Economists Find Out-of-Town Travelers Targeted More Often for Speeding

Posted: May 2, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jim Greif

When you head out of state for your road trip this summer, make sure to go easy on the gas pedal. A new study by economics professor Thomas Stratmann and PhD candidate Michael Makowsky reveals that where you live versus where you get pulled over for speeding can increase your chances of getting a ticket — and increase the cost of that ticket.

The study, “Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations?” also shows that your race and gender may determine how likely it is that you will receive a traffic violation.

The economists conducted a study of traffic stops in Massachusetts from April and May 2001. Their paper proves what many have suspected for years:

  • Out-of-town visitors have a 51 percent chance of receiving a citation when pulled over, compared to 30 percent for local drivers.

  • The farther a driver lives from the courthouse where the ticket could be challenged, the more likely it is that they will be ticketed. Also, the fines will likely be higher.
  • Local officers are more likely to issue a ticket when citizens vote down property tax increases.

  • Police officers are less likely to issue a ticket in towns that depend on tourism revenue.

The study also shows that male drivers and Hispanic drivers receive more tickets than other drivers. Conversely, young women receive fewer tickets.

“When we first started looking at the data, we hoped that despite anecdotes to the contrary, everybody would be found to be treated equally under the law,” says Stratmann. “What we found in the data is that, in fact, people are not treated remotely equally under the law.”

The authors, both Virginia residents, came up with the idea to conduct the study after Makowsky was stopped for speeding in Massachusetts.

“I was pulled over amongst a throng of other speeding cars, and I stopped to think how I was different from the other drivers,” Makowsky says. “The first thing I thought of was my Virginia license plate.”

“Traffic laws were originally implemented to discourage people from behaving in an unsafe manner and placing other citizens in danger,” Makowsky said. “However, when there is a revenue-generating element, it changes the motives of policymakers and the law enforcement officers they employ.”

The full study can be downloaded here.

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