Study Finds Traffic Ticket Debt Hits Poor Hardest

The impact of traffic tickets on motorists who are struggling economically can be devastating, according to a recent study by an economics researcher at Princeton University. Steven Mello, who is finalizing his doctorate in economics, conducted an analysis of the impact of traffic tickets on Florida drivers using individual credit report data with payrolls to calculate the impact of a citation.

From 2011 to 2015, about 4.5 million Florida drivers received a traffic citation, amounting to nearly a third of the driving age population. Demographic data show more tickets are issued in low-income areas, and in these areas each ticket carries a heavier financial impact. The average ticket was estimated to cost $175 plus roughly $120 a year from the cost of higher insurance. Mello was able to pull anonymized credit report data for 3.7 million of Florida’s traffic ticket recipients.

“The empirical analysis reveals that following the receipt of a traffic fine, individuals fare worse than would otherwise be predicted on a host of credit report outcomes,” Mello wrote. “Citations increase unpaid bills, delinquencies, and adverse financial events, with the increases most pronounced for the poorest quartile of drivers.”