Just the Facts Ma’am

by Mary Martialay on March 31, 2011

The next time you get pulled over on the highway, it may help to remember Economist and Rensselaer Assistant Professor Greg DeAngelo as you prepare your license, registration, and your story.

DeAngelo’s research was recently featured in the blog Freakonomics, a venture born from the eponymous best-selling book that explored the power of data mining in such bizarre fields as the prevalence of cheating among Sumo wrestlers, the socioeconomics of naming children, and the working conditions of crack cocaine dealers.

The post, titled “Does the Highway Patrol Keep Us Safe” recounts the findings from “Life and Death in the Fast Lane: Police Enforcement and Roadway Safety,” an article written by DeAngelo and UOregon’s Benjamin Hansen. The researchers explored the link between a 2003 cutback in highway patrols in Oregon and concurrent traffic accident statistics.

Reporting on the paper, Freakonomics blogger Eric A. Morris wrote:

“The upshot is that, controlling for other factors, for each one percent drop in the number of state troopers, road deaths on highways outside of cities (where state troopers do most of their work) rose about 0.32 percent, incapacitating injuries rose about 0.23 percent, and visible injuries rose about 0.26 percent.

Enforcement appears to have the greatest effect in dry weather conditions, outside of cities and in the summer—that is, precisely when we’d expect speeding to be the most prevalent, and thus where the presence of troopers should have the biggest impact.”

DeAngelo and Hansen have submitted their paper to the journal Review of Economics and Statistics.

For more on DeAngelo, visit his website.