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A Different Kind Of Traffic Enforcement

Those flashing lights in your rearview mirror typically mean high fines and points against your license. But they had a very different meaning for a few motorists in a San Diego suburb this past holiday.

An anonymous well-wisher gave an El Cajon police officer $100 with a request that he pull over five people, tell them they had been " targeted," and give them $20 each. One recipient was a driver in a Santa Claus beard who stopped to return a lost pet to its owner, another was a pedestrian who used the crosswalk, and another was a shopper who was buying Christmas dinner for her children.

Another officer gave donated funds to a motorists who was pulled over for a malfunctioning taillight.

Would it keep the streets safer if police officers handed out cash instead of tickets? Maybe so. Operant conditioning was embraced by the late B.F. Skinner, whose so-called "Skinner Box" rewarded a rat who pushed a lever with a pellet of food. Dr. Skinner concluded that positive reinforcement was an effective behavior modification method. Teachers and parents sometimes use this method to correct a child's behavior.

Apropos of nothing, the popular story that Dr. Skinner raised his own daughter in a Skinner Box, while not entirely untrue, is essentially an urban legend.

Back to traffic tickets in Kern County. Would it be more effective for officers to give rewards to good drivers instead of citations to bad ones? Unless someone donates an awful lot of money to the State of California, we will probably never know, because there is no way the state is giving up such a lucrative revenue stream.