The number of parking tickets issued by car park management firms in Britain hit a record 5.65m last year, analysis of government driver data suggests.
The RAC Foundation says the number rose by almost a fifth in a year and was far above levels of a decade ago.
Motorists face charges of as much as £100 for contraventions such as overstaying, it said.
The government is backing a bill to introduce a new code of practice for the private parking industry.
The motoring research group said the number of tickets issued in the 2017-18 financial year rose from 4.71m – a year-on-year increase of nearly 20%. A decade ago 499,000 tickets were issued.
RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said: “Each year we publish this analysis and each year we are not only astonished by the numbers involved, but also by the fact that those numbers keep rocketing up.
“Pursuing so many people must be a major administrative task for the companies involved, but the questions the numbers really beg are what’s going wrong? Are Britain’s motorists really flouting the rules on such an industrial scale?”
Case study: From £5.50 to £170
When Timothy Sheppard arrived at Lingfield Station car park in Surrey on 28 December last year, he found that the parking ticket machines were out of order.
In a rush to catch the train to London, the retired advertising executive said he asked a staff member inside the train station what to do.
“He told me ‘it’s not ours, we don’t operate it’ but said ‘if you want to catch your train, you can sort it out when you get back’,” says Mr Sheppard.
He planned to find a way to pay the £5.50 car parking ticket on his return.
Instead, however, he found a penalty notice for £60 from a company called Indigo Park Solutions which operates the Lingfield Station car park on behalf of Southern Railway.
Mr Sheppard, 76, said he wrote to Indigo Park Solutions to explain that he had been unable to buy a ticket because all the machines were not working and enclosed a payment of £5.50.
Despite having proof of purchase from Royal Mail, Indigo Park Solutions said it has not received the letter.
In the meantime, it had turned the matter over to a debt collecting agency.
Mr Sheppard attempted to dispute the parking penalty with the British Parking Association.
However, to use that service, the driver must first show that he appealed to the operator – in this case Indigo Park Solutions – within 28 days of the date of the original charge.
Because Indigo Park Solutions claimed it had not received Mr Sheppard’s letter, the dispute could not proceed.
Mr Sheppard now says that a debt collector acting on behalf of Indigo Park Solutions is seeking £170 – £100 of which is the penalty charge and £70 for “administration”.
Mr Sheppard says he is at a loss to know what action to take to resolve a matter that arose because a car park had ticket machines that did not work.
But he is sure of one thing: “I have no intention of paying this.”
Indigo Park Solutions was unavailable for comment.
The RAC based its figures on the number of vehicle-owner records purchased by car parking management companies from the DVLA in the last financial year.
These businesses are only allowed to purchase car ownership records from the DVLA for the purpose of issuing penalties, said the RAC.
Mr Gooding said the total could be even higher as “some firms will simply slap a demand on to a windscreen”.
According to the data, ParkingEye Ltd, which is a car park management company owned by the outsourcing group Capita, was the biggest buyer of car ownership records from the DVLA last year.
It purchased 1.76m records compared to 1.53m in the previous financial year.
It is followed by Euro Car Park, which manages private parking spaces across the UK, Ireland and Europe, which bought access to 406,323 records compared to 306,857 in the previous period.
The RAC said that numbers have increased since clamping cars on private land was banned in 2012 under the Protection of Freedoms Act.
The act allowed private parking companies to pursue the registered owner of the vehicle rather than having to prove who the driver was at the time of the offence.
The government is supporting a bill by Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight to introduce legislation to regulate the private parking industry.
Failing to comply with these rules could mean that companies would be blocked from accessing driver data from the DVLA and issuing fines which, the Ministry of Housing and Local Communities said, would effectively force them out of the industry.
A spokesperson for ParkingEye said: “ParkingEye continues to be a member of the British Parking Association and follows its strict code of practice in all the car parks we manage on behalf of our clients.
“We welcome any additional government legislation that aims to drive consistency and improve processes across the entire private parking sector.”