Medieval Parking Fines

As reported at the BBC today, Lord Lucas, the chair of the Enforcement Law Reform Group went on record denouncing Britain’s automated traffic enforcement policy. The headline: Parking charge system ‘medieval’.

I don’t do as many of those “hey, look, someone used the word medieval in a dumb way” posts as I used to. Or, more correctly, I do a lot of other types of posts now, so those make up a much smaller percentage of my overall output.*

I’m a little rusty at this, but here goes: I don’t know much about how the automated ticket-issuing traffic cameras work in Britain,*** but it’s a little weird to call the motion sensitive digital cameras that electronically surveill drivers of internally combusting vehicular apparatuses “medieval,” isn’t it?

I have learned to be okay with people using the word “medieval” to mean “unfathomably cruel,” because it makes me seem like more of a badass when people ask what I do and I say “Medieval Studies.” Suddenly, they’re not completely sure that I don’t have a broadsword hidden on me somewhere. Or maybe I know a guy who knows a guy who can get them excommunicated. But I don’t get anything out of being associated with parking tickets, so knock it off, Lord–wait, they’ve still got Lords in Britain? Seriously? Isn’t that medieval, Mr. Lucas?

[dub in sound of tires screeching to a halt here]

Actually, as it turns out upon reading the article past the headline, I found out that Lord Lucas was using the word “medieval” in a way that demonstrates some understanding of the Middle Ages. Here are his remarks in context:

It is extremely difficult to get local authorities to behave properly on this. There doesn’t seem to be an ombudsman who will take this seriously and central government really just treats this as part of the tax-raising system. There is no way in which central government checks that this is what local authorities are doing.


This way of raising revenue, this medieval fashion of taxation, really upsets people cumulatively and makes them less compliant citizens.

So long as the taxes keep flowing up the hierarchy, the local magnates are left alone to manage their fiefs as they see fit? Yeah, that’s pretty medieval. Not broadsword-wieldingly medieval, but still legit.

The problem is, now I’m knee-deep in a blog post with no one left to vent my spleen at. This is a Cartesian dilemma for a blogger. We mock, therefore we blog. With no one to mock, can we actually be said to be bloggers? Luckily for me, a little further in the same new story, we get this response from Nick Lester, corporate director of services for London councils:

We know that less than 1% of all penalty charge notices issued are challenged, and of those about half are upheld. That suggests that the system is 99.5% right.

Half of all the tickets they were forced to look at were dismissed, so the ones they didn’t look at must certainly be OK? By this logic, if a student gives me a paper that’s one-hundred sentences long**** and I determine that they stole half of the first sentence from some lecture notes posted to the Internet, I should stop reading and assume that 99.5% of the paper is original.

*Even so, I must admit that it’s become harder to do those sorts of posts of late. When I type ‘medieval’ into Google News looking for some quick post fodder, I usually get hits for medieval fairs or medieval art exhibits or somebody’s tenth grade class that built a catapult instead.** Damn the Googlites for their ever more efficient search processing.
**The pedagogical theory is that building a catapult gets kids interested in history, or physics, or Latin, but I suspect that mainly it gets them interested in what sorts of things might be loaded onto a catapult when the history teacher isn’t looking.
***Because when I do a Google search for “automated traffic enforcement in britain” the first hit is for a site labeled “Automatic Traffic Enforcement in the United States.” I guess the searches aren’t as optimized for non-medieval things.
****What, you assign things in pages or words? Feh. How medieval.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Harry

    So.. were there actually medieval parking fines? As in.. punishments for parking your carts in the wrong place and things like that?

  • Jennifer

    I feel for you, but it’s far worse for Byzantinists (like me) who have to hear misuse of the word Byzantine all the time – and never in a cool way. Usually its at meetings when my colleagues describe the ridiculous bureaucracy in my public (not Byzantine!) university.

  • Got Medieval

    Regarding actual medieval parking fines, I’ve got no concrete examples, but my impression of medieval law is that it was pretty darn Byzantine. There were probably twelve different legal opinions about how much you could be fined (only ten of which were mutually exclusive) and fifteen more ways to punish you if you didn’t pay up. Oh, and there were probably at least three different courts with judicial authority over you, too.

  • Mentor Matt

    Well, if these days all activities are more “civil” and less “barbarious”, that doesn’t mean that parking fines are any less obsolete and become a major annoyance and a factor that reduces the quality of life and finances. There’s got to be a better way. See for yourself how a city got $640 off unsuspecting motorists in a Ca State Beach Fight Parking Ticket CA. This is what happens when the power that we gave to the authorities goes out of hand.

Bad Behavior has blocked 1157 access attempts in the last 7 days.