The feeling of helplessness when trapped in one as the traffic in front grinds to a halt and you sit there in ‘no-man’s land’ is an experience we all dread. And that is then followed by the anxious wait to see if your error of judgement has resulted in a penalty charge.
If you happen to live in London you may have already received such a letter in the post (followed by much cursing), as the councils there have authority over them. But proposals are now in place for councils in other parts of the country to do the same, taking over from the police who currently run the rule over them.
And when you look at the kind of numbers these boxes generate in fines, it’s easy to see why cash-strapped councils want a slice of the pie. A single box junction in Fulham, west London, has earned Hammersmith & Fulham council £2.4m in Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) fines in 18 months. Other high earning councils in 2016 include Waltham Forest (£1.7m), Kingston (£447, 892) and Hounslow (£435,116).
Edmund King, the president of the AA, says the problem is that once local authorities gain the power and the cash starts rolling in, they become addicted. ‘They begin to depend on the income and even if flaws in their traffic management are revealed they have no desire to change it as the money will dry up’. But accusations that they’re merely ‘cash cows’ has been refuted by Transport for London, saying enforcement is used appropriately.
Richard Hayes from the Institute of Highway Engineers looks at it from a different perspective. He says ‘something is definitely wrong when there is a large number of infringements. The situation isn’t the box junction itself, but the traffic flow ahead which is causing the problem’. This is an interesting take on the debate and throws up the question of how much forward thinking is applied to the location of these box junctions. It can sometimes seem impossible to not drive into one without holding up traffic behind you.
So, what’s the answer? Failing avoiding them altogether (unlikely), try your best not to get stuck in one and don’t pay attention to other drivers beeping at you to move forwards. After all, they won’t pay the fine for you should you receive one. The Highway codes permits you to enter the box if you’re turning right and are waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. If you are unfortunate enough to be fined, check the notice properly to make sure they have your details correct. If not, you have the grounds to appeal.