Motorists are likely to suffer unfair penalties in yellow box junctions according to a new report by the RAC.

Two years ago, the Government announced  that it would allow councils outside London to enforce moving traffic offences, rather than the police.

However, the new research has identified problems with nine-in-10 yellow box junctions that could leave drivers at risk of being unfairly fined.

Amber warning

Some 27 local authorities have put forward proposals to enforce 111 yellow box junctions outside London and Cardiff.

The RAC commissioned chartered engineer Sam Wright, previously responsible for the design and approval of yellow boxes with Transport for London, to review the applications. His report concludes that 90% of the boxes could lead to unjustified penalties against motorists.

What’s more, over half of the box junctions (61 = 55%) directly contravene the current government guidance, sometimes on multiple counts. The junction breaches include:

  • 40 that pose visibility issues for drivers
  • 16 that are on the side of the road opposite T-junctions which the Department for Transport (DfT) states serves ‘no useful purpose’
  • 18 that extend beyond junctions such that they may be considered non-complaint with the regulations
  • 9 that are in non-permitted locations according to the regulations

Signalling ahead

Last year the RAC asked Sam Wright, who runs the website Yellow Box Guru, to write a report on best practice for enforcing box junctions. It highlighted gaps in the DfT’s guidance and a general lack of knowledge and understanding.

The purpose of yellow boxes is to prevent the blocking of ‘cross’ or ‘through’ traffic movements. If a box, or part of a box, does not protect a cross movement, it serves no purpose and any fine issued there is unnecessary.

Two of the biggest issues with many of the yellow box junctions that councils are looking to enforce relate to visibility and size. This is something that’s covered by the official guidance and has been reiterated by the previous Chief Adjudicator of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

Drivers need clear visibility of the box, and where it ends, in order to comply with their duty to only enter it if their exit is clear.  If visibility is unclear, then fines are unfair.

Stuck in the middle

Many of the boxes proposed do not conform with this basic requirement. Visibility is blocked, boxes are too large for drivers to see where they end, or they simply do not cover cross movements.

The report’s findings show 90 (81%) of the boxes Local Authorities have applied to enforceare unnecessarily large. A further 40 boxes (36%) have visibility issues. In some cases, drivers can’t even see there is a box present because of faded road markings, let alone where it ends.

Sam Wright states: “Visibility issues are connected to the road layout, topography, buildings, box length, street furniture, trees, or a combination of these. While many boxes are barely visible at the moment due to a lack of maintenance, I chose to ignore this on the assumption that lines will be refreshed prior to enforcement. Crucially, I haven’t seen a single proposal that reviews the visibility of the box from a driver’s point of view. If you also factor in bad weather, poor light and other vehicles, then the poor visibility situation is exacerbated. This is all very concerning, especially as enforcement is carried out via cameras high in the air.”

Crossing the lines

The RAC review also found councils are planning to enforce 16 boxes at the far side of T-junctions. However,  this goes against the DfT guidance which states: ‘A half‐box on the side of the road opposite a T‐junction generally serves no useful purpose’.

There are also 18 boxes that extend beyond junctions such that they may be considered non-compliant with the regulations, based on previous rulings by adjudicators in London.

These therefore serve no practical purpose.  Whether or not they are a breach of the regulations is not so clear because the DfT does not specify exactly where junctions start and end.

Nine junctions proposed for enforcement are in locations that are not stipulated in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (2016). These include boxes at roundabouts and gyratories without traffic lights and outside a private car park.

Faded marking

Sam Wright added: “Many of the boxes have been around for years, perhaps decades. It appears that many authorities have simply assumed that the boxes already on the ground are suitable for enforcement without carrying out a fresh assessment as is recommended in government guidance.

Wright believes the DfT needs to stipulate clearly that “authorities should undertake comprehensive audits of boxes prior to enforcement”. Alongside this a full consultation needs to be undertaken for the all the junctions “to ensure transparency and fairness in enforcement”.

Poor planning

Simon Williams, RAC roads spokesperson, believes the government has failed to provide adequate guidance. The move to relieve the police of these minor traffic enforcements has been ill-planned and seemingly rushed through with out proper planning.

“Many drivers end up stopped or trapped in these junctions through no fault of their own. It is not only imperative, but a moral duty to ensure that fines are fair, justified and that the appeals’ process is consistent across the country.

“In some cases, we believe enforcement may end up actually increasing congestion as a result of drivers hesitating before moving on for fear of being fined. This is the exact opposite of the justification for enforcement being undertaken.

“We urge the Government to carry out an urgent review of its yellow box junction guidance and clarify what is and isn’t enforceable. It’s vital that size and visibility issues are resolved once and for all.

“Councils should then be ordered to carry out audits of all the junctions they propose to enforce”.