Do More Tickets Equal Fewer Accidents?


Some say speeding tickets are just for revenues—but could they actually help save lives?

red and blue lights

There are these very distinct stages upon being pulled over by a police officer. Once those colorful, bright (blinding, even) lights appear in your unforgiving rearview mirror, there’s the instant denial. It couldn’t be you, right? Then when those brief thoughts are dismissed by the persistence of the lights, the sinking, dreadful feeling sets in. The stomach-in-your throat feeling. Next comes sadness. Then, as you picture the images of you waiting in line at the court house, shelling out cash for the ticket, and spending hours upon hours on defensive driving that you also had to pay for: anger.

Nobody likes getting tickets—especially with the rumor-mill circulating whispers that tickets are simply to meet quotas or pad the state budget. But what if they were actually effective in lowering the number of accidents on our roads, making drives safer for you and your family? We did some research to find out.

THE CONTROVERSY

Inside the coversation on law enforcement and ticketing, there is always this argument: “They just ticket to meet quotas. Its all about making money.”

Michael Makowsky out of John Hopkins University wanted to know if this was true. He conducted a study and found that lower-income areas in financial distress were, in fact, more likely to ticket drivers:

“We use municipal budgetary shortfalls as an instrumental variable to identify the effect of traffic citations on traffic safety and show that budgetary shortfalls lead to more frequent issuance of tickets to drivers.”

However, at a deeper look into the study’s results, you will also find that those same areas turned out to be the safer ones: “Using a panel of municipalities in Massachusetts, we show that increases in the number of tickets written reduce motor vehicle accidents and accident related injuries.”

MORE EVIDENCE

George Mason University professor Thomas Stratmann conducted a study to find whether towns that aimed to raise revenue via traffic violations led to safer road safety overall.

Nearly two years of data collection and 619,104 traffic tickets (38 percent for speeding, 13 percent for seat belt violations, 12 percent for not stopping at a stop sign and 9 percent for inspection sticker violations) later, they had some answers. In conclusion, the study showed that for each increase of 100 tickets, 12 fewer accidents occurred.

In addition, Stratmann found that ticketing is even more effective in keeping drivers safe than taking other frequently suggested measures. For example, stronger enforcement reduces accidents more than lowering the speed limit.

Ticketing reduces accidents more than lowering the speed limit.

Another valid argument in favor of the effectiveness of driving violation penalties can be seen across the Big Pond. France, for example, has recently reduced its rate of driving fatalities by a whopping 43 percent. What accounted for the change? Slate tells us it was largely due to a modified ticketing and penalty system:

“Instrumental in that reduction has been a roll-out of automated speed cameras and a toughening of penalties. For example, negligent driving resulting in a death, which often results in little punishment in the United States, carries a penalty of five years in prison and a 75,000-euro fine.”

THE UNPOPULAR CONCLUSION

As it turns out, ticketing does in fact have some sort of effect on driving behavior. So, next time those unfortunate police sirens sound, and the bright lights intrude your rearview, look at the bright side: The same police officer approaching your window is the one also handing out citations that save lives.

What’s your opinion on the matter? Do you think ticketing makes roads safer?