Obeying the rules of the road: Procedural justice, social identity and legal compliance

Published: 2015

Bradford, B.; Hohl, K; Jackson, J. and MacQueen, S. (2015) ‘Obeying the rules of the road: Procedural justice, social identity and legal compliance’ in Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 31(2) pp.171-191


Abstract: Why do people comply with traffic laws and regulations? Road traffic policing tends to be premised on the idea that people comply when they are presented with a credible risk of sanction in the event of non-compliance. Such an instrumental model of compliance contrasts with the normative account offered by procedural justice theory, in which compliance is encouraged by legitimate legal authorities. Comparing these two accounts, we find evidence that both instrumental and normative factors explain variance in motorists’ self-reported propensity to offend. Extending the standard procedural justice account, we also find that it is social identity—not legitimacy—that forms the “bridge” linking procedural fairness and compliance, at least according to a definition of legitimacy that combines felt obligation and moral endorsement. Fair treatment at the hands of police officers seems to enhance identification with the social group the police represent, and in turn, identification seems to motivate adherence to rules (laws) governing social behavior. These findings have implications not only for understandings of legal compliance but also for our understanding of why procedural justice motivates compliance and the role of procedural justice in promoting social cohesion.