Service stations are deterring motorists from taking vital rest breaks at times when they need it most because of "ludicrous" parking restrictions.
Flying in the face of government advice to motorists not to drive tired, draconian parking charges are being imposed on drivers who stop and nap at services for more than two hours.
An AOL Cars investigation uncovered a little known loophole in the parking restrictions in force at 58 service stations operated by Moto, where drivers who have been issued charge notices for genuinely napping can have their tickets quashed.
However, rivals Welcome Break – which operates 28 stations around the UK – stuck by its strict two-hour parking rules, even if it meant dangerously deterring drivers from stopping and having a sleep.
Tim Shallcross, spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "Motorway service areas are provided in order to enable people to take a break from driving in the interests of safety.
"If they are then going to deter people from parking there, the whole object of having them in the first place is defeated."
An AOL Cars reporter received a demand for £100 by both Moto and Welcome Break after sleeping in his car to test the theory at service stations operated by the different companies. On both occasions he entered after midnight and left the car park before 8am.
When AOL Cars contacted Moto for a comment it immediately cancelled the ticket and revealed its little-known parking policy, however Welcome Break was not as forthcoming.
Shallcross added: "A charge for somebody who's parked for more than two hours in the early hours of the morning is absolutely ludicrous and there is no justification for it whatsoever.
"It generates the risk that next time you're driving down the motorway and feel tired, you'll run the risk of having a crash because you won't want to stop and potentially incur another penalty. It runs entirely counter to the whole purpose of having a motorway service area in the first place."
Andrew Leatham, spokesman for Moto, told AOL Cars that the charge would be rescinded – and others could claim relief too.
"It is not our policy to issue parking charge notices to drivers who have genuinely fallen asleep," he said.
"What most people do when they find they have stayed for longer than two hours is go in and speak to the duty manager and they will just erase the parking charge there and then. If it ever happens to you, I would advise that is what motorists do."
However, Welcome Break was not as helpful. It refused to cancel the charge and said it stuck by its parking policy.
Rod McKie, chief executive, told AOL Cars he believed two hours was "ample time for drivers to take a break and refresh themselves for their onward journeys".
He added: "If customers did not have to pay at night, our car parks would be full of people sleeping in cars, vans, caravans, etc. This is a major concern for us."
Ed Morrow, campaigns officer for the road safety charity Brake was concerned with Welcome Break's approach.
He told AOL Cars: "Tired driving is a major killer on UK roads, and taking regular breaks is essential to tackling the problem.
"We advise all drivers to take a break of at least 15 minutes every two hours. If you feel sleepy, you should pull over somewhere and safe and have a nap."
Our advice would be to be very careful to choose a service station owned by Moto if you do...
What do you think of these parking restrictions? Have you ever been caught out? Let us know your thoughts by posting your comments below.
Author: Dave Brown