Given the threats of our current 'risk society', there is an ever-increasing demand for safety regulation to counter the harmful effects of an equally growing number of dangerous activities. Claims for more safety and security abound, ranging from concerns about people killed in traffic accidents and consumers harmed by unsafe products to anxiety about environmental disasters (global warming) and terrorism. This state of affairs poses difficult issues for policy makers. While government resources are necessarily limited, demands for safety and security are in principle without bounds. It is thus unavoidable that difficult choices must be made and priorities must be set. The Law and Economics literature has developed a comprehensive normative framework to prescribe optimal legal policies when individuals behave rationally. It is well established that enforcement agents should not aim at a minimum level of violations of legal norms but at an optimal level. The main goal of this paper is to apply the insights from the Law and Economics literature on optimal law enforcement to the area of safety regulation. Our paper distinguishes between the form of the sanctions (monetary versus non-monetary), the role of private parties versus public agents in enforcement (e.g. group actions), the timing of the enforcement measures (preclusion, act-based sanctions and harm-based sanctions) and the division of competencies between central enforcement authorities and decentralized enforcement agencies. Furthermore, we discuss several criticisms on the rational choice model (especially related to terrorism) and briefly discuss compliance strategies as alternative approach to deterrence strategies.

Additional Metadata
Keywords centralization, compliance strategies, criminal law, damages fines, decentralization, deterrence strategies, optimal enforcement, private enforcement, public enforcement, rational choiuce, safety, safety regulation, sanctions, terrorism, tort law
JEL Tort Law and Product Liability (jel K13), Criminal Law (jel K14), Environmental, Health, and Safety Law (jel K32), Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law (jel K42)
Publisher Erasmus School of Law (ESL)
Persistent URL
van den Bergh, R.J, & Visscher, L.T. (2008). Optimal Enforcement of Safety Law. Erasmus School of Law (ESL). Retrieved from