Progressive penalty systems in traffic


A progressive penalty system encompasses heavier or more far-reaching sanctions being imposed as one commits more offences. A progressive penalty system is often called a progressive fines system if it involves increasingly higher financial penalties (fines), but (other) recidivism schemes such as demerit points systems can also be seen as a progressive penalty systems. The Netherlands has no general demerit points system such as England, France and Germany have, but it does have a demerit  points system for novice drivers, a demerit points system for alcohol offenders, a scheme for repeat-offenders and recidivism schemes for various other serious traffic violations.

Research shows us that progressive sanctions in the form of demerit points systems have a positive road safety effect with a duration of up to 1.5 years. The road safety effect of progressive (financial) fines has not as such been investigated in the Netherlands nor in other countries. A scenario analysis indicates that a progressive fines system could save 5% of the road deaths per year.

Research shows that there is considerable public support for the introduction of a general demerit points system; citizens and experts also seem to support a progressive fines system.

On 20 June 2017 the Minister of of Security and Justice in the Netherlands has announced to investigate the possibility to introduce a progressive fines system on licence plate. This would make it possible to punish repeat traffic offences that fall under the ‘Administrative Law enforcement traffic regulations’ (Wahv, also called 'Mulder Law') with progressive fines that are dealt with by the Central Fine Collection Agency (CJIB).

What are progressive penalty systems?

Progressive penalty systems in traffic impose sanctions (educational measures, fines, punishments)  of increasing severity each time an offence is repeated (see Figure 1). In brief: the more offences, the heavier or more far-reaching the penalty for later offences.  

In the case of progressive penalties in the form of increasingly higher financial fines we generally speak of a progressive fines system.  However, a progressive penalty system can also be in the form of a recidivism scheme or a demerit points system. In the latter system points are awarded for specific offences and an extra or a higher penalty is given when a certain number of points is reached.

Figure 1. In a progressive penalty system the penalty becomes more severe as the offence is committed more frequently.


The concept of progressive penalty system of sanctions is sometimes also used in a different way, namely as an income-related fine. The height of the fine is then tuned to the financial capacity of the offender. Income-related fines are used in Germany, Finland and Switzerland; this type of penalty is not used in Netherlands. This form of progressive fines is based on a different principle: it is related to income and not to risk behaviour and will therefore not be further discussed in this fact sheet.

What is the idea behind progressive penalties?

A progressive penalty system is based on the principle that violating behaviour should be addressed more strongly as it occurs more frequently and seems to have become a matter of course. The thought here is that repetition of violating behaviour goes hand in hand with an increased crash rate; for a number of offences (speeding, alcohol violations) this relationship has indeed been shown [1].

Is there a relationship between repeat offensive behaviour and risk of crashes?

Yes, frequently committing traffic offences – alcohol violations, speeding, dangerous traffic behaviour – is associated with a higher risk of crashes. Alcohol offenders who are apprehended twice or more often have a much higher risk of crashes than non-offenders [2]. Dutch research established that vehicles (licences) with multiple traffic fines (dealt with by the Central Fine Collection Agency (CJIB) within a certain period of time have a strongly increased risk of crashes compared with vehicles/licences with just a few traffic fines (see Figure 2) [3]. Only 5% of all fined vehicles (left in the picture) form the group of vehicles with four or more traffic fines within a period of five years, but they are involved in more than a quarter (27%) of all registered crashes in that period (right in the picture). The vehicles with most (11-20) traffic fines constitute as little as 0.1% of all fined vehicles, but they are involved in more than 4% of all crashes. These great differences in crash involvement cannot be explained by differences in distances travelled and therefore indicate a higher risk of crashes.


Figure 2. Left: Distribution of vehicles by their fine frequency in the period 2005-2009, as far as they had at least one fine in 2009 (and as far as during this period the vehicle was in possession of the owner at the time of the last fine). Right: Vehicles that were involved in a registered crash in 2009, distributed by their fine frequency, calculated in the same manner as on the left. All vehicles without fines in 2009 are shown with an fine frequency of 0 [3].


Figure 2 indicates the relationship between fines and crashes for vehicles, most of the offences being registered on vehicle licence. It is not certain who drove the vehicle at that specific time. SWOV-researchers have therefore called for a more far-reaching approach to vehicle owners of vehicles with multiple fines [4].

Which countries have progressive penalty systems?

Many countries in Europe (including Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain) have a general demerit points system in which repeated traffic violations within a certain period of time can lead to withdrawal of the licence [5]. In addition to demerit points systems nearly all countries also have more severe, increasing penalties for drivers who have been apprehended for the second time for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or for a serious traffic violation. The principle of progressive financial fines that increase more rapidly as more violations are committed, is not yet applied in any of the countries.

Does the Netherlands use progressive penalty systems?

Yes, the Netherlands uses several progressive penalty systems:

  • Demerit points licence for novice licence holders [6]
  • Demerit points licence for alcohol offenders [7]
  • Recidivism scheme for multiple offenders [8]
  • Recidivism schemes for various offences: speeding, insufficient headway, driving without a licence, maximum construction speed moped, driving against the traffic [8].

If traffic violations that are included in the demerit points systems are committed and recorded twice within a five year period, this automatically results in the driver’s licence being declared invalid (demerit points licence for alcohol offenders) or to suspension of the licence in combination with a mandatory driving test (demerit points system for novice drivers). It must be noted that the offender can apply for a new driving test immediately after the measure has been applied to once more obtain a valid licence.

The recidivism schemes mentioned above usually lead to a suspension of the licence, in combination with a fine or other sanction. The recidivism scheme for multiple traffic offenders differs from other recidivism schemes in two respects [8]:

  1. The multiple offenders scheme focuses not so much on a specific kind of traffic violation but on different types of traffic offences all of a similar, potentially dangerous or impeding nature. This scheme brings together these facts; the relation between which together provides a picture of the driver’s traffic behaviour.
  2. In the other recidivism scheme it is customary that one prior offence with irrevocable settlement leads to the transfer of the second case to the Public Prosecution Service for settlement. In the multiple offenders system, three prior irrevocable violations must have been committed after which the fourth offence, provided it meets the criteria, is handed over to the Public Prosecution Service. The Public Prosecution Service may then decide on a more severe penalty.
What safety effects do progressive fines systems have?

No evaluation studies have been made on the effects of progressive (financial) fines on violation behaviour or on road safety. A scenario analysis – based on certain assumptions – shows that a progressive penalty system for speeding offences could result in a 5% decline of the number of road deaths in the Netherlands [9]. Important assumptions in this estimate are:

  • an 0.2 price elasticity of fines (i.e. each one percent increase in the amount of the fines results in an 0.2% decline in offences);
  • a continuing, relatively high chance of being caught for speeding offences in the Netherlands;
  • large public support for progressive fines; and
  • support of the progressive penalty system by faster and better communication with offenders.

Earlier reports that contain proposals for new road safety policy [10] [11] also put forward a system of progressive fines for repeated Wahv-violations as one of the new measures that may be expected to have a positive road safety effect.

What effects do demerit points systems have?

Research indicates that general demerit points systems that are used in countries other than the Netherlands result in road safety improvement, but the positive effect has a maximum duration of 1.5 years [12]. A meta-analysis of twenty-four effect measurements of general demerit points systems in different European and non-European countries shows a decline in the number of crashes, road deaths and serious road injuries of between 15 and 20% [12]. After less than 1.5 years on average, however, the effect had disappeared again. The explanation probably is that the required level of enforcement cannot be realized (permanently). The effects were found to be the largest and the duration was longest in countries where the original road safety level was relatively low.

General demerit points systems that are used in countries other than the Netherlands usually make it mandatory for a driver, once he has reached a certain number of points, to participate in a programme aimed at behaviour change in order to keep his licence.  

What is the effect of the demerit points licence for novice drivers in the Netherlands?

As yet it has not been established that the demerit points licence for novice drivers in the Netherlands has a positive road safety effect [13]. The explanation lies mainly in the relatively low chance of being checked for the offences that are included in the system. If the chance of being checked is small, no noticeable effect is to be expected.

The Netherlands has had a limited demerit points system for novice drivers since 2002. The serious offences that are penalized with points are:

  • causing hazards or hindrance in traffic;
  • causing a road crash with (fatal) injury;
  • tailgating at a speed faster than 80 km/h;
  • excessive speeds of more than 40 km/h above the limit on motorways;
  • excessive speeds of more than 30 km/h above the limit on other road types.

Every young driver who commits two of these serious violations in the first five years as a driver must take a driving competence test. If the score on the theory or the practical test is insufficient, the official driving test must be passed again.

Unlike demerit points systems (for novice drivers) in other countries, a number of other serious offences – including driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding between 20-30 km/hour above the limit, or red light running – are not part of the demerit points system in the Netherlands.

Research into the demerit points licence for novice drivers has not established a general preventive safety impact [13]. After the introduction of the beginner’s license the number of serious crashes did not decline stronger among young drivers (many of whom have the beginner’s license) than among older drivers (of whom only a small percentage have a beginners driver's license). Furthermore, no specific preventive effect was found, that is to say no evidence was found that drivers drove more safely after having received 1 point.

What is the effect of a demerit points licence for alcohol offenders?

There is no evidence that demerit points systems are more effective than regular recidivism schemes for the prevention of driving under the influence of alcohol recidivism in this offence. Research shows that alcohol offenders are influenced by the likelihood of being checked, but little or no effect was found for the severity of a penalty (see archived SWOV Fact sheet Penalties in traffic).

For the Dutch driver the demerit points licence for alcohol offenders has been in force since 1 June 2011. The scheme entails that the driving licence is automatically declared invalid by law if a driver is irrevocably convicted twice within five years for driving under the influence and at the second offence a blood alcohol content of more than 1.3 g/l is measured.

An evaluation study [14] establishes that the effectiveness of the demerit points system for alcohol offenders is limited because the system:

  • is hardly or not at all known  to a wider audience;
  • is not known among the risk group of drivers;
  • make insufficient use of the possibilities for behaviour change; and
  • in practice affects a relatively small group: during the period 2011-2014 the driver’s licence of 700 people was automatically declared invalid.
Could a progressive penalty system be introduced in the Netherlands?

Yes, a progressive penalty system  could be introduced in the Netherlands for all traffic violations that are not dealt with under the Wahv. For these offences there already are recidivism schemes that penalize repeat offenders with a higher fine or other sanctions. An example is the Recidivism Scheme for Multiple Traffic Offenders that was introduced in the Netherlands on 1 January 2015.

For road traffic offences that are dealt with under the Wahv, and that are fined on license plate, it is not possible to take into account the fine history of individual drivers. On June 20, 2017, the Minister of Security and Justice in the Netherlands announced to examine the possibility of introducing a progressive penalty system on licence registration [15]. The progressive fines are imposed on the owner of the car and not necessarily on the driver. This is already the case for the non-progressive fines within the Wahv. The Minister has asked the organisations in the chain – the public prosecution service (OM), the Central Fine Collection Agency (CJIB), the police and the courts – to assess the practicality, feasibility and enforceability of a progressive administrative fine system within the Law enforcement traffic regulations (Wahv).

Is there public support for the introduction of a progressive penalty system in the Netherlands?

There is public support for the introduction of a general demerit points system in the Netherlands In 2002, more than 80% of the Dutch citizens were in favour of the introduction of a demerit points system for all drivers [16]. In 2010, a very similar percentage was found in the SARTRE-4 survey: more than three quarters (78%) of the Dutch drivers were in favour of a European demerit points system [17].

The opinions about a progressive penalty system have not yet been surveyed in a representative national survey. A poll in the Dutch daily paper Volkskrant of 16 October 2013 found a large group of supporters: 91% of respondents indicated being in support of a progressive penalty system [11].

The support for a progressive penalty system is examined among about 40 traffic experts [10] who were employed by companies such as RAI, BOVAG and Transport and Logistics Netherlands (TLN), by public authorities such as RDW, the International Cooperation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities VNG and IPO, partnership of the twelve provinces in the Netherlands, and by more than thirty organisations representing road users, such as ANWB, Fietsersbond, Veilig Verkeer Nederland, and other groups (STAP, CROW). One could indicate whether one supported specific  road safety measures, whether one was neutral or did not support the measure. A progressive penalty system was supported by 60% of the interviewed experts; the remaining 40% were neutral [10].

Publications and sources

1. Mesken, J. (2012). Risicoverhogende factoren voor verkeersonveiligheid; Inventarisatie en selectie voor onderzoek. R-2012-12. SWOV, Leidschendam.

2. Elder, R.W., Voas, R., Beirness, D., Shults, R.A., et al. (2011). Effectiveness of ignition interlocks for preventing alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes: a Community Guide systematic review. In: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 40, nr. 3, p. 362-76.

3. Goldenbeld, C., Stipdonk, H., Reurings, M. & Norden, Y. van (2013). Crash involvement of motor vehicles in relationship to the number and severity of traffic offences. An exploratory analysis of Dutch traffic offences and crash data. In: Traffic Injury Prevention, Traffic Injury Prevention, vol. 14, nr. 6, p. 584–591.

4. Goldenbeld, Ch., Reurings, M.C.B., Norden van Y. & Stipdonk, H.L. (2011). Relatie tussen verkeersovertredingen en verkeersongevallen. Verkennend onderzoek op basis van CJIB-gegevens. R-2011-19. SWOV, Leidschendam.

5. Schagen, I. van & Machata, K. (2012). The BestPoint Handbook: Getting the best out of a Demerit Point System. Deliverable 3 of the EC project BestPoint. European Commission, Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, Brussels.

6. Openbaar Ministerie (2015). Instructie maatregel beginnende bestuurder.

7. Rijksoverheid (2011). Invoering recidiveregeling ernstige verkeersdelicten.

8. Rijksoverheid (2016). Richtlijn voor strafvordering feitgecodeerde misdrijven en overtredingen 2016.

9. Hoekstra, A.T.G., Eenink, R.G. & Goldenbeld, Ch. (2017). Progressief boetestelsel en verkeersveiligheid; Geschatte veiligheidseffecten van hogere boetes bij herhaalde snelheidsovertredingen. R-2017-3. SWOV, Den Haag.

10. Aarts, L.T., Eenink, R.G. & Weijermars, W.A.M. (2014a). Opschakelen naar meer verkeersveiligheid. Naar maximale verkeersveiligheid voor en door iedereen. R-2014-37. SWOV, Den Haag.

11. Aarts, L.T., Eenink, R.G., Weijermars, W.A.M. & Knapper, A. (2014b). Soms moet er iets gebeuren voor er iets gebeurt. Verkenning van mogelijkheden om de haalbaarheid van de verkeersveiligheidsdoelstellingen te vergroten. R-2014-37A. SWOV, Den Haag.

12. Castillo-Manzano, J.I. & Castro-Nuño, M. (2012). Driving licenses based on points systems: Efficient road safety strategy or latest fashion in global transport policy? A worldwide meta-analysis. In: Transport Policy, vol. 21, p. 191-201.

13. Vlakveld, W.P. & Stipdonk, H. (2009). Eerste verkenning naar de effectiviteit van het beginnersrijbewijs in Nederland. D-2009-2. Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid SWOV, Leidschendam.

14. Goedvolk, M., Doumen, M. & Walberg, A. (2015). Evaluatie Recidiveregeling voor ernstige verkeersdelicten. MuConsult, Significant, Barneveld.

15. Minister van Veiligheid en Justitie (2017). Uitkomsten van het onderzoek naar de mogelijkheden voor een progressief boetestelsel. Brief aan de Voorzitter van de Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 20 juni 2017. Kamerstuk 29398, nr. 563. Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie, Den Haag.

16. Groeneveld, J.P., Frederikse, R. & Mazor, L. (2002). Draagvlakonderzoek 2002; Resultaten van een onderzoek onder de Nederlandse bevolking naar draagvlak voor verkeers- en vervoersbeleid 1992 t/m 2002. Adviesdienst Verkeer en Vervoer AVV, Rotterdam.

17. SARTRE (2012). European road users’ risk perception and mobility : the SARTRE 4 survey; Social Attitudes to Road Traffic Risk in Europe SARTRE 4. European Commission, Directorate-General Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE), Brussels.

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