New armies of control officers are on patrol with the help of cars fitted with LAPI automatic numberplate recognition to flag up offenders.
Many towns now ask drivers to enter their car registration number when they park. If a LAPI car passes and finds no number in the system it means no parking ticket was paid for... and the resulting photo is sent to the municipal police for checking before a penalty notice is sent out.
The cars have sparked a wave of discontent with residents in Le Mans complaining about one car, nicknamed the voiture à verbaliser (parking ticket car), that is said to be picking up too many offenders who face fines of up to €135.
In Marseille, residents were shocked to lose the ‘traditional’ leeway and when the LAPI car went by fines were issued for offences at 9.01 in the morning, just a minute after parking fees start.
Saône-et-Loire company Sags is responsible for controlling 69,000 parking places in about 90 towns. It runs two LAPI cars in Marseille that can scan 450,000 cars a month and city officials say they are achieving their aim of freeing up scarce parking spaces.
However, one person who will not be fined is five-year-old Alexandre, the registered owner of a car in Annonay, Ardèche. He was being chased for outstanding parking tickets but his parents appealed to the Cour de Cassation where he won as he is too young to understand the offence. It follows several cases of families registering cars in children’s names to avoid licence penalty points – the practice has now been banned.