Traffic wardens are civilian staff employed by the police to enforce parking laws. Their handiwork can be seen if you ever park in a prohibited area or let your meter run out for just one... damn... second!
The name "traffic warden" is most common in the United Kingdom. In America, the typical disparaging term is "meter maid" (used for either gender), though their official name in their municipality might be something like "parking enforcement officer."
Since the job is entirely limited to handing out tickets for breaking minor laws that most people feel immune to, they've acquired a reputation for being burdensome, petty and obnoxious, providing little benefit to society and generally just making things worse for everyone. Because of the hate, they're typically portrayed as Acceptable Professional Targets. Of course, this is often shown to create a Vicious Cycle, where traffic wardens quickly become aggressive and mean because of the way they're treated by the public.
If a traffic warden shows up in media, expect tempers to be lost and arguments to follow.
Contrast with Meddlesome Patrolman.
- A McDonalds advert in the UK featured a traffic warden trying to put ticket on the windscreen of a monster truck.
- A certain phone company has a Traffic Warden go around and putting tickets on people that really shouldn't be getting tickets. Like right after they've parked. During all the scream and pleading they open up the ticket to reveal money... or at least something nice.
- An Australian lotto ad featured a traffic warden about to ticket a car as the owner rushes up only for a dog to urinate on the wheel washing of the chalk mark on the tyre.
- Gaston Lagaffe:
- Gaston's (who interprets No Parking Allowed signs as parking spots no-one ever occupies) longtime foe Longtarin, who lives only to give parking tickets. Their rivalry sometimes reaches escalating prank war proportions.
- A one-panel gag shows Gaston having crashed his car into a parking meter... and putting a coin in it anyway, under Longtarin's glare.
- One strip has Gaston deploy a robot with a buzzsaw that starts cutting down the meter. When Longtarin confiscates it, Gaston retaliates with a dog-shaped robot that pees on the meter. Revolted by its sheer tastelessness, Longtarin turns his back on it, so he doesn't see the dog is little more than a four-legged reservoir of concentrated acid.
- One strip has Longtarin lying in wait for the meter to expire with seconds left to go... then Gaston's gull flaps down with a coin in its beak, inserts it, and flies off, reducing Longtarin to tears.
- Longtarin has a Catchphrase: "Is that a traffic sign or a giant lollipop?" Naturally, Gaston uses it against him.
- Gaston leaves a gas reservoir in his car but forgets to close it. Longtarin approaches to write it up... and the car lifts off in front of him, driving him a to a nervous breakdown.
- Gaston parks under a tree in front of a No Parking sign, right under Longtarin's nose. As the patrolman readies his notebook, Gaston reassures him, hooks the car's roof to a chain dangling from the tree, then hauls it straight up, revealing he'd installed a pulley system on the tree.
Police Chief: How high up does a No Parking zone go? Are you feeling well, officer Longtarin?
- Longtarin once set up a parking meter on a No Parking sign, hitting Gaston with two tickets at once.
- In Ms. Tree, the title character originally worked as a parking attendant who met her future husband when she ticketed him. Furthermore, she was frustrated enough being relegated to that position that she accepted his offer to work for him instead.
- This is Judy's first posting as a police officer in Zootopia. Being a rabbit, she uses her naturally sharp hearing to ticket vehicles within seconds of their meter expiring.
- In The World Is Not Enough, James Bond splashes two wardens (played by those featured in Clampers) in a tight turn with the Q-Boat. Many cinema audiences in the UK cheered at this scene. Amusingly, the wardens were not told just how wet they were going to get (a small reservoir worth of water soaks them).
- Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels has a traffic warden held prisoner by the criminals and beaten up, then recovered by the heroes — who can't resist beating him up themselves.
Eddie: I fucking hate traffic wardens.
(the gang proceed to beat said traffic warden senseless)
- In the 2000 film version of Bedazzled, the Devil, in a Evil Is Petty moment, used her powers to make some parking meters expire early and then, as a meter maid, gave the cars tickets.
- The BBC nuclear holocaust drama Threads famously used a picture of an armed and injured traffic warden◊ for its publicity stills to suitably chilling effect.
- The film Murder Party stars Chris Hawley, a lonely loser and Extreme Doormat who admits (under Truth Serum) that he works as a traffic warden, makes less than $30,000 a year, and spends each day making people's days worse.
- In Good Omens the angel and demon protagonists both come upon a traffic warden writing a ticket, and both assume traffic wardens were created by the other's faction.
- When Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs found themselves in charge of the Discworld-equivalent of this department, the over-zealous clamping policy went so far as to include buildings as targets, including the Opera House and the Patrician's Palace. It could be argued that buildings do impede the flow of traffic somewhat.... Of course, Colon is a reasonable man and recognizes that Vetinari was parked on business. He's also willing to overlook the offense if the accused presents credible evidence of a free pint, a free meal, and/or information. Possibly the best trick they pulled (subsequently busted by Vetinari) was for Nobby to disguise himself as an old woman and cross the road extremely slowly in front of oncoming traffic, getting people to stop long enough that Colon could ticket them.
- In the Tom Holt novel Who's Afraid of Beowulf?, the heroes find their vehicle has been clamped while they were in the museum. The king responds to this by drawing his sword and cutting the clamps off. All bystanders cheer.
- One of the few sympathetic portrayals of traffic wardens was in the Julian Symons novel A Three Pipe Problem. Needing eyes on the streets, the hero Sheridan Hayes recruits the local traffic wardens: they know the streets, are out every day, and no-one pays them any attention.
- Wolf in Shadow takes the problems with privatizing this position to its natural extreme: the rights to ticketing cars in one neighborhood are purchased by the local crime boss, who turns it into an outright extortion racket. At one point they clamp the car of one of the heroes, despite it clearly being labeled a police vehicle. Said hero beats the clampers to a pulp with his bare hands, to the general cheers of all witnesses.
- A BBC docusoap, Clampers, followed about a bunch of traffic wardens.
- The Tomorrow People story The Doomsday Men featured a traffic warden as a Running Gag. In his first appearance, he tries to put a parking ticket on a van belonging to a friend of the TPs, only for the van to teleport away before he has a chance. He later gets fired after trying to prove to his boss that there is a disappearing van, and in his final appearance, he jumps in a river.
- In the season three opener of Primeval, a traffic warden gets killed.
- Parodied in The Chaser's War on Everything, where Julian Morrow, as the "Citizen's Infringement Officer" went around giving tickets for things such as stupid baby names instead.
- Jocelyn Jee Esien played the character of an officious traffic warden who issues tickets for increasingly ridiculous "offences", such as being in a road accident or taking a nap in the car.
- Red Dwarf:
- In the episode "Camille", Lister tries to break Kryten's programming and teach him to lie. Succeeding, Kryten describes a banana as a "small, off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden", which was changed to Tasmanian in the Czech dub, perhaps because that country does not have them.
- In the episode "Back to Reality", the crew wake up to find that Red Dwarf was a virtual reality program. Kryten's real identity turns out to be "Agent Jack Bullit of cybernautics". He assumes that he must be a Cowboy Cop, but Rimmer counters that maybe he's just a traffic warden with a ridiculously macho name. The latter option is later confirmed when they run into a real cop (of the fascist police state they're in).
- One episode of Candid Camera featured a car with a loose windscreen, which fell in and smashed when the traffic warden tried to attach a ticket.
- One sketch/bit on Trigger Happy TV featured a prank where the actor disguised as a Traffic Warden approaches a man either stopped at a red light or stop sign to tell him he can't park there. When the driver insists he's just stopped and not parked, the warden warns him not to get belligerent and starts writing up a fake ticket.
- Harry and Paul features Parking Pataweyo, a cross between Postman Pat and a traffic warden, who lies in wait to issue people with tickets the second their parking permit runs out. In Pataweyo's last sketch his colleague gives him a parking ticket on his day off.
- Parking Wars is an A&E Reality Show about parking enforcement, which shows their side of the story.
- In Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson takes a lot of shots at them.
- A skit where Lenny Henry is the next Doctor Who has him escaping the Cybermen only to find the TARDIS has been wheel-clamped. Fortunately his companion has a Disintegrator Ray.
- In the 1990's spy comedy The Piglet Files the MI-5 protagonists realise their target is on the move and start their van to chase after them, only to discover they've been wheel-clamped.
- George Roper from George & Mildred was employed as a traffic warden for a time (in keeping with his Butt-Monkey status).
- London's Burning: A traffic warden is unwise enough to wheel-clamp a vehicle driven by three tough-guy types, who don't take it very well and leave him chained to some nearby railings with three of his own clamps, as well as clamping his van and throwing the keys down a nearby drain for good measure. Neither the men of Blue Watch nor the police officer who initially responded bother to hide their amusement.
- One sketch on The Benny Hill Show features a war between the traffic wardens and the street sweepers. Hill's character is a sweeper who is winning the war for his side when he notices that one of the wardens is a pretty girl, so he negotiates a truce.
- The Beatles: "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid" - written because they heard the phrase in America and thought it sounded far more romantic than 'traffic warden'.
- That Mitchell and Webb Sound had a series of sketches called "Old Lady Job Justification Hearings," in which people have to explain what they do and "how it helps" before a panel of kind but firm old ladies. These include a snotty futures trader, a snotty PR guy, and the two comedians themselves, who are all gradually brought to realize that their careers are a waste of time. However, the one about a traffic warden has him start off as depressed because everyone's so down on traffic wardens, until the old ladies' questions give him a chance to explain that the rules he enforces are necessary and known to all drivers and that parking tickets provide a lot of revenue to the city. They declare his job a good one and reward him with cake.