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Fines and disqualification do not reduce offending, says major study

A government policy to disqualify drivers who don't pay traffic fines is doomed to failure, says the car review website dogandlemon.com
 
Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says, "Fines and the threat of disqualification have little effect on driver behaviour, and often make a bad situation worse. Fines work as a deterrent for middle-class people with reasonable incomes.  However, they are often largely ineffective against the two highest risk groups of road users – teenagers and poor people."
 
Matthew-Wilson’s conclusions are backed up by most available studies, including the largest study of fines as a deterrent ever conducted in Australia, which also concluded that higher fines do not reduce the risk of re-offending.
 
The study, carried out by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, identified 70,000 NSW persons who received a court-imposed fine for a driving offence between 1998 and 2000. Researchers then followed each offender for a period of five years to see whether they committed another driving offence.
 
After controlling for a wide range of other factors likely to influence re-offending, the Bureau found no relationship between the magnitude for the fine imposed and the likelihood of a further driving offence.
 
The same negative result was obtained for drink-drive (PCA) offences, drive while disqualified offences, exceeding the speed limit and ‘other’ driving offences.
 
For most of these offences the Bureau also found no relationship between the period of license disqualification and the risk of a further driving offence.
 
For speeding offences, longer disqualification periods actually made the situation worse because it increased the risk that the offender would drive illegally.
 
Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that they were consistent with a large body of evidence indicating that, contrary to popular opinion, tougher penalties do not reduce the risk of re-offending.
 
Matthew-Wilson adds, “The bureaucrats who come up with our road safety strategies are generally white, middle-class and middle-aged. They see life as a series of planned steps and have little idea of how young people and poor people think or act. In a typical case a student will own an old car and the WOF will run out. While he’s sorting out a WOF, the car gets a ticket. Because he hasn’t got a warrant, he can’t register his car, so he gets a ticket for that as well. Next thing enforcement fees are added. Then the bailiffs are after him. Then he gets disqualified.”
 
“Nothing is gained as a result of this. The studies are quite clear: the drivers most likely to get tickets are the least likely to be able to pay them. Neither fines nor disqualification will make the slightest difference, but may make the situation worse. That's not just my opinion; that's what virtually every study anywhere has shown.”
 
“A decade or so ago, a survey of young people who drove to a Northland training course showed that 92% had no license. 20% of these people couldn’t get a license because they were illiterate. You can’t say these people are simply criminals; they are part of the great messy underbelly of New Zealand culture. You can fine them, but you simply make criminals out of people whose main crime was growing up in a poor area.”
 
“Driver training and life skills training for the poor would be a far better use of taxpayers’ money. It’s time to focus on what works, not on what sounds right to some bureaucrat.”
 

Kept his nose clean?

Does the Dogandlemon.com editor have a clean slate?

"I haven't had any fines in the last twelve months," Matthew-Wilson tells NBR.

"Like most people, I got a few traffic fines when I was young and messy," he says.

"At the point that I became organised enough to pay off my traffic fines, I became organised enough to generally avoid getting tickets."

 

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Comments and questions
1

First offence? Probably get away with crucifixion.