Drive-by littering

Someone throwing litter from a vehicle as they speed by is, for some people, the most irritating form of littering that they ever witness. There are various aspects that rankle – the contempt for one’s local environment shown by a driver cocooned in a vehicle; the rapid sequence of events in which a vehicle appears, the window is wound down, the offending article is chucked out, the window is wound up again and the vehicle and driver are gone; the sheer illogicality of discarding something which imposes minimum inconvenience in terms of keeping it in the vehicle and binning it at the destination; the fact that drivers often go to the trouble of knotting up whole plastic bags of rubbish – and then throwing them from their vehicle.

Well, vehicle litterers – we are now starting to fight back. Keep Britain Tidy this month launched a campaign aimed at highlighting this particular form of antisocial behaviour with the intention of mustering sufficient public support to bring about a change in the law.

It may surprise you to learn that it is well-nigh impossible to fine someone who litters from a vehicle. The law in this area does not allow a fine to be imposed simply on the driver of the vehicle as it may not have been the driver who committed the act of littering. Think of speeding offences – the driver is, of course, responsible for a speeding occurrence and the only argument in court is usually who was driving the car at the time. But think also of the law for wearing seat belts. In the case of someone in the car being spotted not wearing a seat belt, the police have the power to fine the driver – fair enough, as the driver should be in control not only of their vehicle but also of the passengers and so can ensure that they are all belted up.

So why can’t the driver be held responsible if someone litters from their vehicle while they are in the driving seat ? Search me.

In fact Keep Britain Tidy are campaigning for a hard-hitting approach to dealing with car litterers, including fining, community service and points on their licence. Their research shows that it is mainly such deterrents as these that will stop this behaviour. And when the Highways Agency reports that over 700,000 sacks of rubbish are removed from England’s roads and roadsides each year, you do feel that a stricter approach is required.

It is interesting that the most commonly-littered item from vehicles is cigarette ends. It is also amazing that many smokers still don’t see cigarette ends as constituting litter. I have heard of one or two successful campaigns on roads badly littered by cigarette butts where signs have been erected saying “This road is not an ashtray”. It seems that such signs have had some effect – I am a keen advocate of using a little humour now and then which does, I suggest, often get through to people more effectively than the constantly hectoring “Don’t litter !”. One of my favourite signs is on the outside of a pub in Devon and it says “When the road and the plant pots are full, please use the ashtray below”.

So there is now something that you can do when you see someone chuck litter from a car. Follow this link (vehicle littering petition) through to the Keep Britain Tidy website and sign yourself up on the petition to change the law. It may seem only a symbolic action, but if Keep Britain Tidy collect enough names, then they can at least go back to the government and show that it’s not just Keep Britain Tidy that is fed up with littered roads and verges. It’s the majority of us.

I should add that in other countries they are often able to go to greater lengths than this. The Don’t Mess with Texas campaign, for instance, allows you to report the number plate of a vehicle litterer who will then receive a letter enclosing a rubbish bag and explaining to the driver why littering from a vehicle is not a smart thing to do. We can’t yet do that in this country, but let’s hope that the time will come when we can.

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