Motor Industry News
All ports within GB will soon be equipped with technology to allow them to spot untaxed and unlicensed foreign drivers.
It only takes a few minutes for the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency team to set up their checkpoint. On a tripod at the roadside they erect an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera, then sit back and wait for the details of hundreds of passing cars to come in.
Until now, ANPR has largely been the preserve of the police, but two ports - Harwich and Portsmouth - have fitted it to capture the number plates of foreign cars and lorries entering Britain. Soon all ports will have it, and as a result, after years of relative impotence, the DVLA will finally be able to get a grip on the thousands of unlicensed foreign drivers using British roads without paying.
The law says that any foreign vehicle driven for more than six months in the UK has to be licensed and taxed here. So, compare the plates entering and leaving the ports with those on the cars being driven around six months later and it becomes much easier to find those breaking the law.
The DVLA's records are the main database by which motorists can be traced. We want to make sure if there is a road traffic collision we are able to trace that person and take action.
Unlicensed foreign drivers not on the database can effectively act with impunity on the roads. If you end up in an accident with an unregistered driver and try to exchange details, you could be given a false address and insurance company.
Last week, the DVLA threw all their resources into tracking down such motorists. Some 1,200 drivers were caught and either slapped with a warning sticker or clamped, 'lifted' and taken to the pound.
The vast majority - about 90% - paid up on the roadside. The DVLA believes this indicates that a significant proportion had no idea they had to register their cars in Britain.
The agency is desperate not to be seen to be targeting legitimate foreign drivers. Its director of enforcement, Dave Hancock, says: "We're not trying to target tourists. We're not trying to target business people in the country on legitimate business."
"We want to make sure if there is a road traffic collision we are able to trace that person and take action." But some of the vehicles seized have been described as 'death traps' by NCP Services - the company which enforces the law.
In one West London pound, a Lithuanian transit van had bits of its bumper hanging off and only one wing mirror.
We joined an ANPR team as it moved in on a car in Feltham, near Heathrow, which had already been spotted and clamped. Before it could be lifted, the Polish owner appeared from his nearby house, clutching sheaves of motoring documentation.
Tomasz Dudziak admitted he'd been driving the car on British roads for seven or eight months with no tax. But he denied he was untraceable as a driver.
Polish motorists, he explained, always had to have their documents with them and he had his. Nevertheless, the car was manoeuvred on to a flatbed lorry and driven off into the rush-hour traffic.
Mr Dudziak accepted its fate. He said later he had bought a new car and registered it here. He wasn't prepared to pay the £260 plus six months' motoring tax it would take to get his first car back.
The government and the DVLA might not want to be seen as coming down hard on legitimate foreign drivers, but this clampdown will be popular among those UK motorists who play diligently by the rules of the road.
Tom Symonds BBC transport correspondent