We are now into August, referred to by some as the “not-a care-in-the-world” month. Except that this year, the RCMP and ICBC plan to combat another August tradition, the statistical up tick in unsafe driving behaviour, with a campaign that will include stricter enforcement of traffic regulations.
A recent study by a Stanford School of Medicine researcher and his colleagues at the University of Toronto published in the medical journal, The Lancet concluded that vigilant traffic law enforcement is effective in reducing fatal car crashes.
In this study, Donald Redelmeier of the University of Toronto examined a driver’s chances of a fatal collision before and after getting a traffic ticket and drew the following conclusions:
- The risk of a fatal crash in the month after a conviction was about 35 percent lower than in a comparable month with no conviction for the same driver.
- The benefit lessened substantially by 2 months and was not significant by 3-4 months.
- Every 80,000 tickets issued means one less fatal collision; every 1,300 tickets prevents one emergency department visit; and every 13 tickets saves $1,000 in societal cost.
“You don’t think the police are doing a public service when they issue tickets, but traffic enforcement has a huge public-health benefit,” said Tibshirani, professor of health research and policy at Stanford and study co-author. “It may be a nuisance to receive a ticket but it could be helpful.” Actually receiving a ticket makes the difference, not just the risk of getting one. “The threat of getting a ticket is usually not enough to encourage drivers to change their habits,” says Redelmeier
One million people die and 25 million people are permanently disabled from traffic crashes worldwide each year, the researchers report in their study. “More than one million fatalities worldwide this year from motor vehicle crashes is exceeding worldwide deaths from malaria for the first time in history – which is all the more impressive for a cause of death that was unheard of a century ago," Redelmeier says. "On an average day, more than 100 Americans step into their vehicles and do not emerge alive."
While limited evidence previously has pointed to traffic enforcement reducing fatalities, the researchers’ aim in this study was to learn whether receiving a ticket has a protective effect on the driver. “Getting a ticket stays on your mind,” said Tibshirani when explaining why traffic enforcement could influence the way people drive. “If you know you deserved the ticket it may remind you to slow down.”
The researchers acknowledged that the public might not welcome additional traffic enforcement, however. “The major impediment to general traffic enforcement is a lack of public support,” they noted. They hope, however, that this issue will be viewed differently. “It would be nice if this study had an impact on public perception and people recognized that traffic enforcement can save a lot of lives.”
So, if you get a ticket, it may be a blessing in disguise. Please drive safely.