Should it be illegal to park facing the wrong way?

Jeff writes:

Economic theory suggests that penalties should be attached to behaviors that are correlated with crime and not necessarily to criminal behavior itself.  For example, price fixing may be impossible to detect, but conspiracy to fix prices may be much easier.  It makes sense to make cheap talk a crime even though the talk itself causes no harm.

When you car is parked facing the wrong way its a sure sign that A) you previously committed the crime of driving the wrong way and B) you will soon do it again.

Is this another of his elaborate jests?  The web suggests that Texas has begun to enforce this law only recently, to shore up Medicaid, but the resulting policy uncertainty adds to our current output gap.  It also violates Keynesian strictures not to raise taxes during a recession.  Up until now, of course, there has been strong net mobility into the state of Texas, so was the previous lack of enforcement so bad?

The practice of parking the wrong [sic] way is at least as safe as turning across lanes of oncoming traffic.

One fear is that traffic will slam into your parked car if your rear reflectors are not facing the proper way.  Yet if everyone parks facing the wrong way, does not this risk diminish and indeed a benefit can be seen?  And is not a car, if parked for long enough, infinitely dangerous in any case?  And are not wrong way parkers the most likely to hurry in and out of a spot quickly, thereby lowering stationary collision probabilities?  Or is the argument that a parked car safer is in any case safer than a moving car, and that wrong way parking allows more cars to park more readily, thereby lowering the average velocity of automobiles?  In any case, the Peltzmann effect suggests that wrong way parking, and the concomitant dangers, will discourage drunk driving, thereby saving lives.  Furthermore the relevant alternative to “wrong way parking” is usually an extremely reckless, immediate, illegal U-turn.

I once “parked the wrong way” in Falls Church City.  The policeman told me he could not give me a ticket, since he had not seen me do it, but that there was no way I could leave the space legally.  (I so enjoy a dare.)  Here in Virginia, or at least in Falls Church City, the rule of law reigns; the policeman recognized the car might have been there forever, or might have been parked by a computer (that’s illegal too, but let him try to prove the computer did it), or might have materialized there through quantum effects.  A game of waiting ensued.


U-turns are legal-where-not-explicitly-prohibited in Colorado. Ironically they are much less common and much less necessary here than in Northern Virginia.

That's not ironic at all. It is designing roads that necessitate extra U-turns that drive the incentive to prohibit U-turns everywhere. They become illegal because they are necessary.

Whenever I see one of those "No U-turn" signs, I quickly ask myself if I need to make a U-turn because there is a great place to make a U-turn coming up.

Good laugh when I read: "It [imposing penalties for violating the law] also violates Keynesian strictures not to raise taxes during a recession."

Quite apart from the issue of whether it is good policy to penalize people for parking the wrong way, and I don't know the facts on whether it is or not, it is another thing to say that during a recession we should not create or enforce penalties for violating the law because it violates Keynesian policy.

That's a neat defense but I don't think you can make or enforce laws based on the "Keynes wouldn't approve" argument. Tax policy USUALLY is different than law enforcement policy.

I strongly disagree. A huge amount of law, and law enforcement, exists solely for the purpose of generating revenue.

Since it is huge, why don't you point me to the literature. Would be interested in reading about this huge amount of law existing solely for the purpose of generating revenue.
Perhaps you can name the statutes and tell me the huge amount of money collected.

Maybe: Street parking laws, speeding laws, snow parking and street sweeping regulations, civil forfeitures?

Really? No public benefit from these laws--speeding laws?; street parking all day in congested area? ; snow parking to prevent interference with plows?; street sweeping to permit efficient cleaning.
As to civil forfeitures, there are some abuses, I grant you, but for commercial crimes, this may be efficient deterence.

So, this is the extent of the "huge amount of law" "solely for the purpose of generating revenue"

Doesn't look solely, and doesn't look for the purpose of revenue either.

Here is one examples:

A google search on this sort of thing should turn up more examples.

So, Tennesee, someone claims, is enforcing drug laws to make money. Could there be other reasons?

Laws may not be. The penalties for breaking them usually are. Or, is the real cost to society, $250 if a kid let's a balloon into the air at the beach?,0,6554645.story

So, Ryan, you think that much money is raised from the baloon law.

No, its a standard fine for any violation of law. Deterrence.

Funny, I though a fine is money paid usually to superior authority, usually governmental authority, as punishment for a crime or other offense. If it is for deterrence, then shouldn't all fines be $250. Why are parking tickets usually less than $250 -- the more money, the more deterrence? I suppose you agree with lengthy prison sentences for minor offenses such as drug possession cost taxpayers more? In the name of deterrence.

Don't be naive. A very egregious example happened in my home town Halifax. The cash-strapped city a year prior had imposed a 'Winter Parking Ban', under the pretense of opening up the streets for snow plows. For about 2 months practically anyone who needs to park on the street is liable to be fined. It became egregious this Winter when it almost didn't snow at all. People were getting tickets for parking where they usually park in the dry old road. It's still in place, but is universally hated, and I for one never saw the social utility of such a law in the first place.

How much money was raised when people knew of the ban? Probably none because people didn't park.
The better question is why they didn't do a snow emergency ban, rather than a winter ban.
Now, I would argue: go out and exercise some democratic control of your government and change the law. You are not helpless.


Do any of these many headlines convince you? What would you need to be convinced that yes, a part (not all) of the motivation for increases penalties is merely revenue and not deterrence? You tell us; what evidence would convince you?!

(1) Miami commissioners were on their way Tuesday to increasing fees and fines to fill the remainder of a $105 million budget hole.

(2) Phoenix residents and businesses will pay more in rates, fines and fees this year as the city aims to maintain a balanced budget and keep public amenities open.

(3)Increased Parking Fines Help Balance Budget The increase in fines and fees is expected to generate more than $1 million in revenue.


1. Re Miami: notice it said parking fees and fines. Note the fees language: I would argue that most cities should increase the fees for onstreet parking to match the fees in private ramp parking. They don't, until there is a budget shortfall and then they increase parking fees. They should have done it earlier--if a private entity owned the streets, he/she would be charging, and fining, to match the alternative. Note, also, by the way FINES CAN BE AVOIDED by complying with the law. And, in fact, if you increase parking fees, YOU HAVE TO INCREASE FINES. Funny how people are rational, isn't it.

2. Same headline re Phoenix and same response. In fact, although in my youth I thought he was wrong on this point, I now think Friedman was right: we should have MORE user fees, rather than taxing the general public for a businesses use of some infrastructure investment, we should charge a fee for it. This is GOOD PUBLIC POLICY. It also causes those who lobby for these projects--who never had to pay for example, that public parking ramp next to their business--to begin thinking about what they get from government and what they should pay for themselves.

Fines all fall under the category of avoidable injury and deterrence from having people choose not to pay for what they consume when they are charged a fee for their consumption. The fine has to be bigger than the fee.

Cars parked the wrong way always make me think I've accidentally turned the wrong way down a one way street. Also, most of the people on my street who park the wrong way also park in the cross walk. Screw 'em.

While there is no fine listed, it seems like this law in Falls Church could be construed to mean that parking the 'wrong way' is illegal (on a two-way street).

I have parked the "wrong" way in front of my house for 5 years and there is a real danger if a taller vehicle is parked immediately in front of you and you are not able to reverse very far. When you are exiting your wrong-way space, it is difficult to see the traffic coming head on because your driver's seat is on the wrong side and basically all you can see is the back of the vehicle in front of you. It's not a problem if you have a passenger to be a spotter, but if you are solo you are exiting blind.

"A game of waiting ensued."

So what happened?!?! Is your car still there? Is the policeman still there? We need to know!

Tyler would tell you, but he's still waiting.

Does he need to give "you" the ticket? Why not put it on your car like a parking ticket?

I'm going to guess it's legal to park the wrong way, only illegal to drive the wrong way, but driving the wrong way is a moving violation, so you have to give the ticket to the person driving the car. And the police officer couldn't prove he, as opposed to say his wife, drove the car that way.

I don't understand the logic behind "driving the wrong way." It's one thing (reckless, endangerment, etc.) to drive the wrong direction down any length of road for some duration, but I drive contrary to the flow of traffic every time I turn left across oncoming traffic and every time I back out of my driveway. (In fact, it seems that this interpretation makes movement into or out of a driveway illegal at least once per transaction). Add those "lawbreaking" actions to parking on the opposite side of the street (which, in most cases, is anyway only feasible on residential streets.)

"A game of waiting ensued."

Who had the bigger stack of books?

Anyway, that must have been long ago. Today they'd just pepper spray you and then ticket you for disorderly conduct for sprawling across the sidewalk and resisting arrest for rubbing your eyes rather than following orders..

"Who had the bigger stack of books?"

Of course Tyler did, but it only took him 15 minutes to read them all.

@ chappy8:

It appears you are referring to Sec. 26-15. - Parking with right wheels to curb.

No vehicle shall be stopped or parked except close to and parallel to the right edge of the curb or street; except a vehicle may be stopped close to and parallel to the left curb or edge of the street on one-way streets, other than dual-lane or divided streets.

If so, the fine is listed in Sec. 26-6 (25), Parked left wheel to curb: $35.00.

Ah. So another section has the fine. Well done. Apparently Tyler should have been fined on the spot. I suppose once he left he could have been fined for two different violations. (Left parked and presumably a u-turn).

Tyler should have been fined on the spot

I also thought so. The only way to reconcile it is if the police officer is interpreting the law to apply to a driver, i.e. "no vehicle shall be stopped or parked [by a driver]", instead of to a vehicle. The code really doesn't support that interpretation (note that all of the other fines refer to an action, "parking", and this one to a resulting state - "parked"). I think the officer was being lenient.

When I parked the "wrong way" in New Canaan, CT, I was ticketed for parking more than 18" from the curb (i.e., the opposite curb)...

Having been victimized by a local overzealous police officer TWICE for parking the wrong way in front of my own house, I now park the 'correct way'. This is after literally decades of it never being an issue. But it's stupid, since it's more dangerous for me to try to make the u-turn to park the right way than it is for me to leave the spot when parked the 'wrong way'. Note: this is a quiet residential street.

I see it as nothing more than just another way for cops to be dicks and cities to make money.

I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as "wrong side parking" in England

I'm also failing to understand what is meant by the term. I supose that on one way streets if a car is parked in the opposite direction to the flow of the traffic then it's parked the wrong way, but I'm not entirely sure that this is what is meant.

Is it really illegal to perform a U-turn anywhere? Here in the UK not only is it not illegal, it honestly doesn't seem to make any sense any way you look at it. What's the justification?

File this under 'economic theory used in uninteresting ways'

My car was once ticketed for being parked the wrong direction. I wasn't going to drive that day, so I left the ticket where it was to avoid receiving another ticket. It didn't do any good, though; the next day, a second ticket was pinned under the wiper blade next to the first one.

Here in Washington state we can park on either side of the street with impunity.

Which is obviously why Washington state is an anarchic post-apocalyptic hell, ruled by wrong-way parking cannibal warlords.

No, that's just Tacoma.

I got nailed in Ephrata, WA for parking the wrong way, I suppose it could have been a city ordinance, though.

It is illegal to park on the wrong side of the street in Seattle, but the cops only care if you do it on a street with a center line. They seem to enforce the rule rather vigorously in that case.

"The rule of law reigns." ???

Any doubt as to the assertion that someone violated the law to park that way, is much smaller than the doubt of any number of assertions that are perfect grounds for conviction. Sure, he can't "prove" it -- but only in the sense that no one can ever "prove" anything about the real world. I presume he was unwilling to ticket simply because it implies a moving violation, and he couldn't prove it was you, as opposed to say your wife, who did it.

Not that I think it should be illegal, but wanted to share an experience where it can be unsafe. I was turning right onto a two-way street in Palo Alto. The street is a small downtown side street without a yellow line separating the two-way traffic. As I made the turn, I noticed a car parked on my side of the street closest to the intersection facing me. While he was parked "wrong", during the moment my immediate thought was that I was turning the wrong way onto a one-way street (we have a lot of those in the bay area). I quickly swerved back on to the street I was turning from to go straight through the intersection, where there was the possibility I could have hit a car that was going straight through the intersection, or even a pedestrian that had entered the crosswalk after I made my turn. Obviously my immediate reaction should have been to stop and assess the situation, but when you think you've turned onto a one-way street you want to quickly get out of the way in case cars are headed right at you.

Maybe that means that everywhere except the ends of the block should be fair game to park "wrong" :)

I'm surprised no one commented on the real impact to parking the "wrong way". The environmental effect. Less moves and less driving equal less gas.
Park the wrong way and save a life.

When I received a warning on my car in front of my house in a residential suburban Austin neighborhood (no center line on the street), I thought my overactive HOA had impersonated a police officer. No way, I thought, a police officer would have time for something that petty. Now all of the cars parked on the street are perfectly lined up.

In Ireland it is perfectly legal to park the wrong way (relative to traffic which is, of course, the wrong way to begin with in Ireland). This can make it very difficult for North American drivers there to remember to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Why do so many of you love parking the wrong way? Is there a reason you want to go against the flow?

I never go against the flow, but the flow may sometimes go against me.

Many smaller two-way streets in Seattle permit parking on both sides of the street, but have a through area wide enough for only a single vehicle, shared by traffic traveling in both directions. So if you see an available parking space on the left side, it's far more natural to pull into the space directly than to try to find a driveway that you can use for a three-point U turn so you can come back and face the "right" direction. On such streets it is not uncommon for a plurality of cars to be parked facing the "wrong" way.

Because sometimes parking spaces are scarce and we want to grab an empty one quickly. Getting turned around without a U-turn takes time, and can lose the spot, so the choices are wrong-way parking or U-turns.

Wrong-way parking is easier, and I'd guess it was safer.

Here's one reason that parking the wrong way is dangerous but this one might be unique to the Indian (and other third world) context. We have a lot of crappy narrow country roads with no lights, washed out road markings etc. (and guard rails and reflectors being non existent) It is hard enough to see far ahead and yet people still speed.

Sometimes a car parked the wrong way will confuse the crap out of a driver especially on a curved road. You think he's facing you so try to pass him on the wrong side leading to a dangerous situation when you do notice your error. I've never been in an accident but have heard this being attributed as a cause in some nighttime crashes.

I've been parking the "wrong way" for years (mostly on narrow residential streets) and never knew it was actually illegal until maybe two months ago when a cop, who noticed me pull in the wrong way right in front of him, asked me WTF I was doing. No ticket but honestly amazed this is on the books.

I live in Dallas and cars park the wrong way ALL THE TIME, especially landscaping trucks. Of course, people also drive the wrong way down one way streets all the time. I live on a one-way street and see it nearly every day. I've even seen cops drive past the offending drivers and do absolutely nothing.

Not only in Ireland, but in much of Europe it is common to park the "wrong" way. I once lent my car to a Czech friend to use when he visited San Francisco and, surprise, he parked the wrong way and got a ticket.

Why do so many of you love parking the wrong way? Is there a reason you want to go against the flow?

In our neighborhood the streets are narrow (no middle line-there isn't a wrong side to drive on) and parking is prohibited on one side of the street. That means if you approach our house the usual way you must go find a driveway to turn around in or make a difficult U-turn up the street about two hundred yards. Most years the cops are reasonable and there are no tickets, but every so often there is a batch of tickets. I doubt it is revenue related, although our city is broke; I think it is just some new cop with no common sense.

I parked face-in in a back-in only parking space in Baltimore and they wrote me TWO tickets for it. Subsequent emails between me, my councilwoman, and various city officials showed that nobody was even sure that the law actually disallowed this, but I quickly realized that fighting it would be futile and just paid them both.

Never understood why some lots are face-in and others back-in and most don't care either way.........

I've never heard of this one ever


As someone who once got a $50 ticket for doing this I say "no." But who is the victim of parking the wrong way?

Doesn't the Peltzmann effect suggest that we should all drive drunk and blindfolded? Doesn't it prove a bit too much?

Peltzman's paper was critiqued later and found to contain many math and data errors. Wouldn't necessarily rely on it, but it does raise the question about taking old papers and reworking and critiquing them. Here is a summary:

Critique of Sam Peltzman's study *1: The effects of automobile safety regulation
$ 41.95

References and further reading may be available for this article. To view references and further reading you must purchase this article.

H. C. Joksch

The Center for the Environment and Man, Inc. 275 Windsor Street, Hartford, CT 06120, U.S.A.

Received 22 September 1975. Available online 4 July 2002.

The variables used in Peltzman's analysis were reviewed. It was concluded that some of them were arbitrarily chosen, that some were correlated, and that important factors were omitted. This may cause spurious and biased correlations. Peltzman's time series regression equations were reconstructed and found unstable, which makes them useless for predictions which are one basis for Peltzman's conclusions. The cross-sectional analyses were found to be unvalidated. Their results for important factors disagreed with those from the time series analysis. Peltzman's conclusions on the role of young drivers were compared with their actual accident involvement and found to disagree. To illustrate the misuse of trend models, a “model” for pedestrian deaths was constructed which leads to conclusions contradicting Peltzman's.

Article Outline
Here is a link:

Here is another article in JEI critiqueing his article:

One more car related topic. Why must registrations be renewed? If ownership changes a new title is issued. So why do I have to pay MD $128 every 2 years to let them know their record of me owning a particular car is accurate? Why not just raise taxes, or reduce tax refunds, by the same amount?

There are lots of cases where they know you committed a crime but didn't "see" it. In high school calculus we had a short film called "The Theorem of the Mean Policeman" about a person who got a ticket because his mean speed between toll boths was over the speed limit. It's still only a movie, they don't give tickets for this even though the Theorem of the Mean is as valid as it was in the 1970s.

The UK has average speed cameras:

I'm sure it's just a matter of time before our fearless leaders bring them to our shores...

If the goal is to maximize people caught the average speed must be an inefficient criterion. How many people speed continuously for, say, a 30 minute stretch?

The point is that with normal speed cameras, some drivers suddenly spot them and ram on the brakes then go back to speeding immediately afterwards, which is kind of bad for road safety. With average speed cameras, that behaviour goes away.

The way around this on long trips is to simply hit a pup somewhere in the middle :)

Until this past weekend, one of the streets next to my apartment was dead-end used as parking for construction workers and for anyone else who could fake being a construction worker. Over the past weekend, the city finally got around to setting up street signs and pavement markings, removed the barricades separating this segment from the adjoining street, and then officially opened it up to general use. What was before a two-way cul-de-sac suddenly became a one-way street.

Half the cars were obviously parked the wrong way now. Over a couple days, most of those cars drove off and were replaced by correctly pointing cars, but a few weren't. Those cars got tickets at mid-week.

In Montreal you cant park the wrong way. I'm always flabergasted when I see people parked the wrong way in small american towns. My train of thought goes like this "What!!! Why? Have they no shame?". In their own street they park like 3rd world lawless freaks. It makes the street look like a gipsy campground.

This is 'Merica, and we do damn well what we please and we don't want an C'nucks tell'n us otherwise.
Pass the beer and get out of the way of the television so I can watch Dancing with the Stars.

This is an example of people being acculturated to something and therefore believing it is valid. People in the UK park the 'wrong way' all the time. Nothing bad happens as a consequence. It doesn't mean you were going the 'wrong way', just that you temporary swing to the other side of the street - just like doing a u-turn or turning left. It reminds me of people's phobia in the USA of driving more than 55 mph. When they raised the speed limit on the NJ turnpike to 65 people predicted all hell would break loose - in fact accidents declined. (And yes, on a lot of highways in the USA they could raise the speed limit to 75 and it would also be OK - but people are seriously brainwashed.)

For goodness sakes guys, on street parking is a subsidy to automobile users, so we're talking about a government service that's lets you avoid having to deal with private sector parking which is by far more restrictive and expensive. Most of those weird laws are scar tissue, that is, things that were added in response to something awful. It's like the median down the middle of every interstate highway. When they built the New Jersey Turnpike it didn't have a median, just four high speed lanes and lots of fatal accidents. You'd think drivers would have the good sense not to drive head on into another car approaching at high speed, but an amazing number did not. There were lots lots and lots of horrific accidents. They actually slid the roadway apart using hydraulic rams to install a median, and now every high speed highway has some kind of median. I'll concede that's government waste and nanny state over-reach in action.

When automobiles were just seriously starting to replace horses, there were no rules about which way you could park, but I'd bet that an awful lot of drivers would cut across two lanes of oncoming traffic for a spot or pull a three lane u-turn pulling out of one with the results one would expect on a major thoroughfare. So, they passed a parking law, and the major thoroughfares where most people drive are a lot safer. I suppose the government could go through a process of classifying roads where any which way parking is more or less safe and adjust the laws accordingly, but that would cost money, lead to a variety of law suits, and no one would be happy with the results.

It appears that in the UK this is also subject to a fixed penalty, if you park facing traffic at night: see section 24.

This is a very obscure piece of legislation and it's almost impossible to understand too, with all the exceptions in it. I've never even heard of it previously, and I bet 99% of drivers have no idea it exists.

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.bnmn

Never fail to be amazed that the self-declared "land of the free" has so many petty little restrictions. No wonder everyone hates "big" government, when it imposes so many limits on your lives!

Never even heard of the idea of the "wrong" way here in the UK. If you're allowed to park, and fit in the space, no one cares if you are even at right angles to the road (assuming you have a Smart car that fits).

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