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Applied Microeconomics Group Seminar Swiftness and Delay of Punishment

Speaker: Professor Christian Traxler, Hertie School, Berlin School of Economics, and CESifo

Abstract: This paper studies how swiftness and delay of punishment affect behavior. The context of our study is the enforcement of speed limits by automated speed cameras. Our administrative data allow us to track driving histories of cars over time and observe the exact time when the tickets are sent, delivered, and paid. We exploit two sources of (quasi-)experimental variation in the time between an offense and the sending of a ticket: (1) at the start of the speed camera systems, administrative issues caused large fluctuations with delays of up to three months; (2) later we introduced a protocol that randomized the sequence at which tickets were processed. Our analysis offers two sets of results. First, we find statistically and economically significant effects of delay on payment compliance. The rate of timely paid fines drops by 7 to 9% when a ticket is sent with a delay of four or more weeks after an offense, compared to tickets sent within 4 weeks. We also find some evidence that swiftly sent tickets — in particular, tickets sent on the first day after an offense — increase timely payments. These findings are well in line with the expectations of academic economists and criminologists, which we elicited in a survey. Our second set of results documents, in line with Dušek and Traxler (2022), a strong, immediate, and persistent decline in travel speed and speeding rates after receiving a ticket. However, we do not detect any differential effect of swiftness or delay. This conflicts with widely held beliefs about the benefits of swift punishment — which are also mirrored in the responses to in our survey.

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