driver’s license

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Drivers applying for new licences from July will have to respond to a question about organ donation, as the government bids to increase donor numbers.

Under the “prompted choice” system, applicants must register to donate, say they have already signed up or state: “I do not want to answer this now.”

Under the DVLA’s current scheme, people can skip the question, but nearly 8m people have still signed up as donors.

More at the BBC.

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In Queensland, Australia, an economic development committee recently released a report on speed cameras, complete with a set of recommendations for improving them. One proposal was to reward drivers who drove the speed limit with a discount on registration renewal fees for licenses. Queensland police dismissed the idea.

Acting Police Commissioner Ian Stewart today bluntly rejected the need for rewards.

“The law is the law. I expect people to obey the law at all times,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“The people who need to be addressed are those who habitually don’t obey the law.”

Queensland Police Minister Neil Roberts was also lukewarm about the rewards suggestion. He said he thought increasing the chance of speed detection was “the greatest incentive for people to drive more carefully”.

“We will reward drivers who don’t speed by not fining them,” Mr Roberts said.

The reward discount on license fees parallels to the speed camera lottery experiment in Stockholm that enters law-abiding drivers into a lottery for a chance to win 20,000 kroner. Would Stockholm police, like their Australia counterparts, object to this idea?

Punishment and reward are two sides of the same coin – even if only one side is emphasized. The “reward” for driving the speed limit is escaping punishment. One of the lessons on the introduction of incentives is that when a financial reward is introduced into an environment where rules were previously held together by social norms and interactions, more rule-breaking can occur (this is most evident in the famous Israel day care study).

Driving behavior, like a lot of other common civic behaviors, operates under a system of punishment and no punishment, distinct from a system of punishment and reward that the Australian commission proposes. By using a financial incentive on one side, its absence on the other side stands in as an implicit reward. But the police objections still seem to distinguish the two: A social reward, or at least a social obligation, for driving the limit, and a financial punishment for exceeding it. It’s an open question whether Stockholm drivers display this kind of mental compartmentalization?

While the police see the introduction of the reward as a likely culprit in the demise of social norms, another hypothesis is that the speed cameras themselves are under suspicion. One area of civic behavior that displays similarities to safe driving is tax compliance. There is no reward for paying your taxes, only a punishment for not paying them. While the deterrence model of tax compliance argues that people fear the threat of an audit, the actual investigation rate is quite low. Why so many people pay taxes has been a puzzle to behavioral economists. A behavioral explanation rests on compliance as a mutual agreement between citizen and state that the taxes levied are collected fairly and legitimately. As more tax information today is automatically reported to the government through W-2 forms and third-party financial transaction data, the threat of an audit (even if the actual rate is still low) looms more powerfully because identifying tax fraud is so much easier.

Whether the increase in risk aversion is enough to explain tax compliance rates is a debate that behavioral economists and deterrence economists can argue over. More intriguing is the possibility that information disclosure weakens the social psychological contract even as it improves the efficiency of tax collection. In the old days, speeding, like taxes, was mostly on the honor system. As technology allows law enforcement to catch speeders more effectively, the sense of duty and safety that keeps drivers compliant may weaken too, turning the entire relationship from an unwritten code of honor to a more conventional legal-style contract of reward/punishment for action. If so, a few extra material goodies aren’t such a terrible idea.

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Last May, we noted the ongoing political fight between restaurateurs and anti-drunk driving advocates over special ignition locks that prevent people over a certain blood alcohol limit from driving a car. This squabble, which combined a legal mandate with a technological nudge, has continued into 2009, with drunk driving foes winning political support in Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, Washington, and here in Illinois. Starting this year, the states are requiring that all motorists convicted on first-time drunk driving to have them installed in their cars. And they are not cheap, according to Newsweek.

Users must pay for the fist-sized devices, which in Illinois cost around $80 to install on dashboards and $80 a month to rent; there’s also a $30 monthly state fee. And they require periodic retesting while the car is running.

The fine print in some of these laws does give convicted drunk drivers a choice. Illinois drivers can opt-out of the ignition locks, but must give up driving privileges over the entire suspension period. Colorado drivers have a similar choice. They can install the devices, or take a longer suspension. To the Nudging community: Do these arrangements qualify the ignition lock laws as examples of libertarian paternalism? Or are they still just an old fashioned legal mandate?

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There is no rite of passage in American life more celebrated than the driver’s license (or at least there wasn’t until gas became so expensive). For almost two decades, making school attendance a prerequisite for earning and then maintaining a license has been a popular idea in the United States. After a burst of activity in the 1990s, the policy has continued to find support among state politicians.

Republican Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty endorsed the idea in 2004. Earlier this year, New Mexico moved to link school attendance and minimum proficiency standards to drivers’ licenses, and West Virginia, which was the first state to adopt an attendance-license program in 1988, has advocated revoking the licenses of students who do not earn at least a C average. Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel, from right here in Illinois, introduced a national proposal to revoke the licenses of dropouts on the House floor in July, drawing the protest of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They argued that the measure unfairly punished students who were forced to drop out of school through no fault of their own.

Other critics (here and here) of these programs say that they only lead to a small or temporary increase in attendance, although West Virginia saw sharp reductions in dropout rates immediately, which continued into the 1990s.

In general, the Nudge blog supports the concept of the attendance-for-license initiative, particularly in suburban and rural areas, not because there should be any necessary link between studying hard and getting a license, but because the program creates a mildly irritating (but hardly painful) nudge to keep students around a school campus for a few more days each year. The purpose of these laws is to give teachers as many opportunities as possible to reach possibly unmotivated students, in an age when competing distractions are everywhere. They are fundamentally about winning back student attention, not about rewards or punishments. We’re curious to hear the reactions of many of the teachers who read this blog, especially those in states where the law exists.

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