The Connecticut Crackdown on Speeding

The Connecticut Crackdown on Speeding: Time-Series Data in Quasi-Experimental Analysis
Author(s): Donald T. Campbell and H. Laurence RossReviewed work(s):Source: Law & Society Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Aug., 1968), pp. 33-54Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Law and Society AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 11/06/2012 21:19Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Publishing and Law and Society Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to Law & Society Review.
Time-SeriesD ata in
Quasi-ExperimentaAln alysis
Northwestern University
University of Denver College of Law
SOCIALB RFSFARCHF REQuENTLY encounters the task of evaluating change
produced in nonrandomly selected groups by events which are beyond
the researcher’sc ontrol. The social scientist must verify that there has in
AUTHORNS’O TE: The preparation of this paper has been supported in part
by the National Science Foundation (Grant GS 1309x), the U. S. Ofice of
Education (Project C-998, Contract 3-20-001), the U. S. Bureau of Public
Roads (CPR 11-5981), the National Institutes of Health, the U. S. Public
Health Service (RG-5359), and the Automotive Safety Foundation (as
an aspect of Experimental Case Studies of Traffic Accidents conducted at
Northwestern University). A brief version of it appears as H. L. Ross &
D. T. Campbell, The Connecticut Speed Crackdown: A Study of the
SOCIOLOG30Y-3 5 (2d ed. H. L. Ross ed. 1968).
.33 .
fact been a change, and that the indicated event is its cause. Illustrations
are manifold: a state terminates capital punishment, and proponents of
this type of punishment predict an increase in the murder rate; a school
is integrated, and supporters of the reform expect to find an increase in
the positive self-evaluation of Negro pupils; a natural disaster occurs
in a community, and altruistic behavior is expected to increase. Because
in these situations the investigator has no control over the assignment of
individuals or groups to “experimental”a nd “control”s ituations, the
logic of the classical experiment must be reexamined in a search for
optimal interpretative procedures.
This paper introduces, in the context of a problem in applied sociology
and the sociology of law, a mode of analysis designed to deal with
a common class of situations in which research must proceed without
the benefit of experimental control. The general methodology expounded
here is termed “quasi-experimentaal nalysis.” The specific mode of
analysis is the “interruptedt ime-seriesd esign.” Perhaps its fundamental
credo is that lack of control and lack of randomization are damaging to
inferences of cause and effect only to the extent that a systematic consideration
of alternative explanations reveals some that are plausible.
More complete explicationso f quasi-experimentaal nalysis have appeared
elsewhere;1 this paper will merely illustrate its use in a situation where
a series of observations has been recorded for periods of time both prior
and subsequent to the experience of the specific event to be studied.
Such data are quite commonly available, yet they are seldom fully utilized
and investigators often confine themselves unnecessarily to much less
satisfactory methodologies. The 1955 crackdown on speeding in the State
of Connecticut furnishes an apt example of the potentialities of such
quasi-experimentaal nalysis.
1. E.g., D. T. Campbell & J. S. Stanley, Experimental and Quasi-Experimental
Designs for Research on Teaching, in HANDBOOKO F RESEARCHO N TEACHING1 71-246
FOR RESEARCH(1 963); D. T. Campbell, From Description to Experimentation: Interpreting
Trends as Quasi-Experiments, in PROBLEMISN MEASURINCGH ANGE( C. W. Harris
ed. 1963); D. T. Campbell & K. N. Clayton, Avoiding Regression Effects in Panel
Studies of Communication Impact, in STUDIESIN PUBLICC OMMUNICATIO99N- 118 (Dept.
of Sociology. University of Chicago, No. 3, 1961) reprinted in Bobbs-Merrill Reprints
in Sociology as S-353. For an application of this type of analysis to legal impact, see
R. Lempert, Strategies of Research Design in the Legal Impact Study, 1 L. & Soc’Y REV.
111 (1966).
In 1955, 324 people were killed in automobile accidents on the highways
of Connecticut. Deaths by motor vehicle accidents had reached
a record high for the decade of the fifties as the usually hazardous
Christmas holidays approached. Two days before Christmas, Governor
Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut initiated an unparalleled attempt to
control traffic deaths by law enforcement, and announced his crackdown
on speeders in that state.
Ribicoff believed, along with many safety specialists, that excess speed
was the most common contributing factor in traffic deaths, and that control
of speed would result in diminished fatalities. He believed that
previous efforts to control speeding under the usual court procedures and
by the existing “point system” had been inadequate. In a study of three
months’ records of the police court in Hartford, it was noted that no
more than half the persons originally charged with speeding were so
prosecuted, the charge often being diminished to a less serious one.
Ribicoff wanted to initiate a program with reliable procedures and strong
sanctions as a means to control speeding and thus to reduce traffic
On December 23, 1955, Governor Ribicoff announced that in the
future all persons convicted of speeding would have their licenses suspended
for thirty days on the first offense. A second violation was to
mean a sixty-day suspension, and a third conviction for speeding would
result in indefinite suspension of the driver’s license, subject to a hearing
after ninety days.
The decree was put into force through the Governor’s power of
appointment over local judges. Under Connecticut practice, the Motor
Vehicle Department was suspending licenses on the recommendation of
police court judges. The judges were appointed by the Governor, who
threatened loss of reappointment in 1957 to judges who appeared lax in
the conviction of speeders, or who did not recommend suspension of
licenses to the Motor Vehicle Department.
In the first three months of 1956, license suspensions for speeding
numbered 2,855, an increase of almost 2,700 over the corresponding
period in 1955. There were ten fewer fatalities, and 765 fewer arrests
for speeding. The Governor was reported “encouraged” by the drop in
violations and in fatalities. The press quoted him as saying, “This is
. 35 ?
positive proof that operators are not only driving slower, but are driving
By late May, deaths had declined from 122 in 1955 to 107 in 1956.
Suspensions for speeding numbered 4,559, as against 209 in 1955. Speeding
arrests had dropped 53 per cent. The Governor received a telegram
of commendation for the program from the National Safety Council.
At the end of June there were twenty-two fewer fatalities than in the
first six months of 1955, representing a 15 per cent reduction. Suspensions
for speeding in the first six months of the year had risen from 231
to 5,398, and arrests had declined from 4,377 to 2,735. Ribicoff announced:
Connecticut has succeeded in stopping the upward surge in highway
deaths, and in the first six months of this year, contrary to the national
trend, we have saved lives. Fewer people died on the highways this year
than in the same period last year, in Connecticut. We did it by enforcing
the law, something the safety experts said couldn’t be done because the
people wouldn’t be behind it.
In July, a new State Police program, using unmarked police cars and
making extensive use of radar, was inaugurated. The police issued a
report stating that 2 per cent of the cars observed by radar on July 4
were found to be speeding; at a later date, it was claimed that no speeders
were found among 53,000 cars similarly observed.
In the late summer, however, Connecticut experienced a very high
number of traffic fatalities. By the beginning of September, 194 people
had been killed, a number almost equal to the 195 of the comparable
period in the previous year. The accident “epidemic” was embarrassing
to the authorities, who retreated to defending the speeding crackdown
on the grounds (a) that the fatality rate remained low in comparison
with the national trend, which showed a 7 per cent increase; (b) that
exposure to accidents in the State had increased by 100 million vehicle
miles without an increase in deaths; and (c) that the total accident rate
had risen, thereby lowering the proportion of fatal accidents to total
Fatalities were fewer in the fall of 1956, and by the end of the year
Connecticut could count 284 deaths in traffic as against 324 in 1955. The
Governor stated, “With the saving of forty lives in 1955, a reduction of
12.3 per cent from the 1955 motor vehicle death toll, we can say the

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