Highways to the danger zone

Recent research by the Rajasthan police, in collaboration with J-PAL at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proves the benefits of dedicated police teams for traffic law enforcement on highways. Two types of police teams were assigned to enforce an anti-drunk driving crackdown on checkpoints in 182 randomly selected police stations across 11 districts of Rajasthan. Half the teams were drawn from the police stations, as is the current norm. The other half were chosen from the police lines to form dedicated special teams. These special teams were monitored by GPS trackers in their police vehicles and intended to provide a test of how a dedicated highway patrol would compare to the current traffic law enforcement system.

The results show that the special traffic enforcement teams performed better on every parameter compared to the team from the local police station. They were 28.4 per cent more likely to show up to perform a sobriety checkpoint, and 24.7 per cent more likely to arrive on time if they did show up. Further, it seems these differences were not simply due to the GPS monitoring. Once the teams reached the checkpoint itself (where the GPS monitoring did not matter), the special teams still performed better; they stopped an average of 8.6 per cent more vehicles per checkpoint than teams from local police stations. Given that dedicated teams both stayed longer and stopped more vehicles, it is not surprising that they caught 1.8 times more drunk drivers per checkpoint than the police station teams, roughly double the amount.

One might be concerned that this better performance would be negated if the staff of the dedicated teams drawn from district police lines are less accountable to the local community and engage in more corrupt practices at the checkpoints. To study this, researchers recorded the number of drivers appearing in court to pay the penalty for drunk driving by both teams. They found no difference between the two police team strategies: the dedicated teams caught more drunk drivers and also sent more of them to court.

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