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.

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