Parking violations in a democracy

A throwaway comment by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon, in an article about the fascist overtones of recent police challenges to civilian authority in New York, reminded me of one of the things that has long mystified me about the psychology of automobilism. He writes

We still don’t know where this confrontation between de Blasio and his cops will lead, or how it will be resolved. (So far, the city has been peaceful – and nobody on my block got a parking ticket all week! So it’s win-win.)

In most places I’ve lived, at most times, I tend to think that enforcement of parking regulations is distressingly lax. This surely reflects, in part, my own interests, as someone who doesn’t drive, but who frequently finds sidewalks and cycle lanes blocked by illegally-parked cars. And I particularly resent when the illegally parked endanger my children’s lives by forcing them out into the street. But in most places I’ve lived — including significant periods in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany — the general culture seems to view enforcement of parking regulations as an evil incursion upon human liberty.

It doesn’t seem at all strange that people resent their own fines — that’s core human nature — or even that people would develop a general perspective of ignoring the benefits of parking regulations and communing on the personal nuisance, particularly when the benefits accrue disproportionately to the weaker members of society — the young, the handicapped. What seems strange is that people seem, on the one hand, to consider enforcement of parking and traffic laws illegitimate, on the other hand not to want their elected representatives to do anything about it.

As with so much else, our current Tory government is different in this point. They genuinely seem to want to bring the Wild West to British roads. One of the first things the Tories did after coming to power was to stop funding speed-limit enforcement cameras. A few years ago the government said that widespread lawlessness on the roads proved that the current speed-limit regime lacked democratic legitimacy. Most recently, spheroid Tory caricature Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, was prevented by the Liberal Democrats from pushing through a 15-minute grace period for parking on double-yellow lines, essentially making all local parking restrictions unenforceable.

And now, Pickles has just announced that from this autumn local councils would be banned from using CCTV to enforce parking laws, including “Orwellian spy cars”, because if Winston Smith hadn’t been ticketed for parking too long outside the Ministry of Truth he never would have to go pay his fine in room 101.

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