Breaking the Law

Rule Violations as Social Norms on India’s Roads




This paper adapts existing theoretical frameworks of social norms and their interactions with laws to study the case of rule violations in Indian road traffic. Specifically, we look at the case where existing laws and rules are violated with such regularity that breaking the law becomes the social norm. We investigate this framework in the case of road user behaviour in (urban) India, where road safety and traffic violations have been the focus of recent policy changes. We propose that a lack of road discipline and traffic violations have an impact on road safety, as well as on congestion. These, in turn, have implications for the economic productivity and development of a country, as well as the well-being of its citizens. Our application of the framework suggests conditions of enforcement under which such harmful social norms can be reversed. Policy interventions and scope for behaviorally-informed policies targeted at improving road user behaviour are discussed.


Road Safety, Mobility, Nudging, Expectations, Social Norms, Rule Violations


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Authors Bio

Anirudh Tagat, Monk Prayogshala

Anirudh Tagat is Research Author at the Department of Economics, Monk Prayogshala, Mumbai. Anirudh is currently pursuing doctoral research at the IIT Bombay and Monash University Research Academy. Anirudh has previously worked with the World Resources Institute (WRI) India and Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA). He is currently Deputy Editor at South Asia Research. His research interests include cross-cultural differences in decision-making, intra-household bargaining, and experimental economics.

Nikhil George, Monk Prayogshala

Nikhil George is an economics and public policy researcher based in New Delhi. He has previously worked as Research Assistant at the Department of Economics at Monk Prayogshala, Mumbai and has interests in urban governance, behavioural science, and public policy.

Nidhi Gupta, Springboard

Nidhi Gupta is General Manager for Cybersecurity Programs at Springboard, and was previously Associate Dean of Takshashila’s policy school in Bangalore.

Hansika Kapoor, Monk Prayogshala

Hansika holds a PhD from IIT, Bombay in the area of creativity, specifically negative creativity (aka how people get good ideas to do bad things). She is the recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship (2019-2020), and is an Affiliate at the University of Connecticut. She is a published author, practising psychologist, and visiting/adjunct faculty at several liberal arts colleges in India. Her research interests lie in individual differences, creativity, and behavioural science.