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Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations?


  • Michael D. Makowsky
  • Thomas Stratmann


Speeding tickets are determined not only by the speed of the offender, but also by incentives faced by police officers and their vote-maximizing principals. We hypothesize that police officers issue fines more frequently when drivers have a higher opportunity cost of contesting a ticket, and when drivers are not residents of the local municipality. We also predict that local officers are more likely to issue a ticket to out-of-town drivers when fiscal conditions are tight and legal limits prevent increases in property taxes. Using data from traffic stops in Massachusetts, we find support for our hypotheses. (JEL H76, R41)

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Makowsky & Thomas Stratmann, 2009. "Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 509-527, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:99:y:2009:i:1:p:509-27 Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.99.1.509

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Traffic fines, safety and revenue
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2009-05-25 17:41:00


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Dara Lee Luca, 2015. "Do Traffic Tickets Reduce Motor Vehicle Accidents? Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 34(1), pages 85-106, January.
    2. Éric Langlais & Marie Obidzinski, 2015. "Public law enforcers and political competition," EconomiX Working Papers 2015-40, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    3. Michael Luca & Deepak Malhotra & Christopher Poliquin, 2016. "The Impact of Mass Shootings on Gun Policy," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-126, Harvard Business School, revised Oct 2016.
    4. Lu, Xun & White, Halbert, 2014. "Robustness checks and robustness tests in applied economics," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 178(P1), pages 194-206.
    5. Gregory DeAngelo & R. Kaj Gittings & Amanda Ross & Annie Walker, 2016. "Police Bias in the Enforcement of Drug Crimes: Evidence from Low Priority Laws," Working Papers 16-01, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    6. Anbarci, Nejat & Lee, Jungmin, 2014. "Detecting racial bias in speed discounting: Evidence from speeding tickets in Boston," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 11-24.
    7. Makowsky, Michael & Sanders, Shane, 2013. "Political costs and fiscal benefits: The political economy of residential property value assessment under Proposition 212," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 120(3), pages 359-363.
    8. Arguedas, Carmen & Rousseau, Sandra, 2012. "Learning about compliance under asymmetric information," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 55-73.
    9. Michael D. Makowsky & Thomas Stratmann, 2011. "More Tickets, Fewer Accidents: How Cash-Strapped Towns Make for Safer Roads," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 863-888.
    10. Sarah Marx Quintanar, 2009. "Man vs. Machine: An Investigation of Speeding Ticket Disparities Based on Gender and Race," Departmental Working Papers 2009-16, Department of Economics, Louisiana State University.
    11. Juergen Jung & Michael D. Makowsky, 2012. "Regulatory Enforcement, Politics, and Institutional Distance: OSHA Inspections 1990-2010," Working Papers 2012-02, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Apr 2013.
    12. Juergen Jung & Michael Makowsky, 2014. "The determinants of federal and state enforcement of workplace safety regulations: OSHA inspections 1990–2010," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 45(1), pages 1-33, February.
    13. Sarah Marx Quintanar, 2011. "Do Driver Decisions in Traffic Court Motivate Police Discrimination in Issuing Speeding Tickets?," Departmental Working Papers 2011-13, Department of Economics, Louisiana State University.
    14. Arguedas, Carmen & Earnhart, Dietrich & Rousseau, Sandra, 2013. "Effluent Limits, Ambient Quality, and Monitoring," Working Papers in Economic Theory 2013/08, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), Department of Economic Analysis (Economic Theory and Economic History).
    15. Roach Michael, 2015. "Is the Highway Patrol Really Tougher on Out-of-State Drivers? An Empirical Analysis," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 15(2), pages 769-796, April.
    16. Carmen Arguedas & Dietrich Earnhart & Sandra Rousseau, 2017. "Non-uniform implementation of uniform standards," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 51(2), pages 159-183, April.
    17. Hasebe, Takuya & Vijverberg, Wim P., 2012. "A Flexible Sample Selection Model: A GTL-Copula Approach," IZA Discussion Papers 7003, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    18. Michael Makowsky & Thomas Stratmann, 2014. "Politics, unemployment, and the enforcement of immigration law," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 160(1), pages 131-153, July.
    19. Matt E. Ryan, 2016. "Frisky business: race, gender and police activity during traffic stops," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 65-83, February.
    20. Vijverberg, Wim P. & Hasebe, Takuya, 2015. "GTL Regression: A Linear Model with Skewed and Thick-Tailed Disturbances," IZA Discussion Papers 8898, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H76 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Other Expenditure Categories
    • R41 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Transportation: Demand, Supply, and Congestion; Travel Time; Safety and Accidents; Transportation Noise


    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations? (AER 2009) in ReplicationWiki
    2. Economic Logic blog


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