Original Research

The limits of laws: Traffic law enforcement in South Africa

Sophia du Plessis, Ada Jansen, Krige Siebrits
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 23, No 1 | a3430 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v23i1.3430 | © 2020 Sophia du Plessis, Ada Jansen, Krige Siebrits | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 October 2019 | Published: 20 April 2020

About the author(s)

Sophia du Plessis, Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Ada Jansen, Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Krige Siebrits, Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: The aim of many public policies is to change behaviour. Governments tend to rely on regulations, taxes and subsidies to effect such change. These measures, which affect agents’ economic incentives, have a mixed record. A key insight of the New Institutional Economics is that the efficacy of such formal institutions depends on the strength of their enforcement and the extent to which they are compatible with prevailing informal institutions.

Aim: This article uses the road safety situation in South Africa as a case study to explore aspects of the relationships among formal institutions, law enforcement and informal institutions.

Setting: South Africa has a strong suite of road safety laws but poor road safety outcomes.

Methods: The article draws on ideas about the relationships between formal institutions, law enforcement and informal institutions to undertake a case study of the road safety situation in South Africa.

Results: The article argues that improved law enforcement cannot fully solve the problem; complementary changes to the informal institutions shaping the behaviour of road users are essential.

Conclusion: Institutional economists have to take a greater interest in the insights of research in behavioural economics, behavioural and cognitive science and other disciplines in order to provide useful advice in settings where such change is an important policy objective.


Keywords

traffic laws; formal institutions; law enforcement; informal institutions; South Africa.

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