Monday, May 25, 2009

Traffic fines, safety and revenue

Traffic fines are there to force people to obey the law. But in the current recession, there is a sense that various jurisdictions are increasing fines or their enforcement because they generate some welcome revenue. Also, the fact that the evaluation of police officers may depend on how much they enforce, or generate revenue, may also lead to a departure from the safety motivation of fines. Thus, the question is to what extend are fines determined by revenue considerations?

Michael Makowsky and Thomas Stratmann use data from all traffic citations issued over a two-month period in Massachusetts and find that local tax revenue matters. For example, out-of-towners are more likely to receive a fine instead of a warning, which can be regarded as evidence of taxes being exported to non-voters. Drivers are also 26% more likely to be stopped in a town where citizens recently rejected a tax increase. There, out-of-towners are 38% more likely to be fined, and fines increase with distance of residence. These effects mostly disappear with state troopers, who should not care about local tax conditions. Other interesting results: women are less likely to be fined, as residents in small towns, who are more likely to know the policeman personally.

1 comment:

Stephen Monrad said...

This is one of those economics results that isn't really all that surprising. Police are real people. They are motivated by all sorts of different things.

Does it really matter? I think it depends on how distorted enforcement gets. If you get off on a speeding ticket once when you know the cop and you were going 10 miles per hour over the limit. I'm not that concerned. On the other hand, if you always get off when you speed or don't get a ticket when you are going way over the limit, then there is a problem.