Doctrine of punishment…

It was morning around 7am and I was driving to my Institute where I teach psychology for civil service examination. I noticed several traffic police personnels on a particular point of the route. Several drivers had been stopped by the police. Apparently, they had violated traffic rules and they were given challan tickets. While I was driving, i was thinking about the new ammendment in the motor vehicle law 2019 in which the quantum of punishment has been increased by several times. The simple belief behind this is that it will create fear and it thus will cause deterrence.

I, being a psychological professional, have developed habit of analysing issues from psychological perspectives. Several questions bubbled up my consciousness while I was driving

a) would it really be effective?

b) what could be the bases of beliefs of the minister that it would work? Is it because of his emotions that maximum accidents take place in India?

c) what if even normal people or say fearful people refuse to drive vehicles simply because they are apprehensive that somethings might go wrong by chance but the resulting penalty would be too heavy on their pockets? Intention is to control willful violators but the laws might be too harsh and too unethical to those who are not willful rules and laws violating drivers.

In cities, where vehicles density on the road is too high, some mild violation is likely. What if the driver is punished when traffic light is not functioning properly?

d) Most importantly, why too much power in the hand of police whose position on the corruption index is pretty high?

These are some of the questions that arose in my mind and I am helpless to think of very rational answer.

Although I know this is a debatable issue and many people react emotionally on this issue, but from the knowledge of behavioural science, i know that strict vigilance and monitoring can give better results even when punishment amount is as low as ₹100. If no one is allowed to escape or avoid penalty upon violations of the traffic rules , it will definitely give better results.

On the other hand, provision for heavy penalty but ample scopes for escaping and avoiding it in some ways including corruption may not be very effective. In the beginning, everything gives some results but as the time passes, its effect may decline. In psychology, this effect is called ” Regression effect”.

-Arun Kumar

2 thoughts on “Doctrine of punishment…”

  1. Indeed you have raised a very good point that until we couple this amendment with a stricter and more formal mode of implementation it will yield suboptimal results. Since the quantum for the penalty has increased it will, in turn, increase the quantum of the bribe offered too.

    I am also thinking this increased penalty from another tangent related to “Signal Detection Theory”. In my childhood, I remember getting Rs.40-50 for junk food once in a while. It used to be a big deal. Nowadays, a decent treat for children translates to Rs.200-250 easily. So maybe this Rs.100 was too low a penalty amount to actually register an avoidance response from the driver.

  2. True, a similar kind of debate exists on the use of “CAPITAL PUNISHMENT” as a method of deterring homicides.
    Criminal law(Amendment) act, 2019 provides for a death penalty for rape of a minor girl, but, such unfortunate incidents still happen at a similar rate.

    Way forward:-
    It is the “certainty” of punishment rather than its “severity” that should be given emphasis upon while comming up with innovative legislations.

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