Apparently, people just drove more cautiously following a traffic citation, but that only lasted a maximum of four months, the researchers say. After that brief respite, it was back to business as usual for most motorists.
Citations’ Effects Consistent
The scientists also turned up some surprising results.
"Most of the crashes did not involve alcohol and were not at an intersection," they report in their research paper. Most occurred during the summer months when the streets were dry (65 percent) rather than wet (18 percent) or covered with snow (17 percent).
They also found that the "relative risk reduction associated with traffic convictions was remarkably consistent among subgroups of licensed drivers," so the same results apply to women as well as men, regardless of age, prior driving record, and other personal data.
Men, however, were involved in far more fatal accidents than women (73 percent to 27 percent) and the most accident-prone age was between 30 and 50. Alcohol was detected in only 7 percent of the accidents.
The researchers also addressed the commonly held belief that traffic citations cause more accidents than they prevent because so many people are killed during police chases. They found that only 24 deaths could be linked to writing citations during the 11-year period. That included 17 suspects, five bystanders and two police officers.
"The typical suspect who died was a 26-year-old man pursued by police after fleeing a spot check for alcohol or a speeding violation," they report. The two police officers were killed in separate events when they were hit by a car while writing a ticket for another motorist.
Who Really Pays?
The researchers admit there are a few gaps in their findings. The statistics do not include Ontario drivers who may have been involved in a fatal accident somewhere outside that province. Nor can they say that every traffic ticket leads to a reduction in accidents. But the statistics suggest a correlation between the number of citations and the number of fatalities.
They also point out that the innocent are often made to pay the price for careless drivers.
"Unlike other common diseases, the victims are often young and need significant subsequent care for decades. Most crashes are unintended, unexpected, and could have been prevented by a small difference in driver behavior."
So the next time you see that cop in your rear-view mirror, give him, or her, a broad smile.
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.