/ Motoring

Taking a break at motorway services? Don’t stay too long!

Service station motorway car park

Been driving on the dull, grey motorway for hours? Then it’s a good idea to take a break. Thankfully, most motorway service stations let you park for up to two hours for free. But what happens if you want to stay longer?

Everyone agrees that driving when you’re over-tired is dangerous. So is it wrong to penalise those people who take a break for too long at motorway services?

Well, the Highways Agency is now proposing that drivers who overstay the mandatory two-hour free parking period should be allowed to pay for the extra time rather than incurring a fixed fine. Currently, these fines can be as high as £100.

However, a number of service stations already allow you to buy a third hour of parking. However, the present rate of £8 at a service station in the Hampshire town of Fleet seems pretty steep to me. It costs just 40p per hour to park close to the local Marks & Spencer, but if you outstay your welcome at the M3 services down the road, you’ll end up paying 20 times that amount.

Maybe the Highways Agency can convince the service stations to charge a more reasonable price. After all, if you pull off the motorway, there are numerous places to park up for free.

Destination: service station

Maybe more motorway services should take a leaf out of the award-winning Tebay service station’s book, and become a destination in their own right. The independent, family-run M6 stop in the Lake District serves up homemade food and has gift and clothing shops that all sell local wares. It provides such a contrast to other service stations, that I know of people who plan UK driving holidays around stops there.

Hoping for more services like Tebay may be wishful thinking, but to me, more affordable parking at current sites doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Have you ever been charged a high price for parking at a service station?


I am aware of the two hour limit and the large fine for overstaying.

What happens at present if someone has to overstay because they are waiting for a breakdown recovery company to turn up to attend to a problem with their car, or if they feel ill and not fit to continue their journey?

I agree with Claire that extended parking should be available at reasonable prices.


I wonder how many people voluntarily stay in a services for more than two hours. An hour is more than most people can stand. I suspect a primary reason for a time limit is to deter overnight sleeping: some continental service areas turn into makeshift campsites with trucks, campervans and caravans parked up for the night. UK service areas aren’t set up for this sort of use.

Jed Jackson says:
13 April 2018

If you’re tired nick, then you’re tired. Is it not better to rest wherever than end up killing yourself or even worse, another person?

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Please do not make any comments which could be seen as offensive. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]


A short repositioning drive round the car park might beat the system [unless they’re checking tyre inflation valve positions or have number plate recognition technology, perhaps].


Nice idea, John, though they could have cameras fitted at the car park entrance like my local Halfords, which automatically sends penalty notices out to the owners of all cars that stay in its car park for more than an hour. I found this out because my car has very difficult headlamp bulbs to change and it took them two hours to fit a new bulb.


I hope you sent the bill back to Halfords, on the basis that they caused you to overstay. It is disappointing that your Conversation on the cost of replacing bulbs did not attract more comments, but it can be a significant cost.

I reckon that John could do with James Bond-style rotating number plates to avoid or evade the additional parking charges.


When I use a motorway service station, I always feel obliged to buy something. Usually a coffee, sandwich, cold water and a book or a magazine. I know I can bring most of these from home, but I think it is only fair to spend some money there to assist them in maintaining a service. Although I’m not foolish enough to buy their cooked food. I would be prepared to pay if I overstayed the allowed time and agree that an hourly rate rather than a fine is the best and fairest option.


Aldi supermarket car parks limit parking time – time seems to vary from town to town, and they have numberplate recognition cameras. The operation isn’t run by Aldi, but by a contracted company.

I visited the Gillingham (Kent) store a few months ago which has a one-hour parking limit. A week later I received a fine notice – the store had been busy and it appears I stayed for 1 hour 4 minutes!
Fortunately I still had my receipt which I photocopied and sent to the parking contractor with a letter stating the circumstances. I was subsequently advised that the fine notice had been cancelled. The letter also stated that ‘in this instance’ the notice had been cancelled, but wouldn’t be if it happened again! I contacted Aldi suggesting their contractor’s attitude didn’t seem conducive to attracting customers……..there was no reply!

I recommend Aldi shoppers retain thie receipts for a few weeks in case they’re needed for evidence.

Some other contractors appear to be more aggressive. There is a small business park at Strood (Kent) that serves B&Q, Matalan, and a few more stores. Local press widely reported instances where some shoppers using the park also used the public conveniences situated across the road from the car park – either before or after using the shops. This was being noted by the parking contractors who promptly slapped fine notices on the cars because they were ‘using the car park illegally’…….the parking spaces were only for those using only the shops. Despite publicity the contractors remained unmoved, and also applied additional fines for people who didn’t pay up within a time limit.

Seems to be a need for control of ‘cowboy’ parking contractors. However, local authorities are often equally guilty of using car parking fines as a cash cow. Medway Council (Kent) is notorious, with mobile CCTV cars, issuing fines for ‘offences’ such as parking in a marked parking bay but overhanging the painted bay line, or laying parking ticket on dashboard where it can’t be seen unless leaning over the car bonnet. They’ve also slapped fines on district nurses attending patients and once, a fireman who had parked whilst answering an emergency call!
More recently, they approved ‘conversion’ of a long-established road in Chatham to a ‘bus station, from which cars are barred. Signage was, and remains appalling, and visitors’ sat navs take them through the road where (fixed) CCTV cameras prompt a £60 fine. High Court have confirmed council at fault but they remain unmoved…..it’s estimated the ‘bus station fines are generating over £½m revenue for the council.