To Tow or Not to Tow: The Deterrence Effect of a Municipal Ordinance

Criminal Law Bulletin, Forthcoming 2011

28 Pages Posted: 16 May 2008 Last revised: 31 May 2010

Date Written: May 16, 2008


This paper provides an empirical test for the theory of deterrence. We exploit the natural experiment provided by amendments to the City of Waukegan vehicular code beginning in 2002 that added mandatory impoundment and towing of vehicles to the consequences of certain ticketed behavior: DUI, suspended/revoked license, no license, and uninsured motor vehicle. Using a unique data set quantifying tickets and accidents before and after the changes to the code, we test the deterrence hypothesis by analyzing how crime rates are affected by an increase in criminal sanctions. We find a positive and significant relationship between changes in the vehicular code and reductions in tickets and accidents. Total tickets were shown to decrease as much as 936 per month and total accidents 123 per month after changes in the legislation were implemented, controlling for the share of vehicles towed, monthly and yearly effects. Moreover, the results show a 13% drop in total tickets (for all violations), a 16% drop in total tickets issued (for four violations) and a 9% drop in Total Accidents for the time period after the legislative changes (December, 2002 to November, 2007). The data suggest that the changes to the vehicular code increased compliance with the law in Waukegan. Our paper contributes to the literature by providing credible evidence about deterrence in a natural experiment setting.

Keywords: Deterrence, Municipal Law

Suggested Citation

Allen, Ronald Jay and Marks, Alexia Brunet, To Tow or Not to Tow: The Deterrence Effect of a Municipal Ordinance (May 16, 2008). Criminal Law Bulletin, Forthcoming 2011. Available at SSRN: or

Ronald Jay Allen

Northwestern University Law School ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8372 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

Alexia Brunet Marks (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

Wolf Law Building
401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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