Let's talk about traffic law, specifically, traffic citations. The common thinking is that accidents go down if our city gives more traffic citations to control speed, reckless driving, and so on. Right? Well, one town in northern California sharply reduced the number of traffic tickets, and guess what. Accidents went down. Way down.
Roseville, California, reduced the number of tickets its police gave by 84%. The number of tickets was 1,317 in the first six months of 2011 compared to over 8,000 during the same time the year before. The city manager said he wanted his police staff to focus on long term solutions to traffic problems and not feel pressured to write tickets. Also, he made it clear that he doesn't like speed traps.
A few nearby cities may want to take note of that. Instead of spending their time using radars on approaching cars, officers in Roseville are assigned to dangerous areas and are asked to be creative about solving traffic and safety problems. What was the result? Traffic tickets were down, as I said, by 84%. Accidents dropped, too, by 7% despite the fact that tickets were almost not being written.
Modern research does support the idea that drivers are more likely to follow the laws and be safe if they fear getting a traffic citation, but the interesting experience in Roseville suggests that traffic tickets aren't the only way to achieve road safety. Anything that is helpful to reduce the number of traffic deaths in this country, over 33,000 a year, and associated costs of at least $150 billion, is welcomed. But to an officer with a hammer, meaning a ticket book, everything may look like a nail.
Based on the Roseville statistics, officers and their bosses in the city halls can't say that tickets are the solution to everything. Most don't want to. Innovation in traffic safety, such as by better timing of traffic lights, is now becoming the focus. Giving police officers the leeway to devise practical solutions to problems may be the best way to achieve safety.