06 July 2006

Traffic Fines

There’s been a lot of fuss lately in the press about claims that police officers have targets or quotas of traffic-offence fines. Now, I’m not going to join the debate about whether or not this is so. But there is an important principle that underlies the disquiet that the public feel about this issue. The power to impose a fine for breaking the law obviously derives from the basic powers of the Sovereign. The decision to issue a ticket is an exercise of justice, even though on a fairly mundane level. But the public reasonably expect the exercise of justice to be performed (ideally) impartially, even if perfect impartiality is not fully realizable. It seems wrong to us if this task is treated as a mere job that can be controlled by performance targets or quotas. We would get especially upset if there were pay incentives for meeting certain traffic-fine targets, especially if measured in dollars-worth of revenue, as it would destroy the possibility of being treated impartially as a citizen before the law. It may be OK to structure targets and incentives into the remuneration and performance criteria of a commercial salesperson, but such a technique seems quite inappropriate in the context of law-enforcement. (This is a matter relevant to one of the 724 essay questions, by the way).

Such targets or incentives would be (in principle) almost as bad as bribes issued to influence the decision made by a judge.

On the other hand, it seems reasonable also, from a management point of view, to keep some kind of account of the numbers of tickets issued in relation to the amount of time spent patrolling the roads. If there were none, or very few, being issued, we would wonder if the officers were doing their job of enforcing the law. If the Police had no quantitative criteria for officers, it would be harder to manage their allocation of time as a workforce.

Somewhere in the middle there’s a happy medium, but unfortunately this particular debate has been caught up in political point-scoring. What’s your view?


At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a proposition: The Police Commissioner uses the justification of seeking the outcome of a reduced road toll; if a seemingly capricious administration of the law produces the desired outcome, that needs to be acknowledged - or is this a case of the end justifying the means though? (I don't think so) There is nothing outside the law in what they are doing, and if incentives can be applied to encourage enthusiasm for a fairly thankless task, then why not? I am pretty confident that if the road code was enforced more aggressively, there would be more compliance, and fewer fatal accidents. Can anyone recall what happened to the Road Toll when a reduced speed limit was introduced because of fuel price hikes? Was it the '70's? Cripes I'm old. The limit was more closely observed because people were more accepting of its need.
Signed Pious old fart Mark V

At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Grant said...

Some people say that the police should be allocating time to more 'serious' crime, rather than traffic. But it's worth realising that speeding vehicles do kill people. What could be more serious?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger alberto said...

It is interesting to observe that public transportation is not the priority of this gvt. So they want more cars in the roads but less accidents. It seems contraditory. But when we realise this fines policy we understand. More cars, more fines, more money to the gvt. Does it sound logical?
It would be effective to overcharge powerful cars. So besides the risk of being fined people would have to pay even more for fast cars.


At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Grant said...

That's all very well, Alberto, but, if it were true that the imposition of fines were merely for the sake of gaining revenue, then motorists should realise that it's in their control to avoid paying. That is, just obey the traffic laws!
In any case, what evidence is there that this govt 'wants more cars on the road'?

At 5:24 PM, Blogger alberto said...

I agree with you Grant. The final decision is always with the public. The same is true if they decide to risk their lives or not. So if they respect the law the police could not fine them and nobody is injured or dead.
The budget speech refers mainly to investment on the roading system and not in public transportation. They almost doubled the spending on land transport and they expect to increase the revenues from road user charges, vehicle registration and petrol exercise duty up to 13,1 billion. When it mentions rail system it only says further investment to ensure maintenance of a national network(pp.24-25).
That is why I assumed they will have more cars in the roads. Cause there is no evidence of increasing public transportation.It seems to me that it is a consequence. They can avoid fines but they can not avoid the lack of public transportation.
Please correct me if I am wrong cause this will help me for the second assigment of 721.


At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Grant said...

Good point, Alberto, and thanks for the reminder about the shortage of public investment in public transport. It is a long-term problem for NZ, not just for Auckland. I think NZers have become too fond of, and too accustomed to, the privacy and convenience of private vehicles, so it is politically expedient to keep building more roads for us to drive more cars on. Maybe a good fuel-price crisis will help!

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Anna said...

coming from an accounting background I would class traffic fines as a voluntary tax...if you don't break the law, you won't have to pay!

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Grant said...

Fair point, Anna. Perhaps we should class Lotto as voluntary taxation too? Or, is 'voluntary taxation' a contradiction in terms?


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