The deterrent effect of higher fines on recidivism: driving offences


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Release Date: Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 10.30am

The largest study of fines (as a deterrent) ever conducted in Australia has shown that higher fines do not reduce the risk of re-offending.

The study, carried out by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, identified 70,000 NSW persons who received a court-imposed fine for a driving offence between 1998 and 2000. Researchers then followed each offender for a period of five years to see whether they committed another driving offence.

After controlling for a wide range of other factors likely to influence re-offending, the Bureau found no relationship between the magnitude for the fine imposed and the likelihood of a further driving offence.

The same negative result was obtained for drink-drive (PCA) offences, drive while disqualified offences, exceeding the speed limit and 'other' driving offences.

For most of these offences the Bureau also found no relationship between the period of licence disqualification and the risk of a further driving offence.

The only exception to this generalisation concerned speeding offences. In this instance, longer disqualification periods were associated with a higher risk of re-offending.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that they were consistent with a large body of evidence indicating that, contrary to popular opinion, tougher penalties do not reduce the risk of re-offending.

"The best way to reduce the risk of recidivism amongst driving offenders is to increase the perceived likelihood of apprehension", he said.

Dr Weatherburn pointed out, however, that the Bureau study only examined the specific deterrent effect of tougher penalties.

"It is possible that higher fines and longer disqualification periods exert a general deterrent effect, that is, they may reduce the number of people willing to offend", he said.

"Further research will be required to address this issue".

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn. 02-9231-9190 or 0419-494-408