The U.S. Government Owes Almost $20 Million In Unpaid Traffic Fines

Charge or tax: you decide. - Photo: Peter Macdiarmid (Getty Images)
Charge or tax: you decide. - Photo: Peter Macdiarmid (Getty Images)

When you travel abroad, there are all kinds of things you have to think about when you hit the road. There’ll be new road signs to understand, new speed limits to stick to and you might even have to drive on the opposite side. There’s also all kinds of parking rules to follow or you could face a hefty fine. The U.S. government apparently doesn’t concern itself with things like that, however, as it now owes more than $19 million in unpaid traffic fines abroad.

The U.S. Embassy in London racked up the eye-watering bill for unpaid traffic fines, which includes things like parking fines and congestion charge fees for driving in central London. The $19.1 million in unpaid fines that the feds owes accounts for more than 10 percent of the unpaid fines that every overseas embassy currently owes Transport for London, reports the Guardian.

The $19 million fine has been amassed over the past ten years, reports the Guardian, and puts the U.S. as the worst offender for unpaid fines in the UK capital:


The unpaid fees and fines have amassed over more than a decade, making the US the worst offender among foreign diplomats, with embassies in London collectively owing £143.5m ($182m) by the end of 2023.

Statistics published by TfL showed the US was followed by Japan’s embassy, which owes £10.1m ($12.8m), and India’s high commission, owing £8.6m ($10.9m), with Nigeria, China and Russia close behind.

The congestion charge, launched in 2003, levies a £15 ($19) daily fee on most motorists to drive into the busy streets of central London between 7am and 6pm on weekdays, and from 12-6pm on weekends and bank holidays.

In response to the mountain bill, the U.S. Embassy has issued a statement saying it should be exempt from the fee as it considers it a tax, which would not normally be paid by overseas embassies. However, Transport For London asserts that it isn’t, in fact, a tax and instead is a “charge for a service,” as the BBC reports.

The U.S. Embassy avoided paying $19 a day for the last ten years. - Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg (Getty Images)
The U.S. Embassy avoided paying $19 a day for the last ten years. - Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg (Getty Images)

Now, TFL says it is pursuing legal action against the U.S. Government to try and recoup some of the costs, which equate to about the same as it costs to run the entire London Underground network for a single day. As the BBC adds:

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in London said: “In accordance with international law as reflected in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, our position is that the congestion charge is a tax from which diplomatic missions are exempt.

“Our long-standing position is shared by many other diplomatic missions in London.”

Can we class this as American exceptionalism at work, or does America’s backing from countries like Nigeria, China and Russia mean it doesn’t apply here?

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