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RAC study finds 98% of yellow box junctions are oversized leading to unfair fines

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

A comprehensive analysis undertaken on behalf of the RAC has revealed a startling inefficiency in the design of yellow box junctions across London and Cardiff, calling into question the fairness of countless fines issued to drivers.

The study, conducted by Sam Wright, a chartered engineer with a background in yellow box design for Transport for London and founder of the Yellow Box Guru website, scrutinised 100 junctions notorious for generating fines in 2019. Astonishingly, it found that 98% of these junctions are excessively large, with the average box being half as big again as it needs to be to fulfill its purpose of preventing traffic blockages.

The findings raise significant concerns about the rationale behind the current size of the majority of yellow box junctions, suggesting that over half could be simplified to "keep clear" markings, thus reducing the risk of incurring Penalty Charge Notices for drivers. The report criticised the ambiguous guidance provided to councils on the enforcement of yellow box regulations, highlighting a lack of consistency and the potential for unjust fines.

The oversized nature of many yellow box junctions not only contradicts the primary aim of facilitating smoother traffic flow but also presents a navigational hazard. According to Highway Code Rule 174, drivers should only enter a box when their exit is clear, a task made considerably more difficult if the end of the box is not visible. Although some drivers have successfully contested fines based on this premise, the study notes that these cases have not led to any significant reform in enforcement practices.

The RAC and Wright are now urging the Government to update its advice to local councils, clarifying the intended use of yellow box junctions and ensuring they are appropriately sized and located. This call to action is underpinned by evidence from the study that a significant number of junctions fail to comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations 2016, either by extending beyond a junction, being situated in non-permitted areas, or covering inappropriate parts of a junction.

This research shines a light on the need for a more rational approach to traffic management and the enforcement of yellow box junctions, suggesting that many drivers could be unfairly penalised under the current system. With updated guidelines, there is an opportunity to improve traffic flow, reduce unnecessary fines, and restore driver confidence in the fairness of road regulations.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “With more and more councils starting to enforce yellow box junctions, it is absolutely vital that they are designed first and foremost with aiding traffic flow and that they don’t exist simply to raise revenue from drivers.

“Unfortunately, any box that is bigger than needed – whether that’s due to an oversight on the council’s part or because it was painted on the road many years ago and hasn’t been reviewed – risks drivers being fined unnecessarily when their actions haven’t contributed to congestion.

“What’s more, if a driver can’t clearly see where a box ends but they know there’s a chance of getting fined if they stop in one, they’re more likely to hesitate – meaning traffic could start backing up, which is the polar opposite of what yellow boxes are intended to do.

“It’s therefore all the more frustrating to see that almost all of the 100 yellow boxes examined for this study are larger than they need to be. We fear that unnecessary penalties are going to mushroom in the coming years as more councils start enforcing yellow boxes, unless a responsible approach to the design and enforcement of them is taken.

“That’s why we need the Government to urgently issue fresh guidance to local authorities – something we have been calling for for two years now.”

Sam Wright added: “Making sure yellow boxes are the correct size is extremely important when you consider that even a car bumper overhanging part of a box can result in a driver being fined to the tune of up to £160 depending on where they are in the country. Yet in so many cases, drivers can’t avoid stopping in them – a good example being where a yellow box is so big that a driver can’t see where it ends. Throw in some bad weather that reduces visibility, and the potential for unnecessary fines increases still further.

“The Government has stated that ‘poorly designed schemes can undermine enforcement overall and give rise to public perception of revenue raising.’ But it needs to go further and be crystal clear with local authorities about what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to the design of yellow box junctions. The current official design guidance is woefully inadequate and needs to be updated.”


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