The Impact of Deterrence Policies on Reckless Driving: The Case of Portugal
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In this paper, we test the effect of three different criminal deterrence theory policy tools: criminal certainty, severity, and celerity of punishment. Whereas most criminal deterrence studies in this field focus on the former two components of deterrence theory, this study also examines the potential deterrent effect of the latter component. Using a time-series design with monthly data, we estimate the effects of an increase in the threat of punishment for traffic offenses resulting from a general increase in fines for traffic offenses, an increase in the probability of getting caught with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level outside the legal limits, and the enactment of an “on-the-spot” fine payment policy in Portugal. We find strong evidence to support a severity effect. An increase in the statutory severity of sentence maxima for traffic violations leads to a decrease in accident and injury rates—approximately an average 0.5 percent reduction in monthly accident and injury rates. Changes in the BAC levels and the mandatory swift payment policy did not produce any convincing deterrence impact.
KeywordsBlood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level Deterrence celerity Deterrence severity On-the-spot payment Reckless driving
The authors would like to express their sincere appreciation and gratitude to Luís Aguiar-Conraria for useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT) and the Centre for Research on Public Policy and Administration (NEAPP) provided financial support for this project. We also appreciate the collaboration of the Portuguese Institute of Meteorology, António Ribeiro of the Portuguese Automobile Trade Association, and Fátima Tavares, Margarida Alexandre, Carlos Barroso, and Maria João Barros of the Department of Motor Vehicles in constructing the data set.
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