Road rules will only be obeyed if people believe that not obeying them will result in unwanted outcomes like fines or license cancellation.

The perceived likelihood of being caught and penalized for disobeying road rules should be high. Also, the penalties should be large enough to discourage people from disobeying the rules.

The police who are responsible for enforcing road rules need to be trained and given the tools (such as speed detection and alcohol testing equipment) to do their job properly, and a system should be established to ensure that fines are not taken by police officials for themselves.

The theory behind enforcement and key elements for success

It is generally accepted that enforcement influences driving behaviour through two processes

  • General deterrence
  • Specific deterrence.

    General deterrence occurs when road users obey road rules because they perceive a substantial risk of being detected and punished if they don’t.

    Specific deterrence occurs when someone who has broken the rules is punished and stops the unlawful behaviour as a result.

    Enforcement of road rules should be aimed primarily at causing general deterrence because then it is not necessary for police to catch and punish road users for them to be encouraged to obey the rules. To result in general deterrence, enforcement should be

  • accompanied by publicity
  • unpredictable and difficult to avoid
  • a mix of highly visible and less visible activities
  • continued over a long period of time.

    Intelligence led policing

    To maximise the road safety benefit, enforcement should be aimed at road rule violations that have been proven to increase the likelihood or severity of crashes. Safety benefits can be further increased through intelligence led policing. In road rule enforcement, intelligence led policing involves the use of data (for example, data on when and where crashes are occurring, data on severity factors such as not using seatbelts or helmets, or data on causal factors such as speeding or drink driving) to focus enforcement on the times and places that present the greatest risk.

    Targets for enforcement

    Some of the many things that can be enforced by traffic police are

  • blood alcohol limits (drink driving laws)
  • speed limits
  • disobeying traffic signals or signs
  • seatbelt use
  • helmet wearing
  • driver licensing
  • vehicle roadworthiness.

    Costs and effectiveness

    Enforcement is necessary for road laws to be effective. It is not possible to put a cost on enforcement because the costs and effectiveness will vary dramatically depending upon what enforcement activity is undertaken. However, based on Norwegian data, speed enforcement, random breath testing (for alcohol) and seatbelt enforcement all have positive benefit/cost ratios.

    Did you know?

    For every 1km/h reduction in average speed, there is a 2% reduction in the number of crashes

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