Background: Most countries have detailed lists of traffic rules and elaborate legal regimes for penalizing drivers who break them. Previous research has suggested that drivers tend to drive more safely after receiving penalties for traffic infringements.
Methods: We linked driver-level data on infringements and crashes in Queensland, Australia (1995-2010) with information on the licence histories of all drivers in the state. We used a case-crossover design to examine drivers' risk of crashing in the month following an infringement penalty. We also examined whether changes in crash risk following infringement penalties varied according to driver age and gender, type of infringement and whether the offender was at fault in a subsequent crash.
Results: Drivers had higher risks of crashes following infringement penalties [odds ratio (OR) 1.32; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.29-1.36], especially crashes in which the offender was at fault (1.41; 1.36-1.46). Crash risk relative to a comparable period was particularly high for teenage drivers (1.55; 1.34-1.78) and among drivers penalized for dangerous driving (3.19; 2.52-4.03) or driving under the influence of alcohol (1.99; 1.67-2.37). The risk remained relatively high for more than 6 months after the penalty, but declined steadily over this period.
Conclusions: Crash risk among drivers in Queensland was higher, not lower, following receipt of penalties for traffic infringements. Penalties themselves are unlikely to increase crash risk. A more likely explanation is that penalties (or the corresponding infringements) mark episodes of risky driving. Our findings suggest that such episodes trounce any deterrent effect penalties may produce.