The Government has ordered a ‘crackdown’ on vehicle rentals in the wake of the Barcelona terror attack. Of course it has. There’s nothing politicians enjoy more than ordering a crackdown.
Drivers attempting to hire vans and cars will face tougher checks, we are promised.
The heart sinks.
A spokesman said: ‘The Department for Transport is working with the police and the vehicle rental industry to explore what more can be done to prevent the malicious use of hire vehicles.’
The Government has ordered a crackdown on car rentals despite the red tape that surrounds the industry, writes RICHARD LITTLEJOHN
Such as? Have you tried hiring a car lately, at home or abroad? The whole process takes an eternity, starting well before you intend to travel.
Rules introduced two years ago demand that you obtain an online code from the DVLA, which must then be presented to the rental company. This is supposed to flag up any driving bans or endorsements.
Six points are enough to disqualify you from getting your hands on anything more lethal than a wheelbarrow. But don’t log on too early, because the codes expire after three weeks.
You’ll be asked to provide your driving licence number, National Insurance number and postcode.
If you have an old-style paper licence, without a photo ID, you may have to produce your passport at the rental desk.
You’ll also need the right kind of licence. For instance, anything with more than six seats needs a D1, whatever that is.
Drivers arriving from overseas face even more stringent checks. Their licences must be in English, their passports must contain a valid visa, and they are supposed to produce proof of entry/exit from the UK, such as an air ticket.
When the new rules were brought in, they caused chaos, with queues 20-deep at car rental desks.
Just imagine the backlog once Hertz, Avis and the rest are expected to carry out even more extensive scrutiny.
Rental firms will be asked to report suspicious characters to the authorities, so that anyone trying to hire a vehicle can be checked against a central terror watchlist.
How much longer is all that going to take, then? And are rental clerks going to be sent on training courses to help them spot ‘suspicious’ individuals?
What are they supposed to be looking for? Should they refuse to rent a car to someone who doesn’t tick the box agreeing to return the vehicle with a full tank of petrol?
After all, that could suggest they’re not coming back — a bit like would-be aircraft hijackers who don’t bother buying a return ticket.
What next: fingerprinting, retina scans, facial recognition software at every car rental desk?
Look, before the usual, gormless suspects start bouncing up and down and accusing me of wanting people to DIE!, I accept that increased vigilance is necessary in the wake of attacks involving hired vehicles in London and, now, Spain.
There are sensible precautions which can be taken, like installing vehicle-resistant bollards at vulnerable sites, such as popular tourist destinations.
But there are limits, if anything resembling normal life is to continue.
And it’s worth remembering that the modern obsession with cycle lanes ensured that the Westminster Bridge mass murderer’s job was much easier than if he’d had to negotiate heavy traffic.
If our experience at airports is anything to judge by, any new security measures surrounding car hire will be designed to cause the maximum possible inconvenience to the innocent going about their lawful business.
How long before we hear that Howard and Hilda from Hemel Hempstead have been refused the keys to a Ford Focus because some spotty jobsworth at a car rental desk has decided they pose an imminent terror threat?
As usual, increased security in the wake of an attack is almost always little more than a stable door job. The game has already moved on. Terrorists will simply explore other avenues for their nihilistic blood-lust.
Nine times out of ten, those who commit these atrocities are already on the radar, either because they have criminal records or are otherwise ‘known to police’.
The leader of the London Bridge attack had even appeared on a TV show called The Jihadis Next Door. The Westminster terrorist had been investigated by MI5.
Yesterday, someone drove a van into pedestrians in Marseille, in the South of France, killing a woman. Inevitably, police revealed he had convictions for drug trafficking and carrying illegal weapons.
He didn’t rent the van, he stole it. All the restrictions on van hire in the world wouldn’t have stopped him, or anyone else.
If potential terrorists can’t hire a vehicle, they’ll simply nick one — or hijack one, as happened in Berlin last Christmas.
Either that, or they could go out and buy a car, or lorry, for that matter. I can’t see sidestreet Arthur Daleys being too fussy about knocking out a second-hand, high-mileage Transit, only driven to church on Sundays, to any passing jihadist or white supremacist. For cash, naturally. No questions asked, squire.
Just imagine the backlog once Hertz, Avis and the rest are expected to carry out even more extensive scrutiny
That, of course, won’t prevent ministers here from implementing their latest crackdown, just to prove that they are ‘doing something’.
So anyone wanting to rent a car or van for business or pleasure will have their lives made miserable in the name of keeping us all safe.
After every terror attack, the politicians link arms and announce that we will not be cowed, that we will remain defiant and go about our daily business as usual.
And every single time, they come up with another fatuous, knee-jerk response to ensure that our daily routines are disrupted and diminished. This ‘crackdown’ on car rental is just the latest panic measure.
In the name of ‘security’ we are all treated like criminals and potential terrorists. Every time a white, old-age pensioner is searched at an airport, it’s another small victory for the enemies of freedom.
Every bottle of baby milk, every lipstick, every jar of Marmite confiscated at check-in is a defeat for democracy. Our bovine authorities are forever coming up with new ‘threats’ to be eliminated.
More from Richard Littlejohn for the Daily Mail…
Barely a week passes without some new act of stupidity at airport security. In order to ‘keep us safe’ we are punished for putting our toiletries in plastic bags considered half-an-inch too large.
Infirm octogenarians are forced out of wheelchairs to prove they’re not suicide bombers.
We are assured that security is always ‘intelligence-led’, but the one thing rarely on display is any semblance of intelligence.
Ever since 9/11, so-called ‘security’ has become the catch-all excuse of every tin-pot tyrant with a hi-viz jacket, everywhere from the airports to football ground turnstiles.
How many more times? Give anyone, any modicum of authority and they will always, always abuse it.
Here’s the latest insane example, from the game between Stevenage FC and Grimsby Town in League Two (that’s the Fourth Division to you and me).
The few hundred Grimsby fans among the 2,793 crowd complained about the airport-style screening they were forced to endure before they could enter the ground.
Items seized by stewards included a small bottle of hand sanitiser, some contact lens solution and a packet of cough sweets.
Female fans were incensed that they were made to lift up their tops in full view of male supporters to prove that their underwired bras didn’t contain any explosives.
And there you have it. Sixteen years after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York, women attending a Fourth Division football match in Hertfordshire have to flash their bras in public in the name of ‘security’.
Just as well they didn’t arrive in a hired minibus, otherwise the stewards would have called for armed police back-up.
Makes you proud to be British.