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Fotocívicas: Changing Fines for Community Work and Educational Penalties to Improve Drivers’ Behaviour

Fotocívicas is a behaviourally inspired traffic control system that relies on educational and civic fines aiming to transform drivers’ behaviour by reducing recidivism and licensing effect among offenders. It sets out to change the previous system, which was based on monetary fines with cameras placed where drivers were more prone to speed, not where more fatalities happened, without improving behaviours or road safety

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Traffic control technology includes static cameras for traffic violations at intersections and speed radars (static and mobile) for speeding. Fotocívicas is a traffic control system based on technology that aims to generate behavioural changes among drivers through community service and educational penalties. The system had the mission to fix a list of deficiencies on the existing one, Fotomultas, that caused repudiation among citizens and a boomerang effect among the targeted population (car drivers) since it was perceived as deeply unfair.

Fotomultas was based on technology and monetary penalties for traffic offenders: Private companies received half of each fine collected, the contract required a minimum number of tickets to be imposed and the system was not totally transparent. The priority was public revenue, not road safety.
There was no diagnosis of the traffic incidents’ spatial distribution and characteristics to inform a road safety policy. There was no before-after evaluation mechanism to determine a causal relationship between a reduction in traffic incidents and the system itself. The location of speed radars and cameras was not based on road safety indicators and was hidden from the public: they were placed where persons used to speed more often, not where more lives would be saved. There was no public certification for the calibration of cameras and radars.

When speed limits were adjusted, under a superficial application of the Vision Zero principles, infrastructure was not considered, nor modified. Then, traffic control cameras were placed on newly signalized streets and, expectedly, the number of speeding tickets increased, improving tax collection, but not necessarily road safety. Average speeds and recidivism did not change under Fotomultas. Possibly, because offenders assimilated fines as prices to pay for a good (to be able to speed), instead of a punishment to avoid relapse.
Indeed, research shows that monetary fines can generate perverse incentives for individuals who pay for their offences: they are more prone to relapse and exhibit worst behaviours (Gneezy & Rustichini 2000; Piquero & Jennings 2016). The “licensing effect” negatively affects prosocial behaviour: individuals feel entitled to break a rule as long as they pay the set price (fine) for it. Weatherburn & Moffatt (2011) found that increasing the cost of a fine has no significant effect on reducing recidivism.
Alternative penalties, such as community service, can result in less recidivism (Wermink et al., 2010; Oregon Department of Corrections 2002; Boufard & Muftic 2007). Studies related to driving tickets found that non-monetary penalties imposed on drivers’ licenses are more effective to prevent future transgressions, especially when they are implemented with certainty and in an expedited manner, regardless of the severity of the penalty (Nichais y Ross 1991). For laws to be fulfilled and individuals to change their behaviours, it is fundamental that they perceive them as fair.

The non-monetary system, Fotocívicas, integrates a scheme of points on the plate, with the car owner who is responsible to fulfil the penalties. Taking advantage of the loss aversion bias, plates lose points for every breach on camera (except when they violate the speed limit 40% above it: that takes away 5 points). Having 8 points is a mandatory requirement to do the car's emissions test every 6 months (not doing it implies a series of other heavy fines). Fulfilling the penalties, depending on the number of points, is necessary to recover points. After the emissions test, points are reset back to 10.
Minus 1 to 2 points imply written, behaviourally designed, admonitions to prevent people from risking their lives and others’ again. Minus 3 and 4 points require online road safety and awareness courses. Minus 5 points imply an in-person awareness course (at the city’s Bike School or a safe driving awareness program). Minus 6 to 10 points require community service. All penalties are cumulative.
The incremental penalties system is designed to address recidivism. Around 90 percent of all the offenders, per plate, only get up to 2 fines. The courses and the community service, affect those who show a consistent disregard for the law, taking the possibility to pay for tickets away (especially for affluent offenders) and making it harder to fulfil the penalties that are educational, edifying and enable individuals to give something back to society, even the less affluent ones.

The new system relocated the technology from places where more tickets were given to those with more traffic victims (static cameras) and road sections where speeding was more common and dangerous (mobile radars). The system is constantly evaluated and is transparent: the cameras are now Mexico City’s property, no private company profits, and their location is public since the aim is to strategically curb behaviours to save lives. This resulted in positive behavioural & road safety results.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

It is the first time in the world that a penalty system for traffic violations is set, by default, to be based on community work and education, not on monetary penalties, aiming to reduce recidivism, a dangerous attitude on the road.
The non-punitive, behaviourally-informed, data-driven approach also led the way to focus on foundational goals, such as reducing fatalities and injuries, not on means to them (imposing tickets). Thus, detection technology was placed in high-accident locations and they are public at CDMX open data website (and shared with GPS navigation systems).
For the first time too, the City builds the capabilities to offer an open road safety course: the basic course is open to everybody, not only for offenders to get their points back. Also, Fotocívicas builds upon Mexico City’s Bike School to raise awareness among motorists to understand the vulnerabilities of bicycle riders and pedestrians
The Public Innovation Digital Agency (ADIP) developed all the technological requirements to implement this system.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The Fotocívicas system was implemented in June 2019 and it has been periodically evaluated in three key indicators: recidivism per plate, number of traffic incidents and victims (approximately, 200 meters before and after the location of the devices on the tracks where they are located), as well as the average speed among offenders. The system is open to improvement according to the results of the evaluations.
The evaluation uses data from the Police Department (SSC) on road incidents, average speeds and tickets.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

SEMOVI designed and evaluates the system; designs online courses and the Bike school.
The Police Department controls cameras and radars, and provides information.
The City’s Legal Counselling Office attest the fulfilment of penalties and leads the legal reforms necessary for implementation.
The Public Innovation Digital Agency (ADIP) implements and maintains the website, including the appointments for courses and community service.
The civil society Pedaliers teach the City’s Bike School

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The general public benefits since Fotocívicas builds upon a series of road safety actions.
The system is aimed to change motorists' behaviour: they go through a transparent, swift, and equitable system to learn how to drive safely and where their socioeconomic status is not relevant.
This changes negative attitudes towards law enforcement. Citizens under Fotocívicas are more prone to comply with the law out of grasping its importance for safety rather than doing it out of mere fear of a penalty.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Near the Fotocívicas cameras and radars, between June and December 2019, compared to the same period in 2018 (when cameras and radars where located differently), there was a 33% reduction in the number of transit victims (from 1,352 to 908); also, a 29% reduction in the number of traffic incidents (1,123 to 801).

Fotocívicas presents less recidivism than Fotomultas. During 2019, Fotocívicas technology registered 410,687 traffic violations and, only 33% of the plates relapsed. With Fotomultas, 52% of the plates got a second ticket or more.

Regarding the fulfilment of penalties, between June and November, 5,899 and 2371 persons, respectively, have taken and approved the basic and intermediate road safety course. The City has raised awareness through in-person courses in a total of 772 persons. The citizens have dedicated 1,734 hours to community service.

Challenges and Failures

The system required changes to the local Laws to lawfully implement the program.

A challenge to build a congruent evidence-based, road safety system, is to transform the city’s infrastructure to change persons negative behaviours like speeding and not giving preference to pedestrians and bicycle riders.

It is necessary to expand Fotocívicas to cover drivers beyond private car and motorcycle owners. Public transportation, commercial use vehicles and cars with plates from different states still receive monetary penalties, due to operational reasons. The city would benefit from more persons undergoing this successful system.

On February 17h 2020, SEMOVI announced a point-based system to supervise the behaviour of public transportation operators, inspired on the operation of the Fotocívicas system.

Conditions for Success

Sufficient technological infrastructure (cameras and radars) to cover the locations where more traffic incidents occur and expand the system.
Changes to Mexico City’s Traffic Regulations and Civic Culture Law provided the foundations for a lawful and transparent implementation.
Having enough personnel in the key participant Departments, such as the Police and the Mobility Department to swiftly manage and constantly evaluate the system.
Institutional capabilities to sustain a system based on technology (cameras, websites, online courses, appointment systems…).
Enough personnel and physical spaces to teach in-person courses and attest the fulfilment of community service hours.
Strong communication strategies to socialise the new program and bring people into collaborating for the right motivations instead of cheating to avoid fines.
Government leadership to support the initiative with the public and to bring together different government offices to work for positive results.


The number of cameras and radars will be duplicated in 2020 to cover new areas in the City, due to the successful results produced in the first phase.

The system has not been replicated yet in a different city (after Mexico City, the State of Jalisco proposed the idea but it is not a reality yet). In Estonia, speeding drivers are now given the option to pay a fine, as usual, or take a “timeout” on the side of the road instead, waiting for 45 minutes up to an hour, depending on how fast they were speeding. This another example of non-monetary penalties applied to change negative behaviours among drivers.

Lessons Learned

Fotocívicas is an example of a public policy based on evidence and on behavioural insights to improve road safety and increase compliance with the law, giving individuals the right motivations to comply and making it harder to fulfil penalties (requiring time and effort instead of money).

Since Fotocívicas uses technology to detect traffic violations, it is a system that also minimizes the possibilities of corruption between police officers and citizens trying to avoid the hassle and the cost of a driving ticket.

This new system is totally equitable since, no matter what her income level is, every person has the possibility to take an online course (in a computer or a cellphone) and work a few hours for her community any day of the week. It also helps to target affluent individuals who probably used to believe trespassing the law was part of the regular expenses related to using their cars.

Another lesson is that the collaboration among government agencies is very important to achieve the goals sought for.

Supporting Videos


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

11 February 2021

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