Unpaid Parking Tickets, Diplomatic Immunity, and the UN


Unpaid Parking Tickets, Diplomatic Immunity, and the UN

About once a year, someone writes about the fact that there are millions in unpaid parking tickets owed to the city of New York, owed, that is, by diplomats with diplomatic immunity who park wherever they like and simply tear up the citations. Its interesting that the leading scofflaws are, by country, Kuwait  with 246 violations per diplomat, followed by Egypt (under Mubarack), Chad, Sudan and Bulgaria.

Up until 2002 the numbers were much higher, but the US began witholding the fines out of foreign aid to those countries who owed NYC money, and the offending states begin to pay their tickets, or at least maybe follow the parking rules.

The Brits took a different approach since their foreign aid budget isn’t quite as large as the US’.  They simply towed the vehicles and impounded them. When they “discovered” that the vehicles was owned by an embassy and driven by a person with diplomatic immunity, they said they made a “horrible mistake” and were “very,  very,  sorry,” and noted that the driver could pick up his car at the impound lot located 45 minutes outside downtown London. Of course, due to the diplomatic immunity, there would be no charge.

The program didn’t get them much money, but the incidence of citation was greatly reduced. Clever folks these Brits.

Our wimpy State Department would probably be horrified if NYC took a similar approach. After all, we have to show every courtesy to our “guests.” However I’m not so sure about this diplomatic immunity crap.

I understand we want out diplomats treated with respect, and laws and customs differ. However when the law that is ignored can bring on life threatening situation (blocking a driveway to a hospital, or a fire hydrant, for instance) it would seem to me that the immunity could be waved.

But then I’m sure that the approach we take makes us loved by governments around the world like those in Chad, the Sudan, and Egypt.

The recent article in Forbes compares the traffic scofflaws with the official corruption scores of countries world wide.  Check it out — you might guess what you will see.



John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. John,

    New York City had a similar policy back in the 1980’s under DOT Commissioner “Gridlock” Sam” Schwartz . Although diplomats did not have to pay, they had to wait in line like everyone else as the paperwork was processed for the vehicle’s release. Once towed the DPL plates were relegated to the very back of the long tow pound on 38th Street and 12th Avenue in Manhattan. Deft tow operators would often maneuver the vehicles into spaces so tight that it was impossible for the driver to simply get into the vehicle and drive away once they walked the length of the pound. This required a walk back to the office to have a tow truck dispatched and pull the car out of the space, which usually took about an hour, another long walk, and added to the overall inconvenience factor. This went on for some time until the State Department stepped in. They explained that while NYC was applying our version of an inconvenience factor in dealing with illegally parked DPL vehicles, our diplomats abroad and especially those in the Soviet Block nations were also being “inconvenienced”. However, the Soviet version of inconvenience was quite another matter. It would take days and sometimes weeks, not hours, for vehicle to be released. Worse, they were often towed under dubious circumstances from perfectly legal spaces. Soviet drivers and sometimes the Diplomats themselves would be “detained” overnight or longer for bogus traffic violations until the consulate could get the requisite forms filled out for their release. It was a game of “tit for tat” in which our side had firm rules of engagement and theirs had none. Come to think of it, it seems not much has changed.

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