BBC News

Goodbye to the traffic warden

Published
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionTraffic wardens originally helped find spots

The Home Office is set to abolish the last few traffic wardens. They had long lost the job of doling out tickets to the drably named "civil enforcement officers", writes Gareth Rubin.

The traffic warden - long the subject of mockery and ire from disgruntled motorists up and down the land - will soon be no more. The Home Office is removing the functions of the final few wardens in England and Wales and rolling their work into that done by police staff volunteers.

The first police traffic wardens were created in 1960 under the Road Traffic Act but since local councils took over the punishment of illegal parking with their own civil enforcement officers, their numbers have fallen to just 18 in England and Wales. They were abolished in Scotland in 2014. The remaining traffic wardens are 10 in Sussex, five in Greater Manchester, and one each in Hampshire, Northamptonshire and West Yorkshire.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPeter Cook and Dudley Moore were among those who lampooned traffic wardens

When traffic wardens first appeared, the government was at pains to point out how helpful the motoring public would find these new ladies and gentlemen in uniform. As the satirical magazine Punch put it in 1959: "Any supposed similarity of function between the police and the newly proposed traffic wardens vanished with the official statement that the wardens 'would help motorists to find parking space'."

That function wasn't the main one popularly associated with traffic wardens. And the giving out of tickets to stop people parking on double yellow lines and other restricted areas meant they were never popular, despite how vital this job was in keeping the road network functioning.

That unpopularity may have transferred to the civil enforcement officers - who are popularly, if incorrectly, still referred to as "traffic wardens".

Motoring journalist Quentin Willson can't count the number of run-ins he has had with traffic wardens and their successors. "I stopped outside my children's school and had a run-in with one of these little dictators and he promptly called the police on me. They were perfectly understanding about it, saying he had overreacted. They are hugely unpopular and were they to be replaced by something less threatening, less draconian and less inflexible, we might all cheer. But the cynic in me says the change is just a change in name."

But those who make their living enforcing parking rules would point out they are more sinned against than sinning, being assaulted more than many other public officials.

And their public persona has been the subject of much popular lampoonery. In 1998 the BBC capitalised on the less-than-adulatory public attitude to parking enforcement with the docusoap series Clampers. Its star, Ray Brown, ended up with a cameo in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. He was soaked during a boat chase along the Thames.

Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.

Related Topics

  • Parking