Indeed they do according to traffic expert, Tom Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt writes a regular column at Slate.com and, stemming from recent changes in police traffic enforcement in New York City he dropped by the New York Times Opinion Pages this week to share a personal experience that reflects research data about driver behavior:
“…there is evidence that what often matters in reducing traffic violations is not punitive action per se, but simply the process of being pulled over and receiving the warning. This imparts the idea that the driver has violated some community norm, and reminds him (and other drivers who pass by) that there are police looking after those norms. The effects can be dramatic and long-lasting. Take the example of a study in Miami Beach: after a two-week period in which drivers received police warnings for violating pedestrian right-of-way in crosswalks, the violation rate dropped drastically — and a year later, without enforcement, it was still down.”
An interesting thing to consider. Vanderbilt prescribes more regular enforcement of local traffic laws but suggests that the real utility in traffic enforcement is in the stop itself, rather than the subsequent citation that might be issued.
Another major part of the solution, he suggests, is rethinking the way we design our roadways, paying more attention to giving drivers clearer feedback on what is acceptable behavior, something that Miami has done successfully in recent years.
For more on Vanderbilt’s traffic thoughts, check out his How We Drive blog.