Police Bias Skews Statistics, Study Shows
It is widely reported that teenagers get more traffic tickets than their elders, at least in proportion to their numbers on the road. For years, insurance companies have used this to justify price discrimination, insisting teenagers represent a higher-risk and therefore it's excusable to charge them higher rates. Some of us have suspected the number of tickets merely reflects ageist cops treating youth more sternly.
Now we have proof.
A 2008 study conducted by the British government examined what happened when its police issuing speeding tickets were supplemented with automatic cameras stationed to catch speeding drivers. While police may use discretion to let some drivers off with a warning, the cameras catch everyone, and everyone they catch gets a ticket.
What were the results of this bias-free addition? The study found that the number of tickets increased generally, and increased for drivers in each age group. But the tickets did not increase equally. For male drivers younger than 25, ticketing increased 18%. By contrast, male drivers older than 60 experienced an increase of 540%, and their female counterparts, 1,200%!
This chart, taken directly from the report, shows the breakdown. The blue bars show how many tickets were issued when only police officers issued them. The red bars show how many tickets were issued when cameras and cops both issued tickets. (Had the study compared this to tickets issued by cameras alone, the contrast would logically be even sharper.) The overall trend among both men and woman, as the graph shows, is that the older the drivers are, the more likely they are to speed, but the less likely police are to ticket them.
As the study's author concluded, this is compelling evidence police have been showing great bias in deciding which speeders get tickets that go on their records and which ones merely get a verbal warning, if they are pulled over at all.
Police bias has skewed the statistics, creating a myth that young drivers are less responsible. That myth, in turn, is used to justify ageist policies — not just insurance rate discrimination, but laws restricting young drivers more severely than older drivers. Now that the truth has been established, will these ageist policies be repealed? Only if we demand it.