Escaping the long arm of the law?

Racial disparities in the effect of drivers' license suspensions on offense probabilities

Originally published in Southern Economic Journal

This article studies the unintended consequences of failure‐to‐pay (FTP) drivers' license suspensions. Unlike other traffic enforcement papers that focus on the public benefit to increases in enforcement, we focus on the private returns. Drawing on a unique administrative data set and institutional features that result in as‐good‐as random assignment of FTP suspension, we estimate the effect of these suspensions on the probability a driver receives additional tickets. We find that financial penalties and FTP suspensions reduce the probability of reoffense for White drivers. However, among Black drivers, financial penalties have no effect and FTP suspension increases the probability of reoffense by 6‐9 percentage points. A series of additional analyses fail to produce evidence of racial differences in drivers' responses to FTP suspension, leading us to conclude that following suspension drivers make behavioral adjustments to minimize the probability of future tickets. However, these behavioral adjustments are only effective for White drivers.


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