Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The traffic ticket lottery

Jerry Stratton, October 13, 2010

Governments are in the business of collecting fees and taxes. They are not in the business of making roads safer. If we turn safety violations into a fee for the government to collect, then government will ensure that there are more safety violations. Because government is in the business of collecting more fees.

California is proposing adding speed cameras specifically to generate $398 million dollars in revenue. Not for safety. Because California needs more money. San Diego already has a history of speed cameras: they specifically design intersections and yellow times to create more dangerous intersections in order to generate more revenue.

The reason to pass these laws must be turned back to safety and away from revenue. And as long as a government makes more money off of more violations, the laws will be about revenue and not safety.

On the other hand, we are not yet at a point where we want to put drivers in jail for running a yellow light that just turned red.1 Nor are we willing to put drivers in jail for going 85 in a 65 mph zone. We’d have to build a cell for every driver on the 5 if we did that.

I propose that if (a) fines are better than jailtime, and we know that (b) fines that go to the state cause the state to create unsafe roads, then we should put the fines into a pool that does not go to any purpose that might offset budget shortfalls.

There is a way to collect fines without having the fines go to the state. We can combine two of the most popular, counter-productive programs we have into one super-popular, productive program:

Pool traffic fines into a lottery. In January, or perhaps January and July, draw ten lucky winners taken randomly from the list of whoever voted in the last election; they each win one tenth of the takings for the last six months or one year. The winnings are tax-free, so that the state doesn’t see any of that money. The sole reason for giving out these tickets—and for passing the laws enabling them in the first place—must be safety, and not revenue.

All fines, not just traffic fines, should be treated this way. Otherwise we’re creating a perverse incentive for municipalities and states to encourage unsafe activities; to lower yellow light times below a safe level; to drop speed limits below a safe level; and to pass laws that create unsafe traffic waves.

  1. We might be willing to put drivers in jail for running a red light that’s long been red, but those are even more rare than mistiming a yellow.

  1. <- Good ’dates!
  2. Popaditch v. Filner ->