Selective Outrage Over Law Enforcement Illustrates Double Standard

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published December 04, 2009

When should we turn a blind eye to violations of the Highway Traffic Act?

A recent Hamilton Spectator article reports on the controversy being stirred up because Hamilton police officers are finally ticketing motorists for illegally parking on the wrong side of the street.

Wrong-side parking is illegal under both the Provincial Highway Traffic Act and city by-laws. It is also potentially dangerous, because on two-way streets it requires the motorist to drive against the direction of oncoming traffic (when pulling in and again when pulling out). In fact, I personally witnessed a car being ticketed for this offence a few years ago in London (Ontario).

Although one can argue that this offence is relatively minor, driving the wrong way down a street even for a short distance does clearly pose some risk.

I have been "startled" (as motorists say) by cars suddenly pulling out directly in front of me from the wrong side of the street while riding through Westdale. It is indeed quite frightening to feel suddenly like you're going to have a head on-collision with a car!

Residents are irate at being ticketed, and are demanding that enforcement stops. What's more, instead of commending police for enforcing the law, some councillors are telling them to forget about it. The attitude seems to be: Let's just turn a blind eye to this particular flouting of the law.

Double Standard at Work

Hmmm, are these perhaps the same people who were appalled at cyclists "flouting the law" and demanded a "crackdown" last summer? There really does seem there is a double standard at work here.

This illustrates the fact that people naturally understand and accept that it is socially acceptable to break some laws, either because the consequences are usually not severe (such as this case, and other parking violations), or because "everyone does it" (such as driving 120 km/h on a freeway limited at 100 km/h).

What upsets me is the blatant double standard it illustrates.

Last summer the Spectator (and its sister publication, the Toronto Star) stirred up another controversy, but that time it was over cyclists rolling through stop signs and allegedly flouting other traffic laws.

However, councillors (and newspaper editors) didn't respond by saying "let's cut the cyclists some slack, they aren't hurting anyone; we should focus on more serious infractions". The reaction was quite the opposite, with calls for a severe crack-down on the cyclists!

Why do many motorists expect cyclists to be far more law-abiding than themselves, especially when the consequences of law-breaking by cyclists is so much less serious?

I suspect it is simply because the social norms are different for motorists and cyclists (for obvious reasons), and that a non-cycling motorist is not aware of this difference.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2009 at 14:24:16

in regards to the double standard: while i generally agree with what you are saying here, and recognize that standards are clearly different for motorists vs. cyclists, i think moving violations (by car or bike) are always more serious than parking violations. the two cannot really be compared in the way that you have compared them.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted December 04, 2009 at 14:49:21

Don't forget, there's no way to commit the parking violation of parking on the wrong side of the street without also committing two (count 'em) moving violations, one to get into the spot and another one to get back out of it.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2009 at 17:00:16

Reuben has a good point. The parking infraction, and even the aspect of having to swing your car around to park, does not seem to be that much of a safety issue. Slow moving cars on residential streets, compared to intersection violations which is where most accidents happen.

There is certainly a lot of tolerance for car related traffic violations in general, in Canada and Europe.

I've noticed that very few people indicate over here, whereas in England (at the least the last time I lived there, a few years back) indicating was a common courtesy. Overtaking on the inside is popular over here too ('undertaking' my wife's boss calls it), and very rare in England.

However in England you see cars parked with their wheels on the curb all the time. (There was a guy in Holland who used to walk over the cars)

I think the cops probably target the violations that are easiest to catch i.e. speeding. Isn't traffic offense ticketing all about $ anyway?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2009 at 17:02:17

Hey Nickolas

You want to see law enforcement double standard?

Why don't you go down to Caledonia.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2009 at 17:43:13

My apologies for misspelling your name. That's what happens when you are typing while pissed.

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By Squeaky Clean (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2009 at 20:03:48

"Isn't traffic offense ticketing all about $ anyway?"

You sound like someone who's been recently caught!

It makes perfect sense to me!

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 04, 2009 at 22:21:28

The double standard of the Spec coming down hard on cyclists is worrysome but entirely predictable.

But I think wrong way parking is less serious than things like double parking, 1m from curb, on the curb, on the sidewalk (completely on the sidewalk like the truck I saw on glenfern 3 days ago - it seems that in Hamilton, work trucks can do whatever they want with impunity), opening doors without checking first, or the myriad stunned drivers who make dangerous parking maneuvers.

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By madmatt (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 10:51:39

Parking laws, like most traffic laws, are there for a reason. They serve the common good; don't block driveways or fire hydrants, don't stop or park on certain routes during peak hours or snow storms....Parking your vehicle facing the wrong way, as has been pointed out already, means you have to drive on the wrong side of the road which is a MAJOR hazard to others, even if it is on just a side street. If you couldn't be bothered to turn around and then park facing the right direction then you can pay the price. Too bad for you.

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By Inhocmark (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 10:59:59

If something is a law, lets enforce it. If it's a stupid law, then lets chuck it.

Both laws mentioned in the post make sense. Cars whipping out going the wrong way are a potential hazard, especially with motorists who sometimes do not pay all that much attention as is the whole concept of 'rolling through' a stop sign or light as I can personally attest to.

So if it's on the books and an enforcement agent sees it, then lets ticket it. Be it illegal parking, J-walking, cycling on sidewalks etc etc. If the laws make no sense or are only being selectively enforced for whatever reason, the repeal it.

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By frank (registered) | Posted December 07, 2009 at 13:43:33

If road classifcations were clearer this could be solved quite readily. You could make local roads able for parking in both directions or...make roads where two direction parking is allowed have a speed limit of something like 35. Two direction parking usually done on small residential streets where the road itself isn't even marked with a centreline (I've lived on Grant Ave and Jerome Cres. and that's the case in both circumstances) so you're technically not crossing into oncoming traffic. I'd much rather see a parking enforcement officer nab the idiot who parks with the front foot of his car in a parking zone with the remainder of his car in a no parking zone than the guy facing the wrong way on a street with very little traffic.

That being said, a law is a law. I have on occasion parked facing the wrong direction but I'm always uneasy about it. Maybe if our parking tickets cost as much as they do in places like Philly and they were enforced regularly it would make sense.

There is absolutely no excuse for parking the wrong direction on a one way street however nor is there one for driving in the wrong direction on a one way street. IMO, both of those tickets should be enforced the same way - driving the wrong way on a one way street.

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