Study: More traffic tickets, fewer accidents

It’s always been the same argument.  Our clients are issued traffic tickets in New York and claim that it’s all about revenue generation.  The enforcement and administrative agencies in question respond with a simple “we don’t want to issue traffic summonses or set high fines and surcharges—we just want to encourage everyone to be safe”.

While it may be true that there are indeed many people more concerned with the number of dollars collected than the number of bodies flying through windshields, the “it’s all about money” side of the equation took a big hit yesterday.

Data from a 2008 study of Massachusetts traffic was released and shows that the heavier the police presence, the safer roads become.

More traffic tickets equal fewer accidents. Fewer tickets lead to more accidents.

A co-author of the study– Towson University economics professor Michael Makowsky—said simply that “As you garner a reputation as an area with lax enforcement, people are going to drive a little more recklessly.  Writing tickets and enforcing traffic laws matters.”

The study, written with George Mason University professor Thomas Stratmann, focused on whether roads in towns that sought to raise revenue through traffic violations became safer.

The survey examined 21 months of data collected by Massachusetts police departments between 2001 and 2003. Officers wrote 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.

Using a complex formula, the study found that for each increase of 100 tickets there were 12 fewer accidents.

The study also found safety is more dependent on traffic law enforcement than on specific traffic laws. For instance, stronger enforcement would reduce accidents more than lowering the speed limit.

The next time you pass a police officer on the highway and mutter under your breath or are pulled over and issued a NY speeding ticket or other traffic ticket, remember this study.  Such enforcement may actually, over time, make the very roads you use safer.

The next question we’d like answered is how much does the fine and surcharge imposed actually promote safe driving?  The study says more traffic tickets means fewer accidents, but would that be true if each traffic ticket simply granted field level access to CitiField and had no negative repercussions?

Our guess is no.  The penalties behind the traffic ticket, not the ticket itself, are what encourage safe driving and decrease accidents on the road.  So how high should these penalties be?  Does $100 promote safe driving, $500 safer driving and $1000 safest driving?  Will DMV hide behind a study like this every time they raise existing surcharges or invent another?   Let’s hope penalties remain relatively reasonable and don’t actually encourage safe driving to the extent that people never leave their garage.

NYTicketHELP learned of this story via Reid J. Epstein of Newsday.  The original story can be found here.