England

The rise of the parking vigilantes

angry woman finding herself blocked in Image copyright BBC/Laurence Cawley
Image caption Bad parking can send anger levels soaring

At the school gate, supermarket car park or out on the high street, bad parking can be found everywhere. But why are some outraged individuals taking to the internet to shame drivers?

For even the most placid of motorists, it's a subject capable of sending anger levels soaring. Seeing a vehicle straddling two spaces or a van blocking an entrance is almost guaranteed to leave road users exasperated.

But some drivers have become so frustrated at what they see as inaction from the authorities they have decided to take matters into their own hands - and are taking their cameras out on to the streets.

A succession of websites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have sprung up seeking to expose the worst parking examples, and they have quickly gained big followings.

Stuart, from Lowestoft in Suffolk, recently started the Facebook page Park it Right Lowestoft and its success has even gained praise from his local council.

He, like many site owners, remains anonymous for fear of repercussions from angry drivers.

Image copyright Stuart
Image caption Some parking has left roads users so angry they are taking out their frustrations online
Image copyright Stuart
Image caption Is parking on a double yellow line ever acceptable?
Image copyright Stuart
Image caption Is parking on the kerb essential or selfish?

"There's never any parking wardens around and the whole of Lowestoft seems to be getting worse," he said.

"Some of my friends and family think I shouldn't be bothering, but some of the parking is just dangerous and selfish and it's annoying."

Andrew and Tony, who run a similarly successful page Parking like an idiot in Devon, said they began collating poor parking photos after getting fed-up of "horrific, dangerous and illegal parking" around Exeter.

"Shaming drivers online has become so popular because of the ease of being able to snap a photo quickly and upload to social media sites," he said.

"I think in most cases the driver is to blame. However, there are cases where we sympathise with drivers.

"People who send us pictures have said to us they have been verbally abused when taking photos.

"I don't believe sending photos to the council will achieve anything as they are far too busy to deal with the parking side of things."

Whose car is that?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption How can you work out who owns a vehicle?

Even though pictures are being posted online complete with number plates, it is unlikely many people will recognise who owns the vehicle.

The DVLA says you can only request the details of a vehicle's registered keeper and other information if you have a "reasonable cause".

These causes can include:

•Finding out who was responsible for an accident

•Tracing the owner of an abandoned vehicle

•Issuing parking tickets

•Tracing people responsible for driving off without paying for goods and services

•Tracing vehicle owners suspected of insurance fraud

But when the photos are uploaded, do the anonymous posters realise the repercussions they can cause?

Eddie Harvey, who runs a vehicle movement firm in Lowestoft, said he came home one night when his wife said, "Go on to Facebook, you're famous".

"My van was on the main page [of Park it Right Lowestoft] parked on the verge with my name and mobile number on and everything," he said.

Image copyright Eddie Harvey
Image caption Eddie Harvey says the online shaming has cost him trade

"About three weeks ago I started noticing marks on the vehicle that weren't there before. Then I had three calls to pick up a car and the jobs were non-existent.

"I then went to a job and he said he couldn't use me anymore because he can't be involved with bad publicity."

Mr Harvey said he contacted site owner Stuart, who subsequently took the photo down, but it has already caused such problems he is having to pay for a new van.

"It's disastrous and I'm just gutted. It wasn't causing an obstruction - the neighbours were happy with it being parked there. I'm suffering financially.

"Some people do park ridiculously and it's amusing when you see it online, but when you post pictures with people's number plates on and other details it makes it personal."

So at a time when the handbrake has been put on council and police force spending, how can the authorities enforce considerate parking without the costs, and online shaming of drivers, spinning out of control?

One solution is CCTV vans patrolling the streets, but the government has accused councils of cashing-in and it is now looking to limit their use to high traffic routes and roads outside schools.

In Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, households on two streets have been issued two cones each by the council to deter motorists from parking outside during the school run.

Ian Taylor, a director at the Alliance of British Drivers, said parking "vigilantes" were not the answer.

Image caption A resident living near Redwell School in Wellingborough puts out cones to prevent "inconsiderate" parking

He said education in considerate parking, councils lowering car park charges and reviewing the many "irrelevant" yellow lines on our streets would stop the temptation to park illegally.

Peter Miller, from Ipswich, a transport academic who writes for the blog Pedestrian Liberation, said he felt anti-social parking was getting worse but he believed the endless posting of pictures online would not solve the problem.

"I think in 20 years it will go away and we'll get our cities back," he said, citing efforts in Helsinki in Finland to make car ownership pointless by making transport options so cheap and convenient it nullifies the need for a private vehicle.

"Photos are better than nothing and some pictures are appalling, but nothing will change while policy-makers continue to support the motorist and have a transport system based around the private car.

"Information technology is the answer and hopefully we'll move from an industrial to a smart transport system and the private car will no longer become the status symbol."

However, he feels the parking debate could rage on for some time.

"With the number of cars on the road still rising, in the short term the problem is only going to get worse."

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