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7/20/2007
Study: Cops Target Out of State Drivers
A study finds that out-of-town and out-of-state drivers are more likely than locals to receive speeding tickets in Massachusetts.

Boston police
A study released earlier this year by researchers at George Mason University finds evidence that out-of-state drivers are more likely to receive speeding tickets than local drivers. Economics Professor Thomas Stratmann and PhD candidate Michael Makowsky examined every traffic stop in the state of Massachusetts over a two month period in 2001 to identify the demographic criteria most likely to result in an expensive citation as opposed to a simple warning. Makowsky came up with the idea for the study after receiving a ticket in the Bay State.

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

The data showed that, overall, any motorist who is stopped had a 46 percent of receiving a ticket with an average cost of $122. The chance of being ticketed jumped an additional 51 percent for those holding an out-of-state license. They also received larger fines. Hispanics were least likely to catch a break while young females enjoyed the greatest chance of getting off with just a warning.

The study found that the decisions by officers on the side of the road on whether to issue a citation were not made in a vacuum. The data showed a direct correlation between per capita police budgets and the amount of traffic fines collected. More tickets brought a bigger budget, and when the budget increased police salaries increased in a direct proportion. The researchers explained how the budgetary incentives of local politicians reached the level of the officer on the street.

"A police officer is generally disinclined to issue a ticket because it requires work without immediate personal benefit," the report stated. "The chief, however, is monitoring her work, evaluating her with regards to the number of traffic stops and issued fines, and how many drivers eventually pay their fines (as opposed to having the fine successfully overturned in court)... The amount of work effort associated with a citation issuance depends on the probability that a driver will appeal the ticket to a judge.... Whether a driver appeals a ticket depends on the expected cost and benefit. The expected cost includes the time and effort of going to court, which is a function of the distance from the driver's home to the assigned district courthouse."

Political representatives face pressure to keep taxes low while increasing the amount of revenue collected to improve city services. For this reason, the ideal source of this revenue turns out to be the non-voter -- a motorist from out-of-state or a different town. This effect was found to be limited only in the towns that depend on tourism revenue. In all cases, the police chief ensures compliance with the political needs by promoting and giving raises to the officers that best achieve the political goals.

"Police officers will find their incentives in alignment with revenue maximizing politicians if more traffic fines lead to a larger police budget," the report stated. "Police officers benefit from a larger budget through higher salaries and amenities."

The George Mason University findings match those of a Federal Reserve study that found the number of traffic tickets rises as city incomes fall. A full copy of the study is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations? (George Mason University, 1/30/2007)



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