Estonia tries lost time as a fine for speeding

My house is on the edge of a major freeway exit and street that is regularly clogged with traffic in the mornings. (I’m in Silicon Valley, a couple miles from Facebook HQ.) As a result, in the mornings we get a lot of people cutting through my neighborhood, driving fast along residential streets. When I’m walking the dogs, this is a real potential hazard: people are trying to make it to work, they’re feeling time-stressed, and so they’re not very attentive to the fact that they’re on residential streets rather than 101.

It often seems to me that the most effective penalty for this kind of behavior, especially in a context where time is scarce, would be to hold people up long enough to make them late. And it turns out that in Estonia, they’re actually experimenting with a version of this. Estonian public broadcasting reports that for several weeks along one highway, drivers who are pulled over can either pay a fine, or “wait 45 minutes in a parking area next to the road” as the fine for “exceeding the speed limit by 20 km/h,” or idle for “60 minutes if they drove between 21 and 40 km/h over the allowed limit.”

So far it’s an experiment, as The Drive explains:

Drivers in Estonia reportedly often treat speeding tickets like any other bill. Often, the fines are automatically generated by speed cameras and aren’t detrimental to one’s driving record. If a speeder gets a fine in the mail, they pay it and move on. The idea of this particular experiment is to show that dealing with a speeding ticket can be more annoying than the few extra minutes that it takes to get to a destination by traveling the speed limit.

But for now it’s more of a science experiment than anything. As Elari Kasemets, an Innovation Advisor at Estonia’s Police and Border Guard Board, explains,

We are investigating how speeders perceive the fine and the impact of the lost time. We know from interviews with motorists that some people consider having a conversation with a police officer and the time they take to intervene more effectively than fines…. We are analyzing the impact of different interventions to find more effective solutions, because the goal is for perpetrators to actually change their behavior, not to punish them for the sake of punishment.

(How many police forces have an Innovation Advisor, I wonder?)

I don’t know when they’re going to make a final decision about whether to adopt the punishment more widely, but it does illustrate how losses of time can be more painful than money, and how we’re willing to trade one for the other.

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