A Corruption/Parking Tickets Map

Forbes‘s Jon Bruner has made a cool map of economists Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel‘s paper “Cultures of Corruption: Evidence From Diplomatic Parking Tickets” (noted here earlier). The paper measured diplomats who used their immunity to dodge parking fines, resulting in a list of violations per U.N. diplomat. Kuwait tops the list at 246 violations per diplomat. The map is paired with corruption scores from Transparency International, Bruner notes in his blog post:

Fisman and Miguel set out to use the parking data to understand the impact of social norms on official corruption. The idea is that diplomatic parking violations are essentially consequence free, except for any approbation that might come from the diplomat’s home state. A political culture that doesn’t mind its diplomats racking up parking tickets might not mind outright corruption.

The correlation between political corruption and parking violations is statistically robust, but a quick comparison between the two maps suggests that it’s not universal. Russia and China, both of which score poorly on the Transparency International index, had fewer than 10 outstanding parking tickets per diplomat when the study was conducted–perhaps because they have generally professional foreign services that try to avoid the appearance of taking advantage of diplomatic immunity. And Kuwait, the worst parking offender with 246 unpaid tickets per diplomat, has a middling corruption score of 4.5–better than China’s.


I'm curious whether they looked at the native parking laws in the diplomats' countries of origin. I've gotten them impression that many african countries don't have much in the way of parking laws (though perhaps that's not true in the larger cities) and that might contribute to the number of violations.


"....gotten them impression that many african countries don’t have much in the way of parking laws.... "

Living in an African country, I can tell you that the parking laws do exist but you can get around them through bribery. Alternatively, you can just ignore tickets in the knowledge that the tracking systems for fines are so badly administered it's pure bad luck if you get caught and can't bribe your way out. Finally, you can be politically connected and not pay fines.


It should also be noted that among the worst offenders for unpaid parking tickets in London are diplomats from the United States. How does this fit into the theory?


American diplomats are the worst offenders for unpaid London congestion charges, not parking tickets. We consider it a tax, and diplomats don't pay taxes. Diplomats are expected to pay parking and traffic tickets, though.

Alastair Herbert

When is a car ticket a tax and not a fine? There's been a diplomatic argument brewing in London since the congestion charge (levied to reduce traffic in Central London) was introduced.

The quixotic Mayor of London suggested he was going to button-hole the US president during his recent visit to London. Here's the story quoted from The Sun, a tabloid daily - but here with a lot of verifiable facts.

"Maybe when President Obama's hors d'oeuvre plate is whisked away he will find a bill for £5.5m ($8.4m).

"If I get the chance to I will remind him that the US owes us £5.5m in congestion charge.

"I think if they are going to have the representation here in London then they should pay the charge for driving and using our streets. So 'No representation without a congestion charge' is the slogan."

The mayor continued: "It is not a tax, it is a charge for services and I think we should test this in the courts.

"The only way we could do this is if the foreign office gets a grip on the situation and actually takes the American government to court and gets this adjudicated in the international court."

Transport for London confirmed the US Embassy owes £5.2m in unpaid Congestion Charge.

A US statement said: "The US Embassy in London conscientiously abides by all UK laws, including paying fines for all traffic violations, such as parking and speeding violations.

"Our position on the direct tax established by Transport for London in 2003, more commonly known as the congestion charge, is based on the 1960 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which prohibits the direct taxation of diplomatic missions.

"Our position is wholly in accordance with that agreement to which the United States and the United Kingdom are both signatories, and it is a position shared by many other diplomatic missions in London."

A spokesman for TfL said: "Around two thirds of embassies in London do pay the charge, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels".

Embassies with payments outstanding include the US, Russia, Japan, Germany, Nigeria, India, Sudan, Ghana, Poland and Spain".

Apparently there's a total of around £51m ($82m) owed in total. In the UK the popular feeling is that if citizens and visitors are subject to traffic control laws then diplomats should be too. Ultimately isn't the purpose of both congestion charges and parking fines exactly the same?


Joshua Northey

Why not just start prohibiting US diplomats from driving. That ought to get it paid? Presumably they are prohibited from driving tanks down the roads, why couldn't you also prohibit them from driving cars?


Cars with diplomatic plates need to be towed, not ticketed.


Is there any data on parking violations vs paid parking violations? That may give better results for determining corruption linkages.


London congestion charge: does the behaviour of us.diplomats - they refuse to pay up and are backed by their government- say a lot about american political culture?

Alex K

Should we not be wondering if perhaps it's Transparency International's scores that are flawed?

I have seen a lot of references to Transparency's results, but people are forgetting that Transparency's "data" is nothing but voluntary surveys. I think there is a tendency for people to give a lot of weight to Transparency's survey data because it reinforces their existing beliefs -- after all, it is a survey of existing perceptions!

mighty pyuthan

Do.you have.the link.the UK study on fines?