/ 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.

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?

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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].

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.

J P Hamilton says:
15 June 2013

If there was no control over parking the situation would become chaotic. Unfortunately some that own or work in the parking management business tend to be of a certain type and is why Government did at last tighten up on things like wheel clamping.

I believe we have to control parking however, there should be much stricter rules on how these parking companies and councils are allowed to operate and impose their fines.

Any new legislation would need to apply across the whole of the UK.

Now I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong but a parking ticket issued at a motorway service station for an overstay in their car park is simply an invoice. Not legally enforceable without the issuer taking the offender through the courts.
My daughter received such an “invoice” following a breakdown situation. After some research this invoice was simply ignored, even after a reminder, and nothing has happened over a year later. Possibly because there’s little profit if they have to take everyone to court. After all making cash is what it’s all about and they won’t win them all. Plenty of people don’t contest this injustice and just stump up the cash so they just don’t bother if you ignore them, it’s cheaper.

We considered it unfair to penalise someone for a breakdown and unfair that motorway stations should charge for anything you buy there at inflated prices whilst still seeking to cash in on “parking infringements”, especially as the car parks are rarely more than half full.

We intended to fight the case but were not disappointed that it all went quiet.

Food for thought perhaps?

I believe that one of the conditions of operating a motorway service station is that visitors must be offered two hours free parking, toilet facilities, etc.

Commonsense suggests that the conditions should be updated to make provision for extended stops in the case of breakdown or illness. As we have seen, even those with breakdown cover may exceed the time allowed. Many motorists do not have breakdown cover.

Obviously motorists could abuse an exemption on the basis of breakdown or illness, so perhaps the service station operator needs to have a system to check that the problem is genuine and the driver may need to demonstrate that they have made reasonable efforts to remove their vehicle as soon as possible.

It is encouraging that Chris’s daughter was not pursued. If I received an invoice I would respond giving an account of the reason for overstaying and providing what evidence was available. If that did not work I would be tempted to take legal action.

One thing that concerns me is that drivers who are aware of a problem with their vehicle might be tempted to set off in the hope that they are able to get off the motorway and avoid a fine.

As Chris Gloucester said any ‘Parking Fine’ from a motorway service station or supermarket etc is just an INVOICE. It is not a criminally enforceable thing.

Just ignore it. DO NOT REPSOND to it.

If they want your money they will have to take you to a Civil Court and there they can only sue you for their losses which in a parking dispute will be minimal and difficult to prove.

D Mil says:
18 October 2015

Don’t ignore any more. The law changed. You need to defend these now.

m dalmo says:
4 November 2014

Shame on you Britain, shame on all of you parking cowboys. Bad enough you councils do not even allow us to park outside our houses without the purchase of a parking permit (usualy at an extortionate price) Now even service stations on motorways which you constantly advertise (TAKE A BREAK TIREDNESS CAN KILL) Yes you pompous councilors get off your butts and put an end to this madness because scraping bodies from twisted metal is not fun and inevitably costs you ‘Sorry us’ more money in emergency services, helicopters, 20 mile traffic jams, millions of pounds in wasted fuel and not to mention millions in lost business because we could not make our appointment. HELLO, WAKE UP BRITAIN !!

How often do you need too stay more than two hours at a motorway services?

The point of this story is regarding truck drivers who are mandated into taking rest breaks after a number of hours on the road. They cannot cut these breaks down to suit the 2 hour free parking times, their tachographs would register they were illegally driving their trucks. The government needs to provide proper trucker rest points with food and showers etc, at reasonable rates.

David Brookes says:
18 July 2015

Taking gov. advice to take a rest from driving if feeling tired I pulled in to fleet services, parked and went to sleep. Woke six hours later and continued journey. Have now to pay a £100 fine. Moral of the story….. Do not sleep for more than two hours, always take an alarm clock in the car, taking goverment advice can end up expensive.

I recently had to pay a similar fine. I needed a nap, and ended up 55 minutes over. For that, I received a fine of £100. It seems to me that the gov are encouraging this extortion through the constant reminders along the motorway to take a break.At least when driving in mainland europe there was no problems of this sort. Austria is one of the best european countries in my opinion for motorists. They have designated rest stops along the motorways for car drivers – plenty of parking spaces, a decent selection of coffee from machines that only cost a euro, wc’s, plug sockets, seating, and water pumps. It would be nice if the motorists of this country were treated with more consideration instead of a means to further exploit.

Hi, first time posting on this site….. I recently stayed at a motorway service station which included 2 car parks. 1 monitored by a private company (parking eye) and the other was inside the BP petrol station who have erected a sign offering free parking with no restrictions for their customers. I used both and it took me over the 2 hours and now have a PCN from Parking eye…. Is this legal, has anyone else experienced this ?

D Mil says:
18 October 2015

Get yourself off to the private parking forum on the moneysavingexpert web site. You will almost certainly be assisted in getting the charge cancelled. Do not ignore the charge though, Parking Eye submit literally thousands of these to the County Court each year.

It’s only possible for them to sue you through a civil court, and that will cost them time and money. It’s legal in the sense they can argue you’ve entered into a contract when you elect to park there and must abide by the Ts and Cs, but they’re open to challenge. If you feel the terms were unreasonable then I would suggest you challenge them.

D Mil says:
18 October 2015

Most of these charges fail when tested at the independent appeals body (POPLA). You need to challenge them using the arguments discussed on the moneysavingexpert private parking forum.

D Mil says:
18 October 2015

The moneysavingexpert website has a forum dealing with the parasitic companies that ‘manage’ motorway service area carparks. Most of these ‘fines’ are unlawful and can be easily cancelled with two standard emails. Don’t ignore these fines though, some of these companies try and obtain a judgement in a County Court and are not to bothered about the truthfulness of their evidence.

I forgot to post this email exchange with BPA from 2015:

Good morning

Motorway service areas display clear signage about penalties for staying beyond the free period for parking. I have never overstayed but I wonder what would happen if I did overstay for what I would consider a valid reason. Here are some possible scenarios:

1. A driver or passenger became ill during a journey.

2. On checking the vehicle at the service area, a fault was detected making it inadvisable to continue driving, for example an oil or coolant leak. Continuing to drive would risk damage to the vehicle and might cause an accident if the engine seized.

3. A damaged tyre was discovered. A substantial number of cars are not supplied with spare wheels.

4. Recovery of the vehicle could not be arranged within the permitted period, especially where the driver is not a member of a breakdown service.

I have never experienced any of these situations but I hope you can reassure me that these cases would be seen as valid reasons for overstaying at a motorway service area, irrespective of which company operates it.


Dear Mr **********,

Thank you for your e-mail.

Please be advised the BPA are a membership organisation for operators who issue tickets on private land. We have a Code of Practice they must sign up to and this covers areas such as the amount of signage required to dealing with motorists fairly and professionally.

When a parking charge notice is issued, there is an appeals process the motorist can follow. You would first have to appeal to the operator who issued the ticket with all available evidence. If this is rejected, you will be provided with details on how to appeal to the independent appeals service called POPLA.

Any decision POPLA makes is binding on the operator but not the motorist.

I hope the above is of assistance to you.

Kind regards,

AOS Investigations Team