The commonplace scenario in the United States when people decide to “get tough” and implement a policy of “zero tolerance” for infractions of the rules is to in practice tolerate the majority of infractions by not catching perpetrators and then hit a minority of violators with extremely harsh sanctions. For years now, Mark Kleiman has been pushing the reverse approach—make sanctions relative mild, but make them swift and nearly certain.
The results were compelling:
Now the results are in: drunk–driving fatalities fell from twice the national average, 70, in 2006 to just 34 in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available
It is a key element of public health policy to try and find ways to handle behaviors that involve both a health issue (like addiction to alcohol) and a negative externality (like hitting people with cars). It is really interesting to see researches being done on what approaches are actually the most effective. This type of research is important stuff and has some pretty interesting ramifications for improving public health in a wide range of circumstances.