Stay or Flee? Probability versus Severity of Punishment in Hit-and-run Accidents
Free University of Bozen-Bolzano
The empirical literature testing the economic theory of crime has extensively studied the relative importance of the probability and the severity of punishment with reference to planned criminal activities. There are, however, also unplanned crimes and in this paper, we focus on a very serious and widespread one, hit-and-run road accidents. In fact, it is not only unplanned, but also largely committed by citizens without criminal records and the decision whether to stay or run must be taken within a few seconds. Using Italian 1996-2016 data, we rely on daylight as an exogenous source of variation affecting the probability of apprehension and find that the likelihood of hit-and-run increases by around 20% with darkness. Relying on two legislative reforms which increased the penalties in case of hit-and-run, we find no significant effect on drivers’ behavior. Our results show that criminal activities in unplanned circumstances and under intense time pressure and emotional distress are deterred more by the certainty rather than the severity of legal sanctions.
Mirco Tonin is Professor of Economic Policy and Vice-Dean for Research at the Faculty of Economics and Management of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. He got his PhD from the Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) at Stockholm University in 2007. He is affiliated with IZA (Bonn), CESifo (Munich) and the Dondena Centre at Bocconi University.
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