The Government Has Just Announced the Dumbest Policy Ever

Reuters/Charles Platiau

It’s an exciting day for motorists. Today we found out that we will get an extra 10 minutes’ grace period on our stay at a parking meter before we can be issued with a parking ticket.

Hurray! Get out the bunting and let’s have a street party!

But before you start the celebrations, can I point out that it is entirely possible that today’s announcement may well be the most stupid Government policy announcement ever. Yes, even dumber than John Major’s Cones Hotline.

Why? Because the 10 minutes’ grace period in council-controlled parking places announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as a sop to Britain’s downtrodden car owners will do absolutely nothing to help motorists.

It won’t create any extra parking spaces in busy town centres. It won’t make parking at a meter any cheaper. It won’t stop motorists feeling like they are a “cash cow” for local councils.

It won’t take away any of the stress of racing back to your car when you reach the end of your meter time. And it won’t even end the horrific abuse suffered by traffic wardens who – small point, worth making – are just doing their job.

So what will the new rules do? They will simply extend by 10 minutes the amount of time motorists have before they can get irrationally angry and indignant about getting a fine for breaking the rules. That’s it.

All Eric Pickles is doing is patting the British motorist on the back and nodding supportively as we once more invoke the “but it wasn’t my fault” whining mantra when we’ve been caught out doing the wrong thing.

Because the nation’s absurd outrage over parking tickets is just the most extreme example of the British excuses culture: the insatiable urge to blame anyone but ourselves for the mistakes we make.

After all, what is so wrong about drivers getting a fine for over-staying on their parking meter?

If you park at a meter and pay for a ticket until, say, 4.30pm and you return to your car at 4.31pm to find you’ve got a ticket, then tough. You knew the rules, indeed by purchasing your tickets you expressly accepted those rules, and then you chose to break them. What on earth is so unfair about that?

Yes, of course it would be wonderful if we didn’t have any parking charges at all and we could all park anywhere we wanted at any time for as long as we wanted for free. But that world doesn’t exist anymore in most of our towns and cities.

We have to have parking charges in busy areas or else there would never be any vacant spaces for us to park in at all. So, once we have parking charges, what incentive is there for anyone to move their car at the agreed time if there is no penalty for not moving it?

Which is why parking fines exist. Yes, sometimes the parking signs are unclear and sometimes over-zealous traffic wardens hand out tickets like confetti to unsuspecting motorists who’ve done nothing wrong. But, by and large, most tickets are handed out to drivers who’ve been caught bang to rights.

Over the years, I’ve been given tickets for overstaying on a meter, for parking on double yellow lines, in residents’ bays and on a single yellow line after 8.30am. And every single one of those tickets was perfectly fair. I had broken the rules and it was my fault each time. Yes, I kicked myself, but I didn’t have anyone else to blame but myself.

The truth is that most motorists only like rules when they apply to everyone else, but not when they are applied to them. Speeding is oh-so-terrible when other drivers do it, but we of course are always in control of our vehicles, aren’t we? And we hate having to pay to park ourselves but woe betide anyone who parks in your residential parking bay outside your house, eh?

Motorists who return to their cars one, two or even 10 minutes over their paid-for time to find a traffic warden writing out a ticket are invariably outraged about this terrible attack on their civil liberties. The apoplectic rants directed at wardens just doing their job are the most absurd expression of this misguided national self-delusion.

You know what time your meter runs out and it’s your responsibility to get back to your car and move it before that time. What, pray, is so complicated about that?

If you’ve got a good reason – you were taken hostage on your way back to your car, say – then by all means make an appeal against the fine and I hope they let you off. But just because you’ve got young children with you or there was a long queue in the supermarket doesn’t actually mean you’ve been hard done by. It simply means you didn’t put enough money in the meter or plan your time accordingly. It’s no one’s fault but your own. Deal with it.

But now, thanks to Eric Pickles, motorists will not be forced to “deal with it” or to “get over it” or accept responsibility for their own actions. Now they will be able return to their cars up to 10 minutes late and expect not to be faced with a hefty fine.

Until they return to their cars 11 minutes after their ticket expired, when of course they will face a deeply unfair and punitive parking ticket that’s (cue loud whining voice) NOT THEIR FAULT.

And what, Mr Pickles, do you plan to do about that?