COUNCIL chiefs have defended the use of a controversial camera car to highlight inconsiderate drivers.
Hartlepool Borough Council is one of 58 local authorites across the country which uses a hi-tech car fitted with cameras to capture drivers illegally parked or flouting road laws.
The £40,000 vehicle was introduced in Hartlepool in 2011, with council bosses insisting it would help to improve road safety, especially around schools where drivers often park illegally on the school run and cause congestion.
In Hartlepool, 3,420 fines were issued costing drivers a total of £82,614 from 2011 when the car was introduced, to May last year.
Council bosses say that money is all invested back into maintaining road safety.
A council spokesman said: “We have operated the camera car since May 2011. It is used to track illegal parking, mainly outside schools, within bus stops and on pedestrian crossings. It has proved very successful in helping to maintain road safety.”
Last year, Tory communities minister Eric Pickles called for the cars to be scrapped after describing them as “over-zealous”, and now national campaign group Big Brother Watch has called for the Government to clampdown on councils “cashing in” after revealing that £312m was raked in by local authorities through on-the-spot fines from March 2008 to March 2013.
The majority of fines are £70, although they can be reduced through early payments and motorists also have the right to appeal.
Across the country, there are 105 council cars fitted with CCTV on the road.
Emma Carr, deputy director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “The Government rightly wants to reign in this unjustified surveillance, so councils are turning to desperate arguments about public safety to justify their cameras, despite having absolutely no evidence to back up their claims.
“The use of CCTV and spy cars for parking enforcement should be banned. The Government should urgently investigate whether or not the use of cameras to snoop on motorists breaches surveillance laws, particularly where a traffic warden sits in a control room looking for motorists to ticket.”
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright previously said he backed anything which would help improve road safety, although he urged caution on councils becoming reliant on money raised through fines.
He said: “I understand there’s enormous pressure on councils, but we must make sure camera cars are not used just to generate money and become cash cows.”