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Another Fine Mess...A Preliminary Examination of the Use of Fines by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 27 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2002 Pages: 1-25
Ronald G. Burns; Michael J. Lynch
Date Published
25 pages
This article examines fines meted out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Fines are examined for violations of regulations that fall into three categories. The first category is violations of the Traffic Safety Act (TSA), which regulates automobile design and safety features. The second category is violations of the odometer standards found in the Cost Savings Act, which regulate commercial car sales entities. The third category is violations of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standard, which regulates environmental damage through increased fuel efficiency and associated reduced emissions. Data were drawn from official records kept by NHTSA and included the name of the company fined, the amount of the fine, the date of payment, and the standard that was violated. The data cover the years 1970 through 1997. Findings show that NHTSA has placed great emphasis on enforcing safety regulations designed to protect consumers. Nearly 72 percent of fines for this time period were issued for violations of the Traffic Safety Act. Average fines for these violations were small. The largest fines and the largest percentage of fine amounts were collected under enforcement of CAFÉ regulations. NHTSA levied more than 98 percent of fines -- over $395 million -- in response to CAFÉ. With the exception of CAFÉ violations that are easily observed and determined, there appears to be little consistency in both the number and the amounts of fines allocated annually. It cannot be assumed that the NHTSA’s regulatory enforcement practices reflect illegitimate corporate behavior during this time period. Further research is needed to clarify this issue. Fines issued by NHTSA appear to have a limited effect as a form of deterrence. Data indicate that larger corporations are more likely than smaller corporations to recidivate. 4 tables, 3 footnotes, 2 references


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