful this might be in the case of civil enforcement, as the directive makes reference to process through criminal courts. and these are no longer involved in civil enforcement cases in the UK.

The technical mechanism for transferring data between the various vehicle licensing authorities (VLAs) is known as EUCARIS. The UK was one of the initiators of this activity, and was an early signatory of the EUCARIS treaty at the end of the last century. However, the UK signed up to the vehicle keeper data exchange part of EUCARIS only in 2017, and only uses it to respond to queries from other member states. Policy means that the DVLA will not use EUCARIS to make enquiries for themselves.

The official reason for this is that most of the offences covered by the EUCARIS treaty are driver-liability in the UK; and while UK law, backed by a judgement in the European Court of Justice, includes legal compellability, whereby a vehicle keeper is obliged to reveal the name of the driver at the time of the offence, this does not extend into Europe via EUCARIS. In part, this decision was based on an analysis by the DfT in about 2010 which concluded that there were no net benefits for the UK in taking part in this regime.

But having decided they were unable to use EUCARIS for more serious offences, DVLA are unwilling to use it for more minor contraventions, even though this is within scope.

The policy decision has also been influenced by ministerial concerns, from all recent governments, about the political impact of significant cross-border vehicle keeper data transfer. Brexit is unlikely to make anything in this area any easier.

So, if you’re a driver and want to keep off the radar screen, drive a car with a foreign plate.

An apocryphal story has it that there was a large fleet of Latvian registered BMWs, Audis and Mercedes in East London, but nobody could work out if their Latvian number plates and tax discs were real or manufactured in someone’s workshop. All we know is that, so long as they were reasonably good, nobody in authority wanted to find out.

 
 
 
 

The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is rising

A man watches wildfires in California, 2013. Image: Getty.

In a warming world, the dangers from natural disasters are changing. In a recent commentary, we identified a number of costly and deadly catastrophes that point to an increase in the risk of “cascading” events – ones that intensify the impacts of natural hazards and turn them into disasters.

Multiple hazardous events are considered cascading when they act as a series of toppling dominoes, such as flooding and landslides that occur after rain over wildfires. Cascading events may begin in small areas but can intensify and spread to influence larger areas.

This rising risk means decision-makers, urban planners and risk analysts, civil engineers like us and other stakeholders need to invest more time and effort in tracking connections between natural hazards, including hurricanes, wildfires, extreme rainfall, snowmelt, debris flow, and drought, under a changing climate.

Cascading disasters

Since 1980 to January 2018, natural disasters caused an inflation-adjusted $1,537.4bn in damages in the United States.

The loss of life in that period – nearly 10,000 deaths – has been mounting as well. The United States has seen more billion-dollar natural disaster events recently than ever before, with climate models projecting an increase in intensity and frequency of these events in the future. In 2017 alone, natural disasters resulted in $306bn losses, setting the costliest disaster year on record.

We decided it was important to better understand cascading and compound disasters because the impacts of climate change can often lead to coupled events instead of isolated ones. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, or UNISDR, claims: “Any disaster entails a potentially compounding process, whereby one event precipitates another.”

For example, deforestation and flooding often occur together. When vegetation is removed, top soil washes away and the earth is incapable of absorbing rainfall. The 2004 Haiti flood that killed more than 800 people and left many missing is an example of this type of cascading event. The citizens of the poverty-stricken country destroyed more than 98 per cent of its forests to provide charcoal for cooking. When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit, there was no way for the soil to absorb the rainfall. To further complicate existing issues, trees excrete water vapor into the air, and so a sparser tree cover often yields less rain. As a result, the water table may drop, making farming, which is the backbone of Haiti’s economy, more challenging.


Rising risk from climate change

Coupled weather events are becoming more common and severe as the earth warms. Droughts and heatwaves are a coupled result of global warming. As droughts lead to dry soils, the surface warms since the sun’s heat cannot be released as evaporation. In the United States, week-long heatwaves that occur simultaneously with periods of drought are twice as likely to happen now as in the 1970s.

Also, the severity of these cascading weather events worsens in a warming world. Drought-stricken areas become more vulnerable to wildfires. And snow and ice are melting earlier, which is altering the timing of runoff. This has a direct relationship with the fact that the fire season across the globe has extended by 20 per cent since the 1980s. Earlier snowmelt increases the chance of low flows in the dry season and can make forests and vegetation more vulnerable to fires.

These links spread further as wildfires occur at elevations never imagined before. As fires destroy the forest canopy on high mountain ranges, the way snow accumulates is altered. Snow melts faster since soot deposited on the snow absorbs heat. Similarly, as drought dust is released, snow melts at a higher rate as has been seen in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Fluctuations in temperature and other climatic patterns can harm or challenge the already crumbling infrastructure in the United States: the average age of the nation’s dams and levees is over 50 years. The deisgn of these aging systems did not account for the effects of cascading events and changes in the patterns of extreme events due to climate change. What might normally be a minor event can become a major cause for concern such as when an unexpected amount of melt water triggers debris flows over burned land.

There are several other examples of cascading disasters. In July, a deadly wildfire raged through Athens killing 99 people. During the same month on the other side of the world in Mendocino, California, more than 1,800 square kilometers were scorched. For scale, this area is larger than the entire city of Los Angeles.

When landscapes are charred during wildfires, they become more vulnerable to landslides and flooding. In January of this year, a debris flow event in Montecito, California killed 21 people and injured more than 160. Just one month before the landslide, the soil on the town’s steep slopes were destabilised in a wildfire. After a storm brought torrential downpours, a 5-meter high wave of mud, tree branches and boulders swept down the slopes and into people’s homes.

Hurricanes also can trigger cascading hazards over large areas. For example, significant damages to trees and loss of vegetation due to a hurricane increase the chance of landslides and flooding, as reported in Japan in 2004.

Future steps

Most research and practical risk studies focus on estimating the likelihood of different individual extreme events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. It is often difficult to describe the risk of interconnected events especially when the events are not physically dependent. For example, two physically independent events, such as wildfire and next season’s rainfall, are related only by how fire later raises the chances of landslide and flooding.

As civil engineers, we see a need to be able to better understand the overall severity of these cascading disasters and their impacts on communities and the built environment. The need is more pronounced considering the fact that much of the nation’s critical infrastructure is aged and currently operate under rather marginal conditions.

A first step in solving the problem is gaining a better understanding of how severe these cascading events can be and the relationship each occurrence has with one another. We also need reliable methods for risk assessment. And a universal framework for addressing cascading disasters still needs to be developed.

A global system that can predict the interactions between natural and built environments could save millions of lives and billions of dollars. Most importantly, community outreach and public education must be prioritised, to raise awareness of the potential risks cascading hazards can cause.

The Conversation

Farshid Vahedifard, CEE Advisory Board Endowed Professor and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mississippi State University and Amir AghaKouchak, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.