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Punishment for traffic violations should be reduced for first time violators

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Licensewhich permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Abstract Minor offences are often punished with a fine. Up to 2007 the number of fines in the Netherlands was increasing but 2008 saw a decline.

At the same time fines were raised significantly. The question is whether the raise in fines caused the decline in the number of fines. To answer this question a database containing administrative fines for speeding on the motorway over the period 2007—2010 is analyzed.

Two categories are compared: For each category the elasticity of fines is estimated. For fines handed out by police officers we see no such effect: The conclusion is that motorists make moderate adjustments in their behavior when fines are raised but only if the risk of being caught is high.

Social harm associated with speeding offences depends on the number of accidents which may result. It follows that by raising the fines the number of offences can be reduced and thus the harm. The size of this effect is measured by the so-called elasticity of fines.

On the other hand, if fines are fixed and the risk of apprehension is subject to control, then the optimal fine depends on the marginal net damage to society, the cost of enforcement, and the risk of apprehension. It follows that by raising the risk of apprehension the number of offences can be reduced. After a long period of no change the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice has raised the fines several times in punishment for traffic violations should be reduced for first time violators past five years.

These raises were partly meant to counteract the effects of inflation and partly to induce a reduction in the number of offences. In addition technological developments meant that the risk of getting caught for speeding offences has increased significantly in the past seven years.

In an ex ante study, Significant [ 2 ] used a simulation model to assess the effect of the planned increase in fines. The question is whether the Ministry was successful in achieving its goal. The number of major and minor offences including traffic offences has declined over the past five years, but it is unclear to what extent this decline is caused by the higher fines, changing risk of getting caught, or other circumstances such as the economic downturn, problems with technical equipment, and changes in police priorities.

To pinpoint the cause of the decline this paper focusses on fines for speeding offences on the motorway because this is a large group of homogenous minor offences, committed by ordinary people from all walks of life and not just criminals. Two categories are compared to account for the perceived risk of being caught: For each category the elasticity of fines is estimated using regression analysis on a dataset covering the period 2007—2010.

The main question being answered is whether people react differently to a raise in fines when they are fined by an ASMS with a high perceived risk of getting caught or by a police officer with a low perceived risk of getting caught. It is also checked if young drivers react differently and what effect the recent economic downturn and changes in police priorities have on the elasticity of fines.

The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 2 describes the literature on fines for traffic offences. Section 3 provides a brief description of the Dutch situation.

Section 4 explains how an ASMS works, while Section 5 gives information on fines handed out by police officers.

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In Section 6 the theoretical model and the methodology used to estimate the elasticity of fines are explained and in Section 7 the results are presented. Section 8 ends with a summary and conclusion.

  • For the police there is a tradeoff between the costs of managing accidents and the costs of enforcing speed limits;
  • Multiple cameras are installed along a fixed section of the motorway;
  • In addition the administrative fines for offences detected by police officers are also analyzed;
  • There is no influence from the availability of police officers or priority of police forces;
  • All fine revenues go to the National Treasury and not to the police;
  • Consequently the sensors in the road surface are no longer able to detect whether a motor vehicle is passing by and the ASMS will not function properly.

Previous Research on Fines for Traffic Offences There is not a lot of literature on the relationship between the amount of the fine and the number of traffic offences, in particular speeding. Most of the available literature comes from the area of road safety and looks at the relationship between the severity of the penalty and road accidents, in particular more severe punishment of driving under the influence for an overview see Wilms et al.

For motorists there is a tradeoff between greater accident damage at higher speeds and average journey times. For the police there is a tradeoff between the costs of managing accidents and the costs of enforcing speed limits. Briscoe [ 4 ] found that doubling the punishment for driving under the influence in New South Wales in Australia in 1998 did not lead to fewer offences or less accidents.

  1. If there are road works, the fines are also higher.
  2. There is no influence from the availability of police officers or priority of police forces.
  3. The number of major and minor offences including traffic offences has declined over the past five years, but it is unclear to what extent this decline is caused by the higher fines, changing risk of getting caught, or other circumstances such as the economic downturn, problems with technical equipment, and changes in police priorities. Where demerit points have been erased in circumstances described above, the three year rolling period in which a person can incur 12 demerit points before being disqualified will be taken from the date the person began their disqualification.
  4. The conclusion is that motorists make moderate adjustments in their behavior when fines are raised but only if the risk of being caught is high.
  5. For trucks and busses the fines are higher.

Mathijssen [ 5 ] found similar results for the Netherlands in 1992. Moffat and Poynton [ 7 ] could not establish a relationship between the fine or the duration of a driving ban and the risk of reoffending. Even less is known on the relationship between speeding offences and increases in fines. SWOV [ 12 ] and Mathijssen [ 13 ] found that if punishments are already relatively high, a high increase in enforcement is required to induce a small change in motorist's behavior.

In other words, the marginal rate of return of an extra unit of enforcement is not constant but decreases. A study by Tierolf et al. This theory supports the findings of Tierolf et al.

Polinsky and Shavell [ 1617 ] and Garoupa [ 18 ] predicted that younger drivers have a larger elasticity while wealthier drivers have a smaller elasticity. Using data from Israel and the USA Bar-Ilan and Sacerdote [ 19 ] found empirical evidence that the severity of the fine influences the number of red light offences.

They also found that young people and people with older motor vehicles are more sensitive to a change in fine. Fines in the Netherlands In the Netherlands fines are a common form of sanctioning.

This increase applied to all types of fines, but fines for minor offences were raised less than fines for major crimes. If weighted with actual volume, then the actual average rise will be lower. Since then fines are raised with a correction for inflation on the 1st of January each new year see Table 1. Average raise in fines. In the Dutch legal system there is a variety of fines. Administrative fines are fines for very common and not so serious offences, such as traffic violations.

They are usually handed out by the police or by automated computer systems. Out-of-court settlements are proposals by the Public Prosecutor or the police on behalf of the Public Prosecutor for all kinds of minor and a few major offences. The suspect may decline the proposal in which case the Public Prosecutor has to make a decision on how to proceed. In 2008 penal orders were introduced. Eventually these are meant to replace most of the out-of-court settlements.

The difference with out-of-court settlements is that penal orders are not a proposal but a final decision. The last type of fines is fine sentences imposed by a judge. The number of administrative fines has increased rapidly during the last decade. However, the largest increase took place in the early part of the decade. Because the administrative fines are the largest part of the fines the revenue from fines kept on rising until 2009 see Figure 2.

All fine revenues go to the National Treasury and not to the police. Various types of fines, 2000—2012. Revenue from fines in euros, 2000—2012. It is worth noting that the raise in fines took place against the background of a changing economic climate.

After years of economic growth, the Netherlands officially went into recession by the end of 2008 with a slight revival in 2010. Because transport is a big economic sector in the Netherlands, this directly affects the number of motor vehicles on the road. Indirectly, less economic activity leads to less traffic from commuters and thus also to a drop in mobility see Figure 3. Mobility in the Netherlands, index 2005—2012.

Should speeding fines be based on wealth?

Administrative fines can be roughly split into three groups: The number of offences detected by police officers depends highly on where and when the police officers are at work and on priorities made by the head of the police department. In general the risk of getting caught is not high. To a lesser extent this is also the case for individual mobile cameras and radars. When these devices are in operation they will detect almost all offences they are meant to detect, but whether and where they are in operation is often also a matter of police priorities.

The ASMS, on the other hand, are not subject to police priorities. If they are in operation almost all speeding offences are detected. In order to find out what influences the number of fines and how sensitive motorists are to changes in fines, administrative fines for offences detected by ASMS are analyzed. In addition the administrative fines for offences detected by police officers are also analyzed.

The next section explains how the ASMS works; the section after that gives some information on fines for motorists pulled over by police officers.

Multiple cameras are installed along a fixed section of the motorway. At the beginning of this section there are sensors in the road surface which detect whether a motor vehicle is passing by. If a motor vehicle is detected the digital camera above the road photographs the motor vehicle and puts a time stamp on the photograph.

  1. Because all fine revenues go to the National Treasury, there are no monetary incentives for police forces to change priorities.
  2. Fog, snow, or other bad weather conditions may blur the camera's vision.
  3. Abstract Minor offences are often punished with a fine.
  4. The system is not always able to recognize the number plates, especially in the case of foreign number plates.
  5. The last type of fines is fine sentences imposed by a judge. Because the ASMS only detects speeding offences, fines issued for other offences than speeding offences are excluded.

The same thing happens at the end of the section. Using automatic number plate recognition ANPR software the number plate can be recognized and matched to a motor vehicle in the database of all number plates issued.

Based on the number plate the type of motor vehicle trailer, bus, truck, motor, or passenger car can be identified. Based on the time stamp of the photographs and the distance between the cameras, the average speed of each motor vehicle can be calculated see Figure 4.

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If the average speed exceeds the speed limit for that particular type of motor vehicle at that particular section of the road, then the ASMS sends its data to a specialized unit of the Public Prosecutor. If not, the data are not recorded. As long as it is not a matter of excessive speeding the computers at this specialized unit automatically notify the national fine collection agency. This agency sends out a notification with a request for payment to the registration holder. Fines are fixed and increase with the actual speed.

This is a legal correction to take into account any bias in speed measuring systems. For trucks and busses the fines are higher. If there are road works, the fines are also higher. The registration holder is always liable even if he or she was not the actual person driving.

Because the registration holder may not be the actual person who committed the offence, no record is kept after the fine has been paid.