Archive for the ‘Traffic Enforcement’ Category

More Tickets, More Revenue, Fewer Crashes

It’s not uncommon to hear gripes of how traffic tickets, red light cameras, and the like are merely intended to boost revenues for cash-hungry towns. An interesting new paper from Michael D. Makowsky and Thomas Stratmann, looking at municipalities in Massachusetts (where the majority of tickets given by towns go to out-of-town drivers, particularly when towns are strapped, as indicated by their move to override the property tax cap) suggests that the revenue imperative in itself can help make the roads safer.

They write: “This paper shows that traffic fines reduce the number of car accidents and related injuries. We address the endogeneity problem that remains after using town and time effects by estimating the fixed effects model with instrumental variables. Our instrument is whether a town asked for more money through an override referendum and it’s interaction with stopped out of town drivers. Using panel data, we find that more tickets are issued when a town has asked for an override referendum, and that tickets issuance increase the more out of town drivers that are stopped, lending support to the tax exporting hypothesis while controlling for town fixed effects. Using these estimates, we find that tickets are a far more effective reducer of car accidents and automobile accident related injuries than ordinary least square estimation would indicate.”

Also of interest: “We find that in town with financial distress police officers are more likely to issue a ticket than a warning to out of town drivers.” (a finding that essentially jibes with what they concluded in another good paper, Makowsky, M. D. and T. Stratmann (2009). “Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations.” American Economic Review 99(1).

(via Marginal Revolution)

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2009 at 1:10 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Habitual DUI Driver Banned “For Life” Inexplicably Posesses Valid License, Kills Another Driver

This takes lax traffic enforcement to new levels.

Police said English had been arrested six times on charges of driving under the influence. “His driver’s license has been suspended numerous times, I think an excess of 20 times,” Evansville police Chief Brad Hill said.

Posted on Monday, December 29th, 2008 at 6:31 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Driving While Male

Quality Planning, whose research shows up a bit in Traffic, has released a new study which shows that “male drivers are cited for reckless driving 3.41 times more than women.”

The data was derived thusly:

“Quality Planning said it analyzed 12 months’ of 2007 policyholder information for U.S. drivers, comparing the number of moving and nonmoving violations for both men and women. Overall, the data shows that men are much more likely to receive a traffic citation than women, and that this difference in driving behavior is consistent across all age groups.”

Men do drive more miles, of course, and I’m not sure if this was corrected for in some way (women may drive recklessly but their exposure is lower, so less chance of being caught; or maybe male traffic cops really are less likely to issue tickets to women — after all, as this study by Michael Makowsky and Thomas Strattman found, “ceteris parabis, young females have the lowest probability of receiving a speeding ticket”), but the gender difference seems much larger in any case than any mileage discrepancy.

Two other points worth noting:

“The resulting accidents caused by men lead to more expensive claims than those caused by women.”

“Women drivers were also about 27 percent less likely than men to be found at fault (1-49 percent negligent) when involved in an accident, according to the company.”

(Tap of the horn to UC-Berkeley’s Traffic Safety Center)

Posted on Saturday, November 15th, 2008 at 2:55 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Risky Business: Speeding and Trading

It’s hardly news in the traffic psychology world that people who routinely speed fall under the category of what are called “sensation-seekers.” But it’s always interesting to see just who those people are, and how this behavior correlates with other areas of their life.

A study by Mark Grinblatt, a professor of finance at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Matti Keloharju, a finance professor at the Helsinki School of Economics, titled “Sensation Seeking, Overconfidence and Trading Activity” (available here), gets at that question in an interesting way.

They had access to an interesting data set: A record of investing behavior among Finnish households that had, scattered amongst its sub-categories, the number of speeding tickets those households received. And they found an interesting relationship: “Each additional speeding ticket tends to increase turnover by 11%.” In other words, the people who sped the most, traded the most.

The economists were really looking to find evidence of whether behavioral attributes could explain trading volume, but the finding is just as relevant for driving. Whether it was down to sensation-seeking or, perhaps, overconfidence, the riskiest investors took the most risks on the road. And given that this was Finland, where speeding tickets for violations over 15 kph are related to one’s income, the risks one took could bear a high financial (and personal) cost. Interestingly, those who traded most didn’t see better performance than those who traded less (not to mention all the money they probably lost to speeding tickets). And it will surprise no one that “sports cars,” as a variable, were more linked to the most active traders, though not as much as speeding tickets.

Posted on Thursday, November 13th, 2008 at 4:43 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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“The Heavy Stuff”

I know we shouldn’t expect too much from outlets like AOL News, but note how this story replicates the classic cultural construct that “drunk driving is a horrible crime” and “speeding is OK and just something for the police to make money off of…”

After discussing how fines are rising for first-time speeding infractions, the article notes:

“Now, for the heavy stuff: drunken driving, known as DUI or DWI depending on your state.”

Speed, presumably, is the light stuff, the frothy romantic-comedy if you will in the pantheon of traffic safety, as compared to the dark tragedy of drunk driving. How light? This from NHTSA: “Annually, about 32 percent of all fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes were speeding-related, i.e., at least one of the drivers involved in the crash exceeded the posted speed limit or was driving too fast for the prevailing conditions.”

Not to mention things like the vast, exponential increase in chance of pedestrian death as speeds move from 20 mph to 30 mph.

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2008 at 11:17 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Markets in Everything (the Traffic Edition)

From the Chicago Tribune:

“In markets selling fake seat belts in neighboring Rawalpindi, stores have sold out. These belts are threadbare, and their buckling mechanisms do not appear to be strong enough to withstand a stomach after a heavy meal, let alone a 5-m.p.h. car crash.

“These belts aren’t really made for cars,” acknowledged entrepreneur Waqas Ali, 23, who sells fake seat belts and other car parts. “They’re of no use. We just put them in because of the police.”

Posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 9:20 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Black Boxes

Here’s a pretty compelling argument for black box recorders and the like.

Like Jorg Haider, the driver here seems to have had a few. The black box “allegedly showed Butres was travelling at 113mph, with the throttle 70 per cent open, despite bad weather that had left the road covered in puddles.”

The driver is denying it; absent the technology, it might be harder to make the prosecution’s case (even with witnesses).

Posted on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 9:16 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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This Takes Some Doing

From the BBC:

“Sao Paolo police who pulled over Armando Clemente da Silva were shocked to discover he had clocked up nearly 1,000 violations, local media report.

Mr da Silva had accumulated the fines for speeding and running red lights over a seven-year period.

The driver, 36, said he had not received any penalty tickets because he had been too busy to register his car.”

The driver, incidentally, owes close to two million dollars. The car is worth about $6500.

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2008 at 1:51 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Le Vice Anglais

We’ve gotten used to stories of British youth behaving badly while abroad on stag-dos and the like — and I sometimes think Europe will meet its end not due to the conflagration of wars but through the endemic cultural and physical damage wrought by the exchange of marauding bands of drunken tourist-ambassadors on EasyJet-fueled “city escapes” — but from the Times (hat tip to Steve Hymon) comes this story of Brits behaving badly on French motorways:

“In a four-hour period last weekend, on the A26 motorway near Saint-Omer, a Franco-British patrol stopped 30 cars for breaking the 130km/h (80mph) limit. All but two were from Britain. British drivers have committed half of the most serious speeding offences – over 125mph – in the region this year.”

The story goes on to note:

“The British, who used to be seen in France as cautious and courteous drivers, have overtaken the Germans as speed fiends since 2002, when President Chirac installed thousands of speed cameras. French drivers have begun obeying the limits, but many foreigners have not, because Europe has not applied an accord reached last spring on the cross-border enforcement of fines.”

This is a bit curious, as some studies have shown Brits have the most positive attitude in all of Europe toward speed cameras. Maybe they just think driving fast is the thing to do on the Continent — even if the idea of the French driving like maniacs has now become as recherche as berets on the Left Bank. Maybe it’s the lack of punishment. Maybe they need to be Locked Up Abroad (the only TV I see on a regular basis).

Reading the story reminded me a bit I had recently come across in Julio Cortazar’s curious travelogue of the French motorway system, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, in which he and his partner visit all the rest areas from Paris to Marseilles, a book that was really more about metaphysical inquiries than a rigorous investigation of the traffic details as I would have liked (and that’s him, above, in “Fafner,” his VW camper-van). In any case, at one point (this is 1982), Cortazar notes:

“By the third day, it has become increasingly evident: Out of every ten tourists driving toward the Midi, seven are British. It becomes almost boring to look at the plate, GB dominates by a long shot. (Of course, there are lots of French, but we tend to think of tourists as foreigners, and we pretend that here the French are the only traveling salesmen or salesmen traveling, it doesn’t matter.

Carol admits that on our previous trips down the autoroute, the Belgians ruled in the rest areas almost offensively, while now their solitary B peeks out from time to time. We think about rhythms of vacations, staggered migrations, which undoubtedly account for this British invasion, otherwise simultaneous to the one in the Malvinas Islands, the vagaries of which we follow every three or four hours by short-wave radio. I am not going to concern myself here with the Malvinas, as the Bible says somewhere, everything has its time and its place; I’ll limit myself to wondering whether so many English cars on the autoroute might not be a perfectly British way for many of them to give Maggie Thatcher the finger and trade the penguins of Port Stanley for the roulette wheel of Monte Carlo.”

No word on how fast they were driving.

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 at 2:29 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Left-lane Nudge?

I’m always interested in unconventional solutions to traffic issues, and reader Paul up in Ontario sent along the following: “I observed recently that on a road under re-construction, the process involved grinding a rough surface on a lane prior to re-surfacing. On a multi-lane road, the lanes were not all surfaced at the same time. As a result, whenever a motorist encountered this “noisy” surface, they shifted to a lane with a smoother surface. As a result, the noisy lane became open!”

His idea would be to pave the left, or “passing” lane in such a way that a driver would presumably only stay in it for a bit before the ensuring vibration became annoying. This would solve the problem of “left-lane” bandits, people who camp out in the lane that is designated, by law or by norm, for passing slower traffic. People would make their passing maneuver, then move back into a lane to the right.

One issue, of course, is that for some people, the fastest drivers, the left-lane becomes their de facto lane, and they may force out dozens of drivers (necessitating all kinds of disruptive lane changes) for their own benefit. This raises another possibility. The road could be grooved in such a way, as in Japan’s Melody Road (that’s an engineer inspecting the road pictured above) to produce a certain sound at a certain speed. Grooving could presumably be laid so that drivers going over a certain speed produced a really grating, revulsive sound (music might be tricky as one person’s annoyance would be another’s delight). In a sort of Nudge-like way, drivers could choose to stay in the unpleasant lane if they wished, but they would be subtly steered toward the more harmonic travel lanes.

The grooves of the Melody Road, it has been suggested, can be rather powerful (and certainly more so than signage): “You need to keep the car windows closed to hear well,” wrote one Japanese blogger. “Driving too fast will sound like playing fast forward, while driving around 12mph has a slow-motion effect, making you almost car sick.” There you have it: Nausea, the new traffic calming device!

The concept has been demonstrated in Denmark as well, much earlier in fact, in the so-called “Asphaltotone,” the creation of artists Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus, shown below (in Danish):

Grooves have already made their mark on road safety, of course. The so-called “Sonic Nap Alert Pattern,” or SNAP, was first tested on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1987 (after numerous instances of “drift off road” crashes due to fatigue and other causes). SNAP had the advantages of not being raised (the Turnpike had to be bare for snow-plowing), and being narrow, so repair and maintenance vehicles could traverse the roadside without obstruction. In time, the Turnpike saw a 70% reduction in DOR crashes after the shoulder rumble strips were installed. They too have a sound quality, of course: They get louder as you’re going faster, and engineers had to strive to adjust the pattern to make sure it was loud enough to be heard over the ambient sound of the car/truck interior.

Pretty groovy.

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 at 1:47 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Inalienable Right to Speed

One of my pet peeves in the reporting of traffic crashes is the inevitable question asked by a correspondent at the scene: “Do we know if drugs or alcohol were involved?”

This question subtly implies that if they were not involved, that somehow qualitatively changes the nature of the crash. The person could have been driving in a criminally negligent manner, but as long as drugs or alcohol were not involved we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. It must have “just been an accident.” The legal penalties are adjusted accordingly.

To use just one example of how this obsession with alcohol in crashes can skew the actual causes of risk on the road, Leonard Evans notes that while MADD was formed after the death of a child by a drunk driver, about 90% of child pedestrians killed in traffic fatalities are killed by sober drivers.

Kent Sepkowitz, in an op-ed in today’s New York Times, makes several interesting points on this theme. One is that speeding is not treated as an agency “priority” at NHTSA, and that “unlike the statistical attention afforded alcohol (20 pages of a 150-page document), the section devoted to speeding comes in at a measly three pages.”

He also points to the statistical aberrations littered throughout NHTSA reporting: “Consider this: in Texas, in 2005, 3,504 people died in a traffic accident; 1,426 (about 41 percent) were considered speeding-related. In sharp contrast, for Florida, 3,543 died yet only 239 were considered speeding-related — about 7 percent.” Were Texans just driving vastly faster than Floridians? “Not likely,” says Sepkowitz. “Different states, for various reasons, analyze their automotive fatalities in different ways, but the result is that the safety agency’s official speeding-related fatality rate of 28 percent is almost certainly a low-ball estimate.”

He goes on to make an argument that, in many other contexts, would be seen as sensible, but in the context of the road has always been seen as somehow draconian and repressive: Limit the speed automobiles can travel. There would be fewer lives lost, less of a social cost in crashes (twice the cost of congestion, some estimates have found), and a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. We also wouldn’t need to spend vast sums for police troopers to sit on the side of the road (or install automated speed cameras) and catch the random trickle of offenders. Instead of trolling around trying to clamp down on the unpleasant side effects, why not go straight to the source?

It remains a good and open question why cars are sold with the ability to perform at over twice the statutory limit. We tend to bang on about “personal responsibility,” freedom, etc. I frankly don’t really care whether someone, like the Lamborghini driver recently in Los Angeles whose car disintegrated into flame upon high-speed impact with a parking structure, chooses to take his own risks. But, given that the roads are public, shouldn’t the rest of us have the freedom not to be routinely threatened by the actions of people like this?

Posted on Monday, September 8th, 2008 at 8:38 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Make Magazine-style DIY Traffic Hack

In the ongoing series of local residents’ efforts to slow traffic in their neighborhoods, I bring you this fake speed camera, installed by a dentist in Hamburg.

Said the dentist: “This street leads to school and kindergarten. But it does not seem to interest the drivers. The limit is 60, but despite this they are always racing.”

The report notes the curious detail that because “Kaps’ fake speed radar does not emit a light which might endanger traffic, he has not broken the law.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 2:38 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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“I feel as if I am in a circus all the time”

That’s what one tourist said about Cairo traffic. But as of late there’s some new laws on the book aimed to calming the country’s famously manic traffic. Readers of the book will know of my interest in corruption and how that trickles down to traffic, and it’s no exception here. The question is: When laws are made stronger (ostensibly with a reformist goal) in a place plagued by corruption, does it improve things or simply raise the rent-seeking abilities of corrupt officials?

One problem is that some of the new regulations seem Byzantine and not particularly relevant to traffic safety, like requiring fire extinguishers and obligatory first-aid kits in cars. Political analyst Amr El Shobaki was quoted in the FT: “The new traffic law is an example of the rise of extortion in Egypt… [W]ith some effort and sensitivity, the authorities could have presented legislation that improves the situation on the roads, instead of one which seeks to extort money and spread corruption.” I’ve not seen, for example, studies showing how the presence of a fire extinguisher helps eliminate the most common causes of road danger (speed, alcohol, red light running, etc.).

And bribery is, of course, a regressive tax. “The fines are now so high it will no longer be enough to pay off a traffic policeman with E£5 or E£10 [$1.90, €1.30, £1],” said Salah Abdel Ghani, a taxi driver. “This is a law that will affect only the poor, like those who drive taxis and pick-up trucks.” On the other hand, it is noted, the children of wealthy families obtain their licenses before they’ve even learned to drive.

Of course, authorities may claim a short-term safety increase, if only because, as one wag told the Al-Ahram Weekly, “You may have noticed that there are fewer cars in the street, especially the microbuses that are often driven by people with no driver’s licence. In 6 October City about 60 per cent of microbuses have disappeared, mostly because they were operating in violation of the law.”

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2008 at 9:37 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Box, Blocked

One of the interesting things I gleaned from Jeffrey Kluger’s far-reaching book Simplexity is the observation, via NYC traffic guru Sam “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, that during the worst of Manhattan’s traffic paralysis, the dreaded “gridlock,” some 60 percent of the city’s total road capacity would be available. “All of the action,” notes Kluger, “takes place in the intersections.”

One of the reasons, of course, is the dreaded condition of “blocking the box,” wherein drivers get caught out in the intersection on a red signal, thus obstructing the competing flow. This is fairly chronic behavior: One study found that at nine of Manhattan’s ten busiest intersections, some 3000 vehicles blocked the box over a nine hour period.

I kept experiencing this on a recent approach to the Holland Tunnel during the evening peak. As I stared at the large signs, warning of points off the license and fines, I found myself wondering if there were any more novel solutions beyond mere punishment (and there have been calls to increase ticketing of box-blockers). Was there a Nudge-style solution? I’m not sure the recent Nudge for speed reduction would work here, but maybe there’s something else?

While we’re on the subject of carrots rather than sticks, I was intrigued by this notice from the Times of India. On August 1st, in Hyderabad, drivers who obey the laws will be rewarded with a favorite Indian sweet: ” To get the lip-smacking dood peda, all you have to do is wear a helmet, carry original driving licence, RC, PUC certificate and insurance papers.” I dunno, maybe NYC traffic cops could give out Jolly Ranchers at intersections to drivers who don’t stray into the box?

Posted on Friday, August 1st, 2008 at 2:57 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



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