Why do people hate Traffic Wardens?

First of all, lets assume that people do hate traffic wardens, people certainly don’t want to be traffic wardens. In my extensive research I googled my title and turned up this story via Dizzy from 2007.

A HEARTLESS traffic warden stunned mourners by slapping tickets on a funeral cortege.

That would be enough to make me hate that traffic warden, but to generalise that specific case to all traffic wardens would be ridiculous. Although the availability heuristic causes us to weight unusual events too highly, official policy on ticketing funerals is clear: “Our policy is not to give tickets to cars clearly connected with funerals.” This kind of extraordinary event is rare, this is the only case of a funeral procession being ticketed I could find, and I would predict that the probability of these events being reported is almost one.

Apart from the availability heuristic I think a couple of other cognitive biases lead people to hate traffic wardens more than can possibly be justified. I would argue that a sort of anti-halo effect is in place in which people think that because traffic wardens cause bad things to happen to them, stress and financial loss, they must be bad people in other areas too. We don’t feel as bad about being cruel or unfair to bad people, so people merrily hate traffic wardens.

However, most central is the way the fundamental attribution error and availability heuristic interact. The fundamental attribution error describes how people tend to over-value personality-based explanations for the behaviour of others while under-valuing institutional or organisational explanations. On driving in central London and finding a parking space nobody thinks “thank god for traffic wardens,” but they should.

The only way to match the number of parking spaces available to the number demanded is either by pricing them and by enforcing that pricing or by allocating them centrally and enforcing that allocation. Traffic wardens qua enforcers are indispensable in getting you a parking space. People hate traffic wardens because the good thing they do, ensuring parking is more available than it otherwise would be, is invisible, while the bad thing, giving tickets, is very visible indeed.

I suppose this can’t be emphasised enough, if you want convenient parking, you want traffic wardens. Hating them for doing their job is very difficult to justify.


2 thoughts on “Why do people hate Traffic Wardens?

  1. An article masquerading as having a scientific basis that makes so many assumptions about both car drivers and wardens and the reasons for having these people that it proves itself to be complete rubbish. This article implies that the reason people hate traffic wardens is simply the fact that they give tickets. In fact the reason I hate traffic wardens and the reason almost everyone I know does is the MANNER in which they give tickets, the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy used by modern traffic wardens and the tactics they use for finding people to fill their quotas. Because of the targets they are pressured to achieve, they give out tickets without using any discretion, common sense or being in any way reasonable about it. Newspaper and website articles always focus on the most extreme examples but the majority of tickets aren’t issued to herses and disabled vicars, yet they are still in principle just as unreasonable.

    Many people argue that traffic wardens are only doing their job and that drivers just think they should be allowed to park wherever they want, whenever they want. This is just not the case. There will always be some drivers who do believe this but the majority simply want to be able to avoid getting a ticket when they are perfectly reasonably parked (not causing a hazard or obstruction or parking somewhere they haven’t paid, i.e. the main true reasons for having traffic wardens) but perhaps not quite to the letter of the law.

    For example cars issued tickets for being 6 inches over the end of their space or motorbikes parked outside the owner’s house but not at ‘the end of the bay’ as Council rules stipulate (practical when the bay stretches the entire length of the road and cars are occupying those four locations? I think not).

    Yes, traffic wardens have it hard because they are paid very little and pressured to achieve targets but they also dont’ help themselves by sometimes/often issuing tickets they know full well are aren’t even legitimate, using clandestine tactics to find opportunities such as hiding until parking runs out, claiming the time was different to what it was in reality and being completely unreceptive to any kind of reasonable argument from a member of the public. The system is completely screwed but the wardens themselves are also to blame and that coupled with how expensive parking tickets are is why we hate them. I mean, aside from the police who else in this world is able to cost us £65 at a moment’s notice with no chance of avoiding it unless they made an obvious glaring mistake? (and the police I might add go through a hell of a lot more training and are allowed/trained to use their own discretion).

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