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Parking fine whines

Parking notices are frequently named by drivers as a serious irritation.
Misreading a parking sign can lead to a hefty fine, particularly if the penalty notice is also unclear. Plain English Campaign feel it is time to apply plain English to everything connected with parking to make life easier and less costly for all involved.

Councils have to invest in managing parking to please businesses, residents and drivers. Due to the number of emails we have received, there is no doubt that parking is a sensitive subject for drivers.

Whether it’s the signs, the lines, or the fines – parking creates nothing but whines.
Traffic wardens have to cope first hand with the negative response to their attempts at managing the growing number of vehicles on our roads. Meanwhile, drivers struggle with the looming threat of a parking fine.

Richmond Borough Council has tried to tackle the problem by introducing a ‘humane parking’ scheme, which in reality is little more than an attempt to introduce a ‘reasonable parking’ scheme. Sadly, the name itself left many drivers puzzled by the use of such language.

Because many councils’ penalty notices are written with a legal tone, this clouds important information.
Abbreviations, small print and unnecessary jargon should be avoided to make sure that accurate information is given within the often limited space available on signs or fine notices.

Using plain English in public information gives the writer and the reader the best chance of clearly conveying and understanding that information, and prevents misunderstanding, misinformation or confusion.

Below is a typical example of poor wording that could be improved with our plain English edit. The original wording comes from Hull City council.

Original wording

Colour: Green
Tax disc: 00000 00000 00000
Expiry: 31/01/2011

Observed from 08:51 to 08:57

A penalty charge of £70 is now payable and must be paid not later than the last day of the period of 28 days beginning with the date on which this PCN was served (i.e. 22/09/2010)

The penalty charge will be reduced by a discount of 50% if it is paid not later than the last day of the period of 14 days beginning with the date on which this PCN was served (i.e. 08/09/2010)


How to pay
How to appeal this PCN
What happens if no payment is made

Plain English edit

Vehicle colour: Green
Number on tax disc: 0000 0000 0000
Date disc expires: 31/01/2111

The traffic warden saw your vehicle was parked illegally from 8:51am to 8:57am.

You must now pay a penalty charge of £70 within 28 days, beginning with the date on which we served this notice (in other words, by 22 September 2010).

We will reduce the penalty charge to £35 if you pay it within 14 days (in other words, by 8 September 2010).

Do not pay the traffic warden.

See the back for:

  • how to pay;
  • how to appeal against this notice; and
  • what happens if you do not pay.

And as a final point of confusion, a nomination for one of our annual Golden Bulls comes from a driver trying to pay a parking penalty online on Chiltern District Council’s website. The bold type states:

Pay Parking Penalty Charges
There will be no charge for a debit card payment but if you pay by credit card there will be a charge of 1.6%. Please note that there is no credit card charge when paying a parking penalty.

Plain English Campaign may not be able to clear the roads of parking restrictions, but we hope clear words will ease appeals against parking fines.

The Irish News noted the following parking sign

New city parking meters make pulling into a space ‘an event’

Next time you park your car don’t simply turn off the engine and get out. At the very least toot your horn to celebrate the ‘event’ that has just taken place. Information on parking meters in Belfast, pictured, has been changed so that any driver wishing to buy a ticket must now indicate when their ‘parking event’ will begin. The Plain English Campaign last night said the description was a contender for its annual awards highlighting terrible examples of English, including the Golden Bull and Foot In Mouth categories. A spokeswoman said the group was being contacted by increasing numbers of motorists baffled by instructions akin to academic papers. The meters are the responsibility of Roads Service which is an agency of the Department for Regional Development, and the campaign spokeswoman said she would “be happy to write to them and ask for a definition of a ‘parking event’. In its defence, the department said a contractor was responsible for the wording.

From The Irish News, Saturday February 5 2011

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