Thursday, July 12, 2007

Taking the Rap

The Marginal Revolution describes the latest online market in France. Drivers with few demerit points are accepting money from drivers near losing their licenses to plead guilty to traffic offenses.

It is the latest ruse on the roads of France: drivers are avoiding disqualification by trading licence points on the internet. Complete strangers are taking the rap for speeding offences in return for up to €1,500 (£1,000), and police admit they are powerless to intervene. Even pensioners who have not driven for many years are getting in on the act.

French officials were unable to estimate the scale of points fiddling. Across the border in Spain, the online motoring site, estimates the black market in points there is worth €30 million a month.

“I don’t have a bad conscience,” he [the seller] told le Parisien. “I only offer my services to people with small excesses of speed. And I always ask to see a copy of the ticket. I would never sell my points to a road hog.

Is there something wrong with this? And if so, why?

There are many schemes regulators play, but most of them revolve around putting objects in one-to-one correspondence with a set of rules. Sometimes the object is a class. Young men are sometimes charged higher insurance premiums than other age groups, because as a class they may be more accident prone. Older men are often charged more for health insurance because as a class they are more likely to get sick. An individual teenager may have an safety profile unlike that of Wild Youth, and an old geezer may have a lot of healthy years left in him, but the system is not designed to measure him reliably at that level of granularity. Driving records are arguably different because they reflect individual driving ability. Or do they? A retired man who only drives down to the post office and grocery store twice a week in the country will probably have fewer traffic violations than a person who drives long distances on stressful, dangerous roads. He is not necessarily a better driver, so why not allow these records trades.

On the other hand, some might argue that driving records, while imperfect, capture much of the correlation between driving safety and the driver. After all, a man with a glove compartment full of speeding tickets might actually be a speeder. By allowing the trade, society is allowing a person who should be removed from the road to stay on it.

But wait. In buying someone's willingness to take a traffic rap, the market is in effect imposing a monetary fine on a buyer in exchange for extinguishing the ticket. Don't governments do that already? And unlike fines set by bureacrats, the market may in fact charge more equitable penalties. So why not allow the trade. But on the other hand ...


Blogger Sparks fly said...

Cultures in conflict; internally, I mean.

When first introduced to it Idealism can look beautiful. But then there is the morning after when it is painfully discovered that it doesn't work.

We pass laws to get dangerous people off the road and instead find those very laws are being used by the authorities to impose another tax on hardworking people in a rush who safely roll through a stop sign on their way to work in the morning only to be ticketed by a cop who has set a trap. What harm have they done? Nothing! But the system has learned that they will pay the first one or two tickets rather than go through the hassel of fighting the letter of the law. So they do it. The courts take in a lot of easy money. The temptation is great because we have put so much emphasis on material success.

These things are messy because some stop signs are critical. Here in California they allow the offender to go to traffic school once or twice which takes the pressure off and keeps the infraction from being reported to their auto insurance company. Sort of like a second or third chance but then after that they start to add up.

I have never heard of an innocent man selling his automotive innocense for money.

7/12/2007 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Someone wrote to me asking:

if its bad to trade points for tickets, why is it good to trade Co2 emisions credits? What makes one behavior bad and the other good?

Now someone argued that it's immoral to trade license infraction points, unlike other normal types of trade, because it rewards dangerous behavior. But the Greens would say climate crime is dangerous, yet the allow trade in emissions. But then, maybe bad driving is more dangerous than "climate crime". No! I've blasphemed. But you see the logical trap.

7/13/2007 12:06:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

if its bad to trade points for tickets, why is it good to trade Co2 emisions credits? What makes one behavior bad and the other good?

Considering that carbon credits have proven to be an expensive failure in Europe, I challenge it's labeling as "good". Which makes the whole question moot.

7/13/2007 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger DaveK said...

Where should I start...

It's no different than buying your way out of a draft notice, or the practice of buying indulgences from the Church. It is inherently a corrupt practice, allowing a privileged, wealthy class to evade responsibilities.

Condoning corrupt behavior only leads to greater corruption.

Just my $.02

7/13/2007 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Economically, it's a curious problem. Ordinarily, we (I, anyway) favor unfettered trade. But this is trade of a peculiar sort, because it's designed to provide information on conduct that affects the rest of us. It is the most dangerous drivers we want off the road. Hence, knowing who possesses the "property" is the only reason to create the property in the first place. The CO2 analogy (assuming we accept that CO2 emissions are costly) fails, because we don't really care who emits the CO2, just how much is emitted by everyone in total. Thus we want to get the most bang per buck's worth of CO2 emissions by allowing people to trade.

It's a negative-externality problem, although of a peculiar sort. A worse driver getting to keep his license by trading with a better one serves them well, but every other driver poorly.

This all assumes, of course, that the point system is truly measuring dangerous driving.

7/13/2007 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger truepeers said...

What's wrong with this? The trading is a product of photo radar, where the driver of the speeding car is not identifiable. And photo radar is a police state tactic. Dangerous drivers should be off the road, no question - lives should be beyond market negotiations. But there is such a thing as a fair cop in civilized societies, and governments setting up devices all over the place to rake in the money they can't otherwise collect from an over-taxed and regulated economy isn't it. A cop can judge whether someone going, say, ten k over the limit on a good and fairly empty highway should be ticketed. But when we are ruled by machines we are no longer free. Vive l'Europe Musulman!

7/13/2007 05:00:00 PM  

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